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Problem Solving Processes and Approaches: An Overview

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As described in problem analysis, the first steps in problem solving involve evaluating the problem, causes, current strategy or process, and the priority of the problem. When problem analysis is complete, problem solving is the next step.

Most of the processes and approaches to problem solving focus on spending time on understanding the problem, then breaking it down into parts, finding options to address each part, selecting an option, and measuring the results.

Problem Solving Strategies

When choosing a solution to a problem, we may believe we are making the only logical choice. However, the strategy you use affects the outcome. Use a strategy based on algorithms and you may reach a numerically justified solution that ignores effort, speed and cost. Use a strategy based on emotion and you may ignore the lessons of past experience.

  • Calculations: Algorithms are one type of calculation strategy and are the basis for the Nash Equilibrium of game theory, used in group decision making. Calculations of effort, speed, and cost may influence the solution chosen, with a preference for low effort, low cost, and quick solutions.
  • Rule-of- thumb: This is also known as the heuristic approach. For example, you know that if a solution takes more resources than you have or are likely to get, you should remove it from your top choices; but if your boss favors the solution, you should raise it to first place. 
  • Emotions and prejudices: Our emotions and are biases affect the relative weight we give to different solutions.
  • Intuition: When a solution “just comes to you” or “just feels right,” you may be drawing on insights developed from your past experiences or on similarities between one problem and another. Creative intuition often leads, for example, to using old tools in unexpected ways.
  • PDCA: In this approach, you plan, do, check, and adjust in cycle after cycle until you reach the  optimum solution; PDSA is a variant on the acronym, substituting “study” for “check.”
  •  CDS: This strategy involves clarifying the problem, gathering data and ideas, then selecting and evaluating solutions.

Problem Solving Tools

Your choice of problem solving tools should reflect the type of problem you are trying to solve. For example, a problem with warehouse storage space might fall to a just-in-time (JIT), but a problem with customer satisfaction might require a quality solution.

  • Process problems:  Tools that help encourage process improvements include Lean, Kaizen continuous improvement, 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain), and bottleneck analysis (strengthening the weakest link).
  • Quality problems: The need to improve quality has generated many tools, including control charts, Pareto analysis, scatter diagrams, and matrix analysis.
  • Management problems: For problems that involve leadership, the available tools include mentorship programs, training, and software like scheduling, project management, and problem analysis software.
  • Technology problems: The tools available to help choose, implement, and improve the development of technologies are myriad: methodologies like scrum, Kaban boards, extreme programming (XP),and waterfall.

Considerations in Selecting Strategies and Tools

The choice of the right strategy and tool for working on a problem reflects not only the type of problem but the cost, accessibility, and power of the tools. Moreover, your goal in solving the problem—increased customer satisfaction, faster production, more agile project management—is an important component in the selection process. Finally, you need to know that the resources to implement the solution will be available; problems aren’t solved if you only find solutions but never take action.

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