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Many of the tools in this section help you do just that. We look at these, and then review some useful, well-established problem-solving frameworks. The key to a good problem definition is ensuring that you deal with the real problem — not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think the problem is with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real issue might be a lack of training, or an unreasonable workload.

You can learn another 46 problem-solving skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club. Receive new career skills every week, plus get our latest offers and a free downloadable Personal Development Plan workbook. Tools like 5 Whys , Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis help you ask the right questions, and work through the layers of a problem to uncover what's really going on. At this stage, it's also important to ensure that you look at the issue from a variety of perspectives.

If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a problem statement that's really a solution instead. For example, consider this problem statement: "We have to find a way of disciplining of people who do substandard work. The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, and to expand your thinking around it.


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When your problem is simple, the solution is usually obvious, and you don't need to follow the four steps we outlined earlier. So it follows that when you're taking this more formal approach, your problem is likely to be complex and difficult to understand, because there's a web of interrelated issues. The good news is that there are numerous tools you can use to make sense of this tangled mess!

What Is Problem Solving?

Many of these help you create a clear visual representation of the situation, so that you can better understand what's going on. Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for discovering relationships between these. Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram. To generate viable solutions, you must have a solid understanding of what's causing the problem. Using our example of substandard work, Cause-and-Effect diagrams would highlight that a lack of training could contribute to the problem, and they could also highlight possible causes such as work overload and problems with technology.

When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart , Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you see how various activities and inputs fit together. This will often help you identify a missing element or bottleneck that's causing your problem.

Quite often, what may seem to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. Going back to our example, substandard work could be caused by insufficient skills, but excessive workloads could also be contributing, as could excessively short lead times and poor motivation. The Drill Down technique will help you split your problem into smaller parts, each of which can then be solved appropriately. Remember, stories are powerful. Keep specific examples in mind of times you solved a problem.

Your cover letter is also an excellent opportunity to elaborate on your problem-solving skills.

Problem Solving and Decision Making (Solving Problems and Making Decisions)

Here, you can give a brief example of a time you solved a problem successfully. Alternatively, you might identify a challenge that this potential employer is seeking to solve and explain how you would address it. For example, if a job posting mentions that the company is looking for someone to help improve their social media presence, you can identify key ways you might aid in increasing awareness of the brand through various social media platforms.

Your problem-solving skills will be a benefit to 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 on the job and a highly sought after candidate. The information on this site is provided as a courtesy. Indeed is not a career or legal advisor and does not guarantee job interviews or offers. Sign in. Create a Resume on Indeed. Was this article helpful? Thanks for the feedback! Follow Us. Help students to consider from the beginning what a logical type of answer would be.


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What characteristics will it possess? For example, a quantitative problem will require an answer in some form of numerical units e. Use this stage to ponder the problem. Ideally, students will develop a mental image of the problem at hand during this stage. Identify specific pieces of knowledge.


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  • Students need to determine by themselves the required background knowledge from illustrations, examples and problems covered in the course. Collect information. Encourage students to collect pertinent information such as conversion factors, constants, and tables needed to solve the problem. Plan a solution Consider possible strategies. Often, the type of solution will be determined by the type of problem. Some common problem-solving strategies are: compute; simplify; use an equation; make a model, diagram, table, or chart; or work backwards. Choose the best strategy.

    Why is Problem Solving an Important Competency?

    Help students to choose the best strategy by reminding them again what they are required to find or calculate. Carry out the plan Be patient. Most problems are not solved quickly or on the first attempt. In other cases, executing the solution may be the easiest step. Be persistent. If a plan does not work immediately, do not let students get discouraged. Encourage them to try a different strategy and keep trying. Look back Encourage students to reflect. Once a solution has been reached, students should ask themselves the following questions: Does the answer make sense?

    Does it fit with the criteria established in step 1? Did I answer the question s? What did I learn by doing this? Could I have done the problem another way?

    Defining the Problem

    Resources Foshay, R. Principles for Teaching Problem Solving. The Complete Problem Solver. Woods, D.