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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills

problem solving skills facts

  • Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.

Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.

Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the  key skills that employers  seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.

Problem-solving is considered a  soft skill  (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.

How Problem-Solving Skills Work

Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.

To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.

Theresa Chiechi / The Balance

There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.

1. Analyze Contributing Factors

To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.

To do this, you'll use skills like :

  • Data gathering
  • Data analysis
  • Fact-finding
  • Historical analysis

2. Generate Interventions

Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.

This involves skills like :

  • Brainstorming
  • Creative thinking
  • Forecasting
  • Project design
  • Project planning

3. Evaluate Solutions

Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.

This requires several skills, including:

  • Corroboration
  • Test development
  • Prioritizing

4. Implement a Plan

Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.

This requires skills like:

  • Project management
  • Project implementation
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Benchmark development

5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness

Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.

This requires:

  • Communication
  • Customer feedback
  • Follow-through
  • Troubleshooting

Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.

When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.

Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:

When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.

Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills

  • Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.

If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your  cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.

During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a  coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .

Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.

Key Takeaways

  • It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
  • Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. 

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

problem solving skills facts

Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

problem solving skills facts

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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

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Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20

Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9

Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579

Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality .  Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050

Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition .  Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

What is problem solving and why is it important.

Defining problem solving skills

The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.

Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.

Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life but are critical in your professional life. In the current fast-changing global economy, employers often identify everyday problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions, and to show independence and initiative to employers.

Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.

What Does Problem Solving Look Like?

IDEAL heuristic strategy for problem solving

The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.

Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.

But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :

  • I dentify the problem
  • D efine the context of the problem
  • E xplore possible strategies
  • A ct on best solution

IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.

Watch the video

What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].

[PDF transcript]

Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

Developing Problem Solving Processes

Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.

What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .

Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.

The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.

Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.

Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!

  • [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.

“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM

Voices From the Field: Solving Problems

In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.

In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.

Meet the Partners:

  • Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
  • Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
  • H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
  • Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.

Making Decisions

Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.

Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.

Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.

What problems did you observe in the video?

  • [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
  • What do you do next?
  • Try to fix it yourself.
  • Ask your trainer for help.

As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.

You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.

screenshot of cnc problem

  • Check the dowel pins.
  • Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.

ask help from a more experienced person

  • Run the single step/single block function.
  • Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.

You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.

Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.

You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.

  • Look at the G-code.

After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.

You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.

idea at cnc machine

After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.

software or hardware problem

As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.

It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.

  • You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
  • You leave a note on the machine, just in case.

You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.

While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.

  • You decide to talk with your supervisor.
  • You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.

As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?

Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.

From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.

Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.

Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.

Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.

It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.

You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.

In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.

You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.

At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.

In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.

The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.

Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.

You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.

Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.

It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.

How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?

In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.

You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.

You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.

You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.

When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.

You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.

Root Cause Analysis

flower root cause of a problem

Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

  • Determine what happened.
  • Determine why it happened.
  • Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.

RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:

  • Root Cause Analysis Tools
  • 5 Whys Analysis
  • Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
  • Pareto Analysis

5 whys diagram root cause

How Huddles Work

group huddle discussion meeting

Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.

One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.

Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:

  • Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
  • Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
  • Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .

Brainstorming

brainstorming small lightbulbs combined become a big idea

One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.

  • Define a clear objective.
  • Have an agreed a time limit.
  • During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
  • If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
  • Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
  • Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.

When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.

  • Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
  • Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .

Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description

talking too much when describing a problem

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.

Tips for clear communication of an issue:

  • Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
  • Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
  • Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
  • If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
  • Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.

Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.

Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .

Methods of Communication

different ways to communicate

Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.

Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.

Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

  • [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

Summary of Strategies

In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.

When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.

There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.

If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.

One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.

Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.

In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.

  • View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.

  • Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma

Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill

Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.

The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.

In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.

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  • Problem Solving and Decision Making

Problem Solving

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Everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all encounter problems on a daily basis. Some of these problems are obviously more severe or complex than others.

It would be wonderful to have the ability to solve all problems efficiently and in a timely fashion without difficulty, unfortunately though there is no one way in which all problems can be solved.

You will discover, as you read through our pages on problem solving, that the subject is complex.

However well prepared we are for problem solving, there is always an element of the unknown. Although planning and structuring will help make the problem solving process more likely to be successful, good judgement and an element of good luck will ultimately determine whether problem solving was a success.

Interpersonal relationships fail and businesses fail because of poor problem solving.

This is often due to either problems not being recognised or being recognised but not being dealt with appropriately.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after by employers as many companies rely on their employees to identify and solve problems.

A lot of the work in problem solving involves understanding what the underlying issues of the problem really are - not the symptoms. Dealing with a customer complaint may be seen as a problem that needs to be solved, and it's almost certainly a good idea to do so. The employee dealing with the complaint should be asking what has caused the customer to complain in the first place, if the cause of the complaint can be eliminated then the problem is solved.

In order to be effective at problem solving you are likely to need some other key skills, which include:

Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed - you know enough to be able to make a quick decision and solve the problem, or you use common sense or experience to solve the problem. More complex problems or problems that you have not experienced before will likely require a more systematic and logical approach to solve, and for these you will need to use creative thinking. See our page on Creative Thinking for more information.

Researching Skills. Defining and solving problems often requires you to do some research: this may be a simple Google search or a more rigorous research project. See our Research Methods section for ideas on how to conduct effective research.

Team Working. Many problems are best defined and solved with the input of other people. Team working may sound like a 'work thing' but it is just as important at home and school as well as in the workplace. See our Team-Working page for more.

Emotional Intelligence. It is worth considering the impact that a problem and/or its solution has on you and other people. Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise the emotions of yourself and others, will help guide you to an appropriate solution. See our Emotional Intelligence pages for more.

Risk Management. Solving a problem involves a certain amount of risk - this risk needs to be weighed up against not solving the problem. You may find our Risk Management page useful.

Decision Making . Problem solving and decision making are closely related skills, and making a decision is an important part of the problem solving process as you will often be faced with various options and alternatives. See Decision Making for more.

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.

John Foster Dulles, Former US Secretary of State.

What is a Problem?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) defines a problem as:

“ A doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution ”
“ Something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.”

It is worth also considering our own view of what a problem is.

We are constantly exposed to opportunities in life, at work, at school and at home. However many opportunities are missed or not taken full advantage of. Often we are unsure how to take advantage of an opportunity and create barriers - reasons why we can't take advantage. These barriers can turn a potentially positive situation into a negative one, a problem.

Are we missing the 'big problem'? It is human nature to notice and focus on small, easy to solve problems but much harder to work on the big problems that may be causing some of the smaller ones.

It's useful to consider the following questions when faced with a problem.

Is the problem real or perceived?

Is this problem really an opportunity?

Does the problem need solving?

All problems have two features in common: goals and barriers.

Problems involve setting out to achieve some objective or desired state of affairs and can include avoiding a situation or event.

Goals can be anything that you wish to achieve, or where you want to be. If you are hungry then your goal is probably to eat something. If you are the head of an organisation (CEO), then your main goal may be to maximise profits and this main goal may need to be split into numerous sub-goals in order to fulfil the ultimate aim of increasing profits.

If there were no barriers in the way of achieving a goal, then there would be no problem. Problem solving involves overcoming the barriers or obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of goals.

Following our examples above, if you feel hungry then your goal is to eat. A barrier to this may be that you have no food available - so you take a trip to the supermarket and buy some food, removing the barrier and thus solving the problem. Of course for the CEO wanting to increase profits there may be many more barriers preventing the goal from being reached. The CEO needs to attempt to recognise these barriers and remove them or find other ways to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Our problem solving pages provide a simple and structured approach to problem solving.

The approach referred to is generally designed for problem solving in an organisation or group context, but can also be easily adapted to work at an individual level at home or in education.

Trying to solve a complex problem alone however can be a mistake. The old adage " A problem shared is a problem halved " is sound advice.

Talking to others about problems is not only therapeutic but can help you see things from a different point of view, opening up more potential solutions.

Stages of Problem Solving

Effective problem solving usually involves working through a number of steps or stages, such as those outlined below.

Problem Identification:

This stage involves: detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem.

The first phase of problem solving may sound obvious but often requires more thought and analysis. Identifying a problem can be a difficult task in itself. Is there a problem at all? What is the nature of the problem, are there in fact numerous problems? How can the problem be best defined? By spending some time defining the problem you will not only understand it more clearly yourself but be able to communicate its nature to others, which leads to the second phase.

Structuring the Problem:

This stage involves: a period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem.

Following on from problem identification, structuring the problem is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing understanding. This phase is all about fact finding and analysis, building a more comprehensive picture of both the goal(s) and the barrier(s). This stage may not be necessary for very simple problems but is essential for problems of a more complex nature.

Looking for Possible Solutions:

During this stage you will generate a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage.

From the information gathered in the first two phases of the problem solving framework it is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem. In a group situation this stage is often carried out as a brain-storming session, letting each person in the group express their views on possible solutions (or part solutions). In organisations different people will have different expertise in different areas and it is useful, therefore, to hear the views of each concerned party.

Making a Decision:

This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation.

This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. Following on from the previous step it is now time to look at each potential solution and carefully analyse it. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other problems like time constraints or budgets. It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem - sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas.

Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take - decision making is an important skill in itself and we recommend that you see our pages on decision making .

Implementation:

This stage involves accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action.

Implementation means acting on the chosen solution. During implementation more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out fully.

Monitoring/Seeking Feedback:

The last stage is about reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution.

The final stage of problem solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful. This can be achieved by monitoring and gaining feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It is good practice to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that occurred.

Continue to: Identifying and Structuring Problems Social Problem Solving

See also: Project Management Risk Management Effective Decision Making

How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

problem solving skills facts

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

problem solving skills facts

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.

Collaboration

Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.

Communication  

Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

Dependability

Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!

Facilitation

As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.

Flexibility 

Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.

Initiative 

The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

Impartiality

A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.

Planning 

Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.

Prioritization

As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.

Team-building 

No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

problem solving skills facts

Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)

What’s life without its challenges? All of us will at some point encounter professional and personal hurdles. That might mean resolving a conflict with coworkers or making a big life decision. With effective problem solving skills, you’ll find tricky situations easier to navigate, and welcome challenges as opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. 

In this guide, we dive into the importance of problem solving skills and look at examples that show how relevant they are to different areas of your life. We cover how to find creative solutions and implement them, as well as ways to refine your skills in communication and critical thinking. Ready to start solving problems? Read on.

What is problem solving? 

Before we cover strategies for improving problem solving skills, it's important to first have a clear understanding of the problem solving process. Here are the steps in solving a problem:

  • Recognise the issue you are facing 
  • Take a look at all the information to gain insights
  • Come up with solutions
  • Look at the pros and cons of each solution and how it might play out
  • Plan, organise and implement your solution
  • Continuously assess the effectiveness of the solution and make adjustments as needed

Problem solving skills

There’s more to problem solving than coming up with a quick fix. Effective problem solving requires wide range of skills and abilities, such as:

  • Critical thinking: the ability to think logically, analyse information and look at situations from different perspectives.
  • Creativity: being able to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.
  • Decision-making: making informed choices by considering all the available information.
  • Communication: being able to express ideas clearly and effectively.
  • Analytical skills: breaking down complex problems into smaller parts and examining each one.
  • Time management: allocating time and resources effectively to address problems.
  • Adaptability: being open to change and willing to adjust strategies.
  • Conflict resolution: skillfully managing conflicts and finding solutions that work for all.

Examples of problem solving skills

Problem solving skills in the workplace are invaluable, whether you need them for managing a team, dealing with clients or juggling deadlines. To get a better understanding of how you might use these skills in real-life scenarios, here are some problem solving examples that are common in the workplace.

  • Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking is something that comes naturally to some, while others have to work a little harder. It involves being able to look at problem solving from a logical perspective, breaking down the issues into manageable parts. 

Example scenarios of analytical thinking

Quality control: in a manufacturing facility, analytical thinking helps identify the causes of product defects in order to pinpoint solutions.

Market research: marketing teams rely on analytical thinking to examine consumer data, identify market trends and make informed decisions on ad campaigns.

  • Critical thinking

Critical thinkers are able to approach problems objectively, looking at different viewpoints without rushing to a decision. Critical thinking is an important aspect of problem solving, helping to uncover biases and assumptions and weigh up the quality of the information before making any decisions. 

Example scenarios of critical thinking

  • Strategic planning: in the boardroom, critical thinking is important for assessing economic trends, competitor threats and more. It guides leaders in making informed decisions about long-term company goals and growth strategies.
  • Conflict resolution: HR professionals often use critical thinking when dealing with workplace conflicts. They objectively analyse the issues at hand and find an appropriate solution.

Decision-making

Making decisions is often the hardest part of problem solving. How do you know which solution is the right one? It involves evaluating information, considering potential outcomes and choosing the most suitable option. Effective problem solving relies on making well-informed decisions.

Example scenarios of decision-making

  • Budget allocation: financial managers must decide how to allocate resources to various projects or departments. 
  • Negotiation: salespeople and procurement professionals negotiate terms, pricing and agreements with clients, suppliers and partners.

Research skills

Research skills are pivotal when it comes to problem solving, to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. These skills involve searching for relevant data, critically evaluating information sources, and drawing meaningful conclusions. 

Example scenarios of research skills

  • Product development: a tech startup uses research skills to conduct market research to identify gaps and opportunities in the market. 
  • Employee engagement: an HR manager uses research skills to conduct employee surveys and focus groups.

A little creative flair goes a long way. By thinking outside the box, you can approach problems from different angles. Creative thinking involves combining existing knowledge, experiences and perspectives in new and innovative ways to come up with inventive solutions. 

Example scenarios of creativity

  • Cost reduction: creative problem solvers within a manufacturing company might look at new ways to reduce production costs by using waste materials.
  • Customer experience: a retail chain might look at implementing interactive displays and engaging store layouts to increase customer satisfaction and sales.

Collaboration

It’s not always easy to work with other people, but collaboration is a key element in problem solving, allowing you to make use of different perspectives and areas of expertise to find solutions.

Example scenarios

  • Healthcare diagnosis: in a hospital setting, medical professionals collaborate to diagnose complex medical cases.
  • Project management: project managers coordinate efforts, allocate resources and address issues that may arise during a project's lifecycle.

Conflict Resolution

Being able to mediate conflicts is a great skill to have. It involves facilitating open communication, understanding different perspectives and finding solutions that work for everyone. Conflict resolution is essential for managing any differences in opinion that arise.

Example scenarios of conflict resolution

  • Client dispute: a customer might be dissatisfied with a product or service and demand a refund. The customer service representative addresses the issue through active listening  and negotiation to reach a solution.
  • Project delay: a project manager might face resistance from team members about a change in project scope and will need to find a middle ground before the project can continue.

Risk management

Risk management is essential across many workplaces. It involves analysing potential threats and opportunities, evaluating their impact and implementing strategies to minimise negative consequences. Risk management is closely tied to problem solving, as it addresses potential obstacles and challenges that may arise during the problem solving process.

Example scenarios of risk management

  • Project risk management: in a construction project, risk management involves identifying potential delays, cost overruns and safety hazards. Risk mitigation strategies are developed, such as scheduling buffers and establishing safety protocols. 
  • Financial risk management: in financial institutions, risk management assesses and manages risks associated with investments and lending.

Communication

Effective communication is a skill that will get you far in all areas of life. When it comes to problem solving, communication plays an important role in facilitating collaboration, sharing insights and ensuring that all stakeholders have the same expectations. 

Example scenarios of communication

  • Customer service improvement: in a retail environment, open communication channels result in higher customer satisfaction scores.
  • Safety enhancement: in a manufacturing facility, a robust communication strategy that includes safety briefings, incident reporting and employee training helps minimise accidents and injuries.

How to improve problem solving skills 

Ready to improve your problem solving skills? In this section we explore strategies and techniques that will give you a head start in developing better problem solving skills. 

Adopt the problem solving mindset

Developing a problem solving mindset will help you tackle challenges effectively . Start by accepting problems as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than as obstacles or setbacks. This will allow you to approach every challenge with a can-do attitude.

Patience is also essential, because it will allow you to work through the problem and its various solutions mindfully. Persistence is also important, so you can keep adapting your approach until you find the right solution.

Finally, don’t forget to ask questions. What do you need to know? What assumptions are you making? What can you learn from previous attempts? Approach problem solving as an opportunity to  acquire new skills . Stay curious, seek out solutions, explore new possibilities and remain open to different problem solving approaches.

Understand the problem

There’s no point trying to solve a problem you don’t understand. To analyse a problem effectively, you need to be able to define it. This allows you to break it down into smaller parts, making it easier to find causes and potential solutions. Start with a well-defined problem statement that is precise and specific. This will help you focus your efforts on the core issue, so you don’t waste time and resources on the wrong concerns.

Strategies for problem analysis

  • Start with the problem statement and ask ‘Why?’ multiple times to dig deeper.
  • Gather relevant data and information related to the problem. 
  • Include those affected by the problem in the analysis process.
  • Compare the current problem with similar situations or cases to gain valuable insights.
  • Use simulations to explore potential outcomes of different solutions.
  • Continuously gather feedback during the problem solving process. 

Develop critical thinking and creativity skills

Critical thinking and creativity are both important when it comes to looking at the problem objectively and thinking outside the box. Critical thinking encourages you to question assumptions, recognise biases and seek evidence to support your conclusions. Creative thinking allows you to look at the problem from different angles to reveal new insights and opportunities.

Enhance research and decision-making skills

Research and decision-making skills are pivotal in problem solving as they enable you to gather relevant information, analyse options and choose the best course of action. Research provides the information and data needed, and ensures that you have a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its context. Effective decision-making is about selecting the solution that best addresses the problem.

Strategies to improve research and decision-making skills

  • Clearly define what you want to achieve through research.
  • Use a variety of sources, including books, articles, research papers, interviews, surveys and online databases.
  • Evaluate the credibility and reliability of your information sources.
  • Incorporate risk assessment into your decision-making process. 
  • Seek input from experts, colleagues and mentors when making important decisions. 
  • After making decisions, reflect on the outcomes and lessons learned. Use this to improve your decision-making skills over time.

Strengthen collaboration skills

Being able to work with others is one of the most important skills to have at work. Collaboration skills enable everyone to work effectively as a team, share their perspectives and collectively find solutions. 

Tips for improving teamwork and collaboration

  • Define people’s roles and responsibilities within the team. 
  • Encourage an environment of open communication where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas.
  • Practise active listening by giving full attention to others when they speak. 
  • Hold regular check-in sessions to monitor progress, discuss challenges and make adjustments as needed.
  • Use collaboration tools and platforms to facilitate communication and document progress. 
  • Acknowledge and celebrate team achievements and milestones. 

Learn from past experiences

Once you’ve overcome a challenge, take the time to look back with a critical eye. How effective was the outcome? Could you have tweaked anything in your process? Learning from past experiences is important when it comes to problem solving. It involves reflecting on both successes and failures to gain insights, refine strategies and make more informed decisions in the future. 

Strategies for learning from past mistakes

  • After completing a problem solving effort, gather your team for a debriefing session. Discuss what went well and what could have been better.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of resolved problems. 
  • Evaluate the outcomes of past solutions. Did they achieve the desired results? 
  • Commit to continuous learning and improvement. 

Leverage problem solving tools and resources

Problem-solving tools and resources are a great help when it comes to navigating complex challenges. These tools offer structured approaches, methodologies and resources that can streamline the process. 

Tools and resources for problem solving

  • Mind mapping: mind maps visually organise ideas, concepts and their relationships. 
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis: helps in strategic planning and decision-making.
  • Fishbone diagram (Ishikawa Diagram): this tool visually represents the potential root causes of a problem, helping you identify underlying factors contributing to an issue.
  • Decision matrices:  these assist in evaluating options by assigning weights and scores to criteria and alternatives.
  • Process flowcharts: these allow you to see the steps of a process in sequence, helping identify where the problem is occuring.
  • Decision support software: software applications and tools, such as data analytics platforms, can help in data-driven decision-making and problem solving.
  • Online courses and training: allow you to acquire new skills and knowledge.

Regular practice

Practice makes perfect! Using your skills in real life allows you to refine them, adapt to new challenges and build confidence in your problem solving capabilities. Make sure to try out these skills whenever you can.

Practical problem solving exercises 

  • Do puzzles, riddles and brainteasers regularly. 
  • Identify real-life challenges or dilemmas you encounter and practice applying problem solving techniques to these situations.
  • Analyse case studies or scenarios relevant to your field or industry. 
  • Regularly review past problem solving experiences and consider what you learned from them. 
  • Attend workshops, webinars or training sessions focused on problem solving. 

How to highlight problem solving skills on a resumé

Effectively showcasing your problem solving skills on your resumé  is a great way to demonstrate your ability to address challenges and add value to a workplace. We'll explore how to demonstrate problem solving skills on your resumé, so you stand out from the crowd.

Incorporating problem solving skills in the resumé summary

A resumé summary is your introduction to potential employers and provides an opportunity to succinctly showcase your skills. The resumé summary is often the first section employers read. It offers a snapshot of your qualifications and sets the tone for the rest of your resumé.

Your resumé summary should be customised for different job applications, ensuring that you highlight the specific problem solving skills relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Example 1: Project manager with a proven track record of solving complex operational challenges. Skilled in identifying root causes, developing innovative solutions and leading teams to successful project completion.

Example 2: Detail-oriented data analyst with strong problem solving skills. Proficient in data-driven decision-making, quantitative analysis and using statistical tools to solve business problems.

Highlighting problem solving skills in the experience section

The experience section of your resumé presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your problem solving skills in action. 

  • Start with action verbs: begin each bullet point in your job descriptions with strong action verbs such as, analysed, implemented, resolved and optimised.
  • Quantify achievements: use numbers and percentages to illustrate the impact of your solutions. For example: Increased efficiency by 25% by implementing a new workflow process.
  • Emphasise challenges: describe the specific challenges or problems you faced in your roles. 
  • Solution-oriented language: mention the steps you took to find solutions and the outcomes achieved.

Including problem solving skills in the skills section

The skills section of your resumé should showcase your top abilities, including problem solving skills. Here are some tips for including these skills.

  • Use a subsection: within your skills section, you could create a subsection specifically dedicated to problem solving skills – especially if the role calls for these skills.
  • Be specific: when listing problem solving skills, be specific about the types of role-related problems you can address. 
  • Prioritise relevant skills: tailor the list of problem solving skills to match the requirements of the job you're applying for. 

Examples of problem solving skills to include:

  • Creative problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Root cause analysis
  • Strategic problem solving
  • Data-driven problem solving
  • Interpersonal conflict resolution
  • Adaptability
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving tools
  • Negotiation skills

Demonstrating problem solving skills in project sections or case studies

Including a dedicated section for projects or case studies in your resumé allows you to provide specific examples of your problem solving skills in action. It goes beyond simply listing skills, to demonstrate how you are able to apply those skills to real-world challenges.

Example – Data Analysis

Case Study: Market Expansion Strategy

  • Challenge: the company was looking to expand into new markets but lacked data on consumer preferences and market dynamics.
  • Solution: conducted comprehensive market research, including surveys and competitor analysis. Applied this research to identify target customer segments and developed a data-driven market-entry strategy.
  • Result: successfully launched in two new markets, reaching our target of 30% market share within the first year.

Using problem solving skills in cover letters

A well-crafted cover letter is your first impression on any potential employer. Integrating problem solving skills can support your job application by showcasing your ability to address challenges and contribute effectively to their team. Here’s a quick run-down on what to include:

  • Begin your cover letter by briefly mentioning the position you're applying for and your enthusiasm for it.
  • Identify a specific challenge or issue that the company may be facing, to demonstrate your research and understanding of their needs.
  • Include a brief story or scenario from your past experiences where you successfully applied problem solving skills to address a similar challenge. 
  • Highlight the positive outcomes or results achieved through your problem solving efforts. 
  • Explain how your skills make you the ideal person to address their specific challenges.

Problem solving skills are essential in all areas of life, enabling you to overcome challenges, make informed decisions, settle conflicts and drive innovation. We've explored the significance of problem solving skills and how to improve, demonstrate and leverage them effectively. It’s an ever-evolving skill set that can be refined over time. 

By actively incorporating problem solving skills into your day-to-day, you can become a more effective problem solver at work and in your personal life as well.

What are some common problem solving techniques?

Common problem solving techniques include brainstorming, root cause analysis, SWOT analysis, decision matrices, the scientific method and the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. These techniques offer structured approaches to identify, analyse and address problems effectively.

How can I improve my critical thinking skills?

Improving critical thinking involves practising skills such as analysis, evaluation and problem solving. It helps to engage in activities like reading, solving puzzles, debating and self-reflection.

What are some common obstacles to problem solving?

Common obstacles to problem solving include biases, lack of information or resources, and resistance to change. Recognising and addressing these obstacles is essential for effective problem solving.

How can I overcome resistance to change when implementing a solution?

To overcome resistance to change, it's essential to communicate the benefits of the proposed solution clearly, involve stakeholders in the decision-making process, address concerns and monitor the implementation's progress to demonstrate its effectiveness.

How can problem solving skills benefit my career?

Browse top search terms, popular on seek, ready for a pay rise these in-demand jobs are paying more, industries where the jobs are right now, a guide to salaries in your industry    , free resume template                   , explore related topics, subscribe to career advice.

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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Last Updated: August 27, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Erin Conlon, PCC, JD . Erin Conlon is an Executive Life Coach, the Founder of Erin Conlon Coaching, and the host of the podcast "This is Not Advice." She specializes in aiding leaders and executives to thrive in their career and personal lives. In addition to her private coaching practice, she teaches and trains coaches and develops and revises training materials to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. She holds a BA in Communications and History and a JD from The University of Michigan. Erin is a Professional Certified Coach with The International Coaching Federation. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 229,956 times.

The ability to solve problems applies to more than just mathematics homework. Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of many jobs, ranging from accounting and computer programming to detective work and even creative occupations like art, acting, and writing. While individual problems vary, there are certain general approaches to problem-solving like the one first proposed by mathematician George Polya in 1945. [1] X Research source By following his principles of understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back, you can improve your problem-solving and tackle any issue systematically.

Define the problem clearly.

This is an outwardly simple but vital step.

  • Try to formulate questions. Say that as a student you have very little money and want to find an effective solution. What is at issue? Is it one of income – are you not making enough money? Is it one of over-spending? Or perhaps you have run into unexpected expenses or your financial situation has changed?

State your objective.

This is another means to reach the nature of the problem.

  • Say that your problem is still money. What is your goal? Perhaps you never have enough to go out on the weekend and have fun at the movies or a club. You decide that your goal is to have more spending cash. Good! With a clear goal, you have better defined the problem.

Gather information systematically.

Gathering facts helps you get a clear picture of your problem and goal.

  • To solve your money shortage, for example, you would want to get as detailed a picture of your financial situation as possible. Collect data through your latest bank statements and to talk to a bank teller. Track your earnings and spending habits in a notebook, and then create a spreadsheet or chart to show your income alongside your expenditures.

Analyze information.

Looking for links and relationships in your data can help you better understand your situation.

  • Say you have now collected all your bank statements. Look at them. When, how, and from where is your money coming? Where, when, and how are you spending it? What is the overall pattern of your finances? Do you have a net surplus or deficit? Are there any unexplained items?

Generate possible solutions.

This is a great time to consider all of your options.

  • Your problem is a lack of money. Your goal is to have more spending cash. What are your options? Without evaluating them, come up with possible options. Perhaps you can acquire more money by getting a part-time job or by taking out a student loan. On the other hand, you might try to save by cutting your spending or by lowering other costs.
  • Divide and conquer. Break the problem into smaller problems and brainstorm solutions for them separately, one by one.
  • Use analogies and similarities. Try to find a resemblance with a previously solved or common problem. If you can find commonalities between your situation and one you've dealt with before, you may be able to adapt some of the solutions for use now.

Evaluate the solutions and choose.

A thorough analysis helps you make the best possible choice.

  • How can you raise money? Look at expenditures – you aren’t spending much outside of basic needs like tuition, food, and housing. Can you cut costs in other ways like finding a roommate to split rent? Can you afford to take a student loan just to have fun on the weekend? Can you spare time from your studies to work part-time?
  • Each solution will produce its own set of circumstances that need evaluation. Run projections. Your money problem will require you to draw up budgets. But it will also take personal consideration. For example, can you cut back on basic things like food or housing? Are you willing to prioritize money over school or to take on debt?

Implement a solution.

This gives you a chance to see how effective your solution really is.

  • You decide to cut costs, because you were unwilling to take on debt, to divert time away from school, or to live with a roommate. You draw up a detailed budget, cutting a few dollars here and there, and commit to a month-long trial.

Review and evaluate the outcome.

Ask yourself if the solution is working, or if it needs to be adjusted.

  • The results of your trial are mixed. On one hand, you have saved enough during the month for fun weekend activities. But there are new problems. You find that you must choose between spending cash and buying basics like food. You also need a new pair of shoes but can’t afford it, according to your budget. You may need to a different solution.

Adjust if necessary.

It’s okay if your first solution doesn’t work out.

  • After a month, you decide to abandon your first budget and to look for part-time work. You find a work-study job on campus. Making a new budget, you now have extra money without taking too much time away from your studies. You may have an effective solution.

Do regular mental exercises.

Like a muscle in your body, you will need to work on problem solving regularly.

  • Word games work great. In a game like “Split Words,” for example, you have to match word fragments to form words under a given theme like “philosophy.” In the game, “Tower of Babel,” you will need to memorize and then match words in a foreign language to the proper picture.
  • Mathematical games will also put your problem solving to the test. Whether it be number or word problems, you will have to activate the parts of your brain that analyze information. For instance: “James is half as old now as he will be when he is 60 years older than he was six years before he was half as old as he is now. How old will James be when his age is twice what it was 10 years after he was half his current age?”

Play video games.

New research shows that playing video games can improve parts of your thinking.

  • Play something that will force you to think strategically or analytically. Try a puzzle game like Tetris. Or, perhaps you would rather prefer a role-playing or strategy game. In that case, something like “Civilization” or “Sim-City” might suit you better.

Take up a hobby.

A hobby is another way that you can continue to improve your problem solving skills.

  • Web design, software programming, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, and chess are also hobbies that will force you to think strategically and systematically. Any of these will help you improve your overall problem solving.

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  • ↑ https://math.berkeley.edu/~gmelvin/polya.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • ↑ https://asq.org/quality-resources/problem-solving
  • ↑ http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluate-community-interventions/collect-analyze-data/main
  • ↑ https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_96.htm
  • ↑ http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/problem-solving.html
  • ↑ Erin Conlon, PCC, JD. Executive Life Coach. Expert Interview. 31 August 2021.
  • ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5930973/
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/13/mental-exercises-to-keep-your-brain-sharp
  • ↑ https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/video-game
  • ↑ https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05449-7

About This Article

Erin Conlon, PCC, JD

To improve your problem-solving skills, start by clearly defining the problem and your objective or goal. Next, gather as much information as you can about the problem and organize the data by rewording, condensing, or summarizing it. Then, analyze the information you've gathered, looking for important links, patterns, and relationships in the data. Finally, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate the solutions, and choose one to implement. For tips on implementing solutions successfully, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases

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You're doing great

You should think of improving

Tips to improve

Use these practical examples of phrases, sample comments, and templates for your performance review , 360-degree feedback survey, or manager appraisal.

The following examples not only relate to problem-solving but also conflict management , effective solutions, selecting the best alternatives, decision making , problem identification, analyzing effectively, and generally becoming an effective problem-solving strategist. Start using effective performance review questions to help better guide your workforce's development. 

Problem solving appraisal comments: you're doing great

  • You always maintain an effective dialogue with clients when they have technical problems. Being clear and articulate makes sure our customers' faults are attended to promptly.
  • You constantly make sure to look beyond the obvious you never stop at the first answer. You’re really good at exploring alternatives. Well done!
  • Keeping the supervisors and managers informed of status changes and requests is important. You’re really good at communicating the changes to the projects at all times. Keep it up!
  • You stay cool and collected even when things aren’t going according to plan or up in the air. This is a great trait to possess. Well done!
  • You’re excellent at giving an honest and logical analysis. Keep it up! Effectively diagnosing complex problems and reaching sustainable solutions is one of your strong points.
  • Your ability to ability to make complex systems into simple ones is truly a unique skill to possess. Well done!
  • You often identify practical solutions to every roadblock. You’re a real asset to the team! Great job.
  • You always listen actively and attentively to make sure you understand what the exact problem is and you come up with solutions in an effective manner.
  • You have an amazing ability to clearly explain options and solutions effectively and efficiently. Well done!
  • When driving projects, you can shift to other areas comfortably and easily. making sure the project runs smoothly. Great job!

problem-solving-performance-review-phrases-person-at-work-talking-to-boss

Problem solving performance review phrases: you should think of improving

  • You always seem too overwhelmed when faced with multiple problems. Try to think of ways to make problems more manageable so that they can be solved in a timely and effective manner.
  • Avoiding conflicts constantly with people is not a good idea as you will only build up personal frustration and nothing will be done to remedy the situation. Try to face people when there are problems and rectify problems when they occur.
  • Don’t allow demanding customers to rattle your cage too much. If they become too demanding, take a step back, regulate your emotions , and try to make use of online support tools to help you rectify problems these tools can help a lot!
  • It’s necessary that you learn from your past mistakes . You cannot keep making the same mistakes , as this is not beneficial to the company.
  • You tend to ask the same questions over and over again. Try to listen more attentively or take notes when colleagues are answering!
  • Providing multiple solutions in an indirect and creative approach will allow you to be more effective at problem-solving . if you struggle with this typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.
  • You fail to provide staff with the appropriate amount of structure and direction. They must know the direction you wish them to go in to achieve their goals .
  • You need to be able to recognize repetitive trends to solve problems promptly.
  • You tend to have problems troubleshooting even the most basic of questions. As a problem solver and customer support person, it’s imperative that you can answer these questions easily.
  • Read through your training manual and make sure you fully understand it before attempting questions again.

problem-solving-performance-review-phrases-person-talking-at-work

Performance review tips to improve problem solving

  • Try to complain less about problems and come up with solutions to the problems more often. Complaining is not beneficial to progression and innovation.
  • As a problem solver, it’s important to be able to handle multiple priorities under short deadlines.
  • You need to be able to effectively distinguish between the cause and the symptoms of problems to solve them in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Try to anticipate problems in advance before they become major roadblocks down the road.
  • Try to view obstacles as opportunities to learn and thrive at the challenge of solving the problem.
  • Remember to prioritize problems according to their degree of urgency. It's important that you spend the majority of your time on urgent tasks over menial ones.
  • When putting plans into place, stick to them and make sure they are completed.
  • When solving problems, try to allocate appropriate levels of resources when undertaking new projects. It is important to become as efficient and as effective as possible.
  • Try to learn to pace yourself when solving problems to avoid burnout . You’re a great asset to the team and we cannot afford to lose at this point.
  • Meeting regularly with your staff to review results is vital to the problem-solving process.
  • Staff that has regular check-ins understand what it is that is required of them, what they are currently achieving, and areas they may need to improve. Try to hold one-on-one meetings every week.

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Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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Home » Job Tips » Career Advice » Your Complete Guide to Effective Problem Solving Skills [Tips & Techniques]

Your Complete Guide to Effective Problem Solving Skills [Tips & Techniques]

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Having effective problem solving skills can be a big boon for your professional life. Most employers look for candidates who are capable of solving problems the right way with less supervision.

Possessing the capacity to confidently and quickly tackle complex issues requires having several key abilities at your disposal. With study and practice, you can learn how best to approach difficult problems in order to solve them successfully.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the importance of problem-solving skills, effective problem-solving strategies, and ways to develop and refine your problem-solving techniques.

Table of Contents

What are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are techniques that enable you to solve any problem effectively. With good problem-solving skills, individuals can adequately determine the source of problems and proffer solutions. This empowers an individual to approach issues from different viable perspectives.

Effective problem solvers are critical thinkers, perceptive, and knowledgeable, which enables them to break down challenging circumstances into manageable components. To excel in your career you need to hone, build, and develop adequate problem-solving skills. You can build personal development skills in order to develop competent problem-solving abilities.

Must-Have Problem-Solving Techniques

To be an effective problem solver, you must have other creative and smart abilities, below are a few smart and creative skills you can use when solving a problem:

1. Strong Research Skills

To fully understand a problem and create viable solutions, a problem solver must be able to locate and identify the root cause of a problem. As a problem solver, you might need to conduct research using a lot of problem solving methods. You can start by asking your peers for input and using web resources to conduct thorough research.

2. Analyzing and Evaluation

The ability to analyze and evaluate solutions is a typical example of a problem-solving skill. This skill will allow you to investigate several solutions and select the most suitable one for your problem.

3. Effective Communication and Active Listening

After determining the best solution to the problem, the next step would be to communicate it to the relevant stakeholders and develop a plan of action for implementing the solution. The ability to adequately solve a problem requires strong communication skills.

Possessing strong communication skills implies that one should have clear goals and deadlines for addressing a problem. Communication should also include any effects the solution may have on other parts of the organization or external stakeholders.

4. Reliability

As a problem solver, being reliable and adaptable is a trait prized by employers. Those who have the problem solving ability to identify issues, implement solutions efficiently, and do so in a timely manner are held in high regard. It is paramount for problem-solvers to possess adaptability as well because it assures that tasks will be carried out with accuracy and creativity.

Effective Problem-Solving Steps

The following tips will help you develop effective problem-solving skills that any employer would value.

1. Identification and Definition of Problem

To become an effective problem solver, you must know how to identify and recognize problems. Identifying a problem can be tough. You may find yourself asking questions like, “Is there even an issue here?” and if so, “What is its nature?”

To get the clearest understanding possible of any potential problems, take some time to really define exactly what the problems are. Doing this will not only help you grasp them better but also allow you to explain them accurately when communicating with others.

2. Gather Information and Organise the Problem

Once a problem has been identified and defined, it is ideal to gather more facts and information about the problem to get a better understanding of the problem. Gaining additional knowledge about a problem allows you to come up with various approaches to it as well as potential solutions. It involves observing, analyzing, and structuring the issue or situation at hand. During this phase, it is important to gather as much evidence about the problem and its causes in order to make sound judgments when selecting a course of action.

3. Generate Varieties of Potential Solutions to the Problem

Once you have successfully identified and gathered information on the existing problem, your next course of action will be brainstorming and developing different viable solutions to the problem. It is important to consider the perspectives of other teammates because different people in organizations will have diverse skills and perceptions about a problem and, thus, will have different solutions.

4. Careful Analysis and Taking Decision

Before making decisions, you should analyze all the solutions generated and then select the best course of action. To successfully make the right decision, the complexity of decision-making should be considered. This is because many circumstances can prevent a decision from being successful, even if it is the right one.

Remember that while some solutions might seem appropriate, they may not be appropriate to adopt at the stipulated time frame. This might be due to other variables like a lack of resources, the culture of the organization, a limited time frame, etc.

5. Implementing the Decision

After a thorough analysis has been made, and you have finally made a decision, the next step is to act on the decision you have chosen. It is important to note that more issues could develop during implementation. Especially if the identification or structuring of the original problem wasn’t done thoroughly.

6. Evaluate the Outcomes of the Decision

Verifying that the decision taken was effective is the focus of this phase of problem-solving. Asking those who were impacted by the changes of an outcome and how they felt about it is an effective way to evaluate the outcome of a decision.

Further, keeping track of results and any extra issues that come up is a good way to hone your problem solving skills. To effectively evaluate the outcome of your decision consider answering these questions below:

  • Have you achieved the objectives of the decision taken?
  • Did any unplanned or unforeseen situation arise in your decision-making process?

7. Improve and Reiterate

To master the art of problem-solving, look for other situations that permit you to use techniques and skills for solving problems. Find more chances to put the skills into action. Also when solving a problem make sure the issue won’t recur and share the lessons learned. This will enhance your problem solving skills. An ideal way to cultivate good problem solving skills is to take on challenging jobs that require cognitive processing such as business marketing or work-from-home jobs in data entry .

How Can I Demonstrate My Problem-Solving Skills?

Employers can learn more about how you might contribute to their team more quickly if you demonstrate your problem-solving abilities in your resume and cover letter.

1. How to Demonstrate Problem Solving Skills on a Resume?

In the ‘Achievements’ section of your resume, it is beneficial to provide concrete examples of how you have successfully solved problems. Emphasize how your knowledge and strategic thinking positively impacted a business situation or project outcome instead of simply saying that you are great at problem-solving.

The ‘Experience’ section allows for more expansion about any relevant projects where your problem-solving abilities were beneficial in completion or success rates. Conversely, if there was an unsuccessful result due to poor decision making then explain what corrective actions were taken as well as lessons learned.

2. How to Demonstrate Problem Solving Skills on Cover Letter?

Your cover letter is an incredible opportunity to expand on your problem solving capabilities. Here, you can give a concise example of when you efficiently handled a difficulty. On the other hand, you might recognize an issue that this potential employer wants to solve and explain how exactly you would address it. For instance, if there’s evidence in a job vacancy concerning improving brand awareness, then identifying ways where you could help promote awareness about the brand through various means will be an advantage for you.

Having problem solving skills is a huge advantage that can be extremely beneficial in both your personal and professional life. Problem-solving gives you the tools to make better decisions, identify solutions for roadblocks, and reach desired goals more easily. To effectively improve your problem solving skills consider taking a course on human resource management .

We hope these tips will help build and improve your problem handling skills, let us know in the comment section the different problem you have solved at your workplace.

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Harshita is an English Literature graduate from the University of Delhi with 3 years of experience in Content Writing and Editing. Dedicated to her craft, she loves creating magic with words. She is a big fan of hoarding cute planners and journals and can be seen watching FRIENDS (almost EVERYTIME) in her spare time. Her meticulous attention to detail makes her stand out from the crowd. A typo epidemic is her worst nightmare!

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Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail

26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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  1. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definitions and Examples

    Some key problem-solving skills include: Active listening Analysis Research Creativity Communication Decision-making Team-building Problem-solving skills are important in every career at every level. As a result, effective problem-solving may also require industry or job-specific technical skills.

  2. The Problem-Solving Process

    Frequently Asked Questions. Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation.

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    Guide Overview Problem-solving skills in the workplace Problem-solving skills are a valuable trait that most employers seek in candidates. Being able to effectively solve problems is beneficial in nearly any position and can support a person's overall career advancement.

  4. Problem Solving Skills: What Are They?

    1. Analyze Contributing Factors To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution. To do this, you'll use skills like: Data gathering Data analysis Fact-finding Historical analysis 2.

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    Theories Cognitive Psychology Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Updated on January 03, 2023 Fact checked by Sean Blackburn JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images Table of Contents Definition Strategies Application Obstacles Improvement

  6. 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More ...

    Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork. 1. Analysis. As a manager, you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first.

  7. Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

    Problem-solving skills help you determine the source of a problem and find an effective solution. These skills will benefit you in every step of your career. From resume to application, interview to job duties, the ability to solve problems effectively as they arise will make you a valuable asset as a job candidate and employee.

  8. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    Quality Resources / Problem Solving What is Problem Solving?. Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution. The problem-solving process Problem solving resources

  9. Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

    The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it's raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk.

  10. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definition and Examples

    Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions.

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    1. Creativity: Effective problem solving requires the ability to brainstorm solutions and think outside the box to arrive at new approaches to longstanding problems. 2. Teamwork: Addressing a group problem or systemic social problem requires you to work collaboratively and supportively with other team members. 3.

  12. Problem Solving Skills

    Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed - you know enough to be able to make a quick decision and solve the problem, or you use common sense or experience to solve the problem.

  13. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    1. Problem identification The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first.

  14. Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

    Problem-solving skills are skills that enable people to handle unexpected situations or difficult challenges at work. Organisations need people who can accurately assess problems and come up with effective solutions. In this article, we explain what problem-solving skills are, provide some examples of these skills and outline how to improve them.

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    This article explores the skills of those who both understand and solve problems. ... Sig. 0.023). Problem Solving rated significantly higher for women (T-Value 2.432, Sig. 0.015).

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    1. Define the problem The first step is to analyze the situation carefully to learn more about the problem. A single situation may solve multiple problems. Identify each problem and determine its cause. Try to anticipate the behavior and response of those affected by the problem.

  17. Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)

    Example 1: Project manager with a proven track record of solving complex operational challenges. Skilled in identifying root causes, developing innovative solutions and leading teams to successful project completion. Example 2: Detail-oriented data analyst with strong problem solving skills.

  18. 12 Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills

    Gather information systematically. Gathering facts helps you get a clear picture of your problem and goal. Collect data, ask people or experts connected to the problem, look for resources online, in print, or elsewhere. Once you have data, organize it. Try to do this by rewording, condensing, or summarize it.

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    As such, soft skills, including the combination of communication skills, problem-solving, teamwork skills, spirit, critical thinking, people skills, emotional intelligence, and other on-the-job skills, are crucial to the success of job-seekers and company performance. #7 - 53% of the survey respondents believed rate staff soft skills as good 3

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    The following examples not only relate to problem-solving but also conflict management, effective solutions, selecting the best alternatives, decision making, problem identification, analyzing effectively, and generally becoming an effective problem-solving strategist. Start using effective performance review questions to help better guide your ...

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    1. Strong Research Skills To fully understand a problem and create viable solutions, a problem solver must be able to locate and identify the root cause of a problem. As a problem solver, you might need to conduct research using a lot of problem solving methods.

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    Here are some tips on how to highlight your problem-solving skills in a job interview: 1. Describe your process. When describing how you solved a problem, be sure to include all the steps you took in your explanation. This will show the interviewer that you are systematic and thorough in your approach.

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    Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills. Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it.