It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
- Albert Einstein
Every man should know how to solve a problem quickly, efficiently, and permanently.
Unfortunately, problem solving is a rare skill that very few people possess. This is because the majority of would-be solution finders skip many of the most important steps.
To successfully solve the problems you encounter at work and at home, follow the seven steps below.
1. Recognize The Problem
Before trying to find a solution, you need to first clearly define the problem. Although this may seem obvious, many people mistakenly skip the planning parts of problem solving.
If, for example, your garage door stops working, it may be tempting to simply start taking apart the engine without first determining the precise problem. However, this strategy would not be likely to help and could create further problems. In the case of the garage door, taking apart the engine could be a potential safety hazard.
Before diving in, first determine the precise problem.
2. Observe The Problem
Once you have found the problem, you are ready for the next step: observation.
Now that you have defined the problem, it is time to study the problem and gather all possible information.
Look for potential problem sources such as:
- Visual Defects
- Strange Smells
- Unusual Sounds
Also gather this type of related information:
- Historical Timeline
- Eyewitness Accounts
- Equipment Event Logs
Once you have gathered all available data, you are ready to move on to step three.
3. Analyze The Problem
Now, it is time to apply the information you learned in step two to the problem you defined in step one.
First, look for the following time patterns:
- Constant (i.e. computer crashes two minutes after start)
- Conditional (i.e. computer crashes when program is launched)
- Intermittent (i.e. computer seems to crash at random times)
Now, using all the data you gathered, determine the problem source. Be aware that some symptoms may be the result of multiple problems.
4. Develop A Solution
Once you have found the cause of causes of the problem, you are ready to develop a solution.
First, brainstorm potential solutions and quickly create basic action plans for each solution.
Next, evaluate each solution’s…
- Monetary Cost – What would you or your business need to pay?
- Time Cost – How long would it take?
- Risk Level – Could the solution cause more problems?
- Safety Concerns – Could the solution hurt someone?
- Tool Requirements – What equipment do you need for implementation?
- Test Method – How will you evaluate your success or failure?
Based on the advantages and disadvantages found during this evaluation process, sort your plans in order of best to worst. You will implement your solutions in this order.
5. Validate The Solution
This is the step in which you actually use your solution. Following the action plan you developed in step four, attempt to fix the problem now.
If your testing shows that the problem is not solved after implementing your first plan, you can move to your second plan.
If none of your plans work, repeat step four and look for small details that might have been accidentally overlooked.
6. Sustain The Solution
Although most people would stop after step five, the real process is not over yet. Before you are done, you need to sustain your solution.
To do this, you should document your solution and archive the documentation in such a way that you can find it again if necessary.
If a problem unexpectedly reoccurs, this documentation will save time by allowing you to skip most of the problem solving process and simply re-implement the solution.
7. Evaluate The Process
Before you move on to the next problem, take a moment to evaluate your actions.
If you solved this problem with a team, have a group gathering; if you solved it by yourself, take some time by yourself.
Thinking back, look for ways to streamline your problem solving abilities by examining the milestones on the path to your solution.
Congratulations on successfully solving your problem!
What have you learned from problem solving?