STEPS TO PROBLEM SOLVING
message from the moon... is that no problem need be considered insolvable."
seven main steps to follow when trying to solve a problem. These
steps are as follows:
Define and Identify the Problem
Analyze the Problem
Identifying Possible Solutions
Selecting the Best Solutions
Develop an Action Plan
Implement the Solution
Define and Identify the Problem
step is critical. It is essential for each group member to clearly
understand the problem so that all energy will be focused in the same direction.
A good way to define the problem is to write down a concise statement which
summarizes the problem, and then write down where you want to be after
the problem has been resolved. The objective is to get as much information
about the problem as possible. It may be helpful to divide the symptoms
of the problem into hard and soft data.
Data Includes: Facts, statistics, goals, time factors, history
Data Includes: Feelings, opinions, human factors, attitudes,
frustrations, personality conflicts, behaviors, hearsay, intuition
may not always be pleasant, but after "venting" group participants may
feel that the air has finally cleared and members can be more rational
information needs to be gathered via various devices to define the problem.
These devices may include: Interviews, statistics, questionnaires,
technical experiments, check sheets, brainstorming and focus groups.
a Problem Statement
It is essential
to develop an objective statement which clearly describes the current condition
your group wishes to change. Make sure the problem is limited in
scope so that it is small enough to realistically tackle and solve.
Writing the statement will ensure that everyone can understand exactly
what the problem is. It is important to avoid including any "implied
cause" or "implied solution" in the problem statement. Remember,
a problem well stated is a problem half solved.
State the Goal
problem is defined, it is relatively easy to decide what the goal will
be. Stating the goal provides a focus and direction for the group.
A measurable goal will allow the tracking of progress as the problem is
the problem, ask the following:
Is the problem
stated objectively using only the facts?
Is the scope
of the problem limited enough for the group to handle?
Will all who
read it understand the same meaning of the problem?
Does the statement
include "implied causes" or "implied solutions?"
Has the "desired
state" been described in measurable terms?
Do you have
a target date identified?
Analyze the Problem
In this stage
of problem solving, questions should be asked and information gathered
and sifted. Do not make the mistake of assuming you know what is
causing the problem without an effort to fully investigate the problem
you have defined. Try to view the problem from a variety of viewpoints,
not just how it affects you. Think about how the issue affects others.
It is essential to spend some time researching the problem. Go to
the library or develop a survey to gather the necessary information.
to Ask When Analyzing the Problem:
What is the
history of the problem? How long has it existed?
is the problem?
What are the
causes of the problem?
What are the
effects of the problem?
What are the
symptoms of the problem?
does the group already have for dealing with the problem?
What are the
limitations of those methods?
How much freedom
does the group have in gathering information and attempting to solve the
keep the group from achieving the goal?
Can the problem
be divided into sub problems for definition and analysis?
3. IDENTIFYING POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Idea Generation Techniques
best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."
possible solutions to the problem is sometimes referred to as finding "Optional
Solutions" because the goal is to complete a list of all conceivable alternatives
to the problem. Using a variety of creative techniques, group participants
create an extensive list of possible solutions. Asking each group
member for input ensures that all viewpoints will be considered.
When the group agrees that every course of action on the list will be considered,
they will feel some direct ownership in the decision making process.
This may help put the group in the mood of generating consensus later in
the decision making process.
You may already
be familiar with some of these topics, but take the time to look through
them anyway. The information you will find is valuable to your group's
Used in Solving Problems
generation techniques are broken down into easy-to-follow steps that will
help keep your group organized and on the topic at hand. We are basically
giving you step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish each technique
with ease and success.
is a problem solving approach designed to help a group generate several
creative solutions to a problem. It was first developed by Alex Osborn,
an advertising executive who felt the need for a problem solving technique
that, instead of evaluating and criticizing ideas, would focus on developing
imaginative and innovative solutions.
A group's members
are presented with a problem and all its details.
encouraged to come up with as many solutions as possible, putting aside
all personal judgments and evaluations. "Piggy-backing" off another
person's idea is useful.
All ideas are
recorded so the whole group can see them.
Ideas are evaluated
at another session.
to release a group's creativity in order to generate multiple imaginative
solutions to a problem.
idea-creation from the idea-evaluation process by not allowing any criticism
to take place while the group is generating ideas.
May be more
productive for each member to brainstorm quietly and then share ideas with
the group (brainwriting).
brainstorming puts each member at a computer terminal and their ideas are
projected to a screen so no one knows from whom an idea came.
Used by businesses
and government to improve the quality of decision making.
presents a target question to the group.
If the group
is large, divide into smaller groups (approx. six people).
is given a copy of the target questions on an index card and a recorder/spokesperson
is selected by seating. The individual then writes all ideas on index
The group spends
a few minutes thinking of and evaluating ideas.
The group reports
its list to the entire assembly.
A large group
is subdivided into smaller groups which discuss an assigned target question,
then report their questions back to the main group.
participation and involvement that is not feasible in large groups.
be used to identify problems or issues, generate questions to study, compile
a list of ideas or solutions, or stimulate personal involvement.
Used by churches,
schools, and company department heads to foster involvement in a large
situation, or question is stated clearly and concisely.
asks participants to generate a list of the features or characteristics
of the problem or question.
gives the group five to fifteen minutes to work silently.
is recorded on a chart visible to all members.
the items, but do not yet evaluate them.
chooses his or her top ranked items.
The group engages
in full discussion about the top rated items.
on the finding that people working individually while in the presence of
others sometimes generate more ideas than while interacting as a group.
members to reach a decision on a controversial issue without leaving a
residue of bitterness from a win-lose conflict.
individually in each other's presence by writing their ideas. They
record these ideas on a chart, discuss them as a group, and finally evaluate
them by a ranking procedure until members reach a decision.
of dominating members of the group.
lazy members to let others carry the ball is minimized.
to the brainstorming process.
A Delphi Panel
is selected by the facilitator.
or issue is stated concisely in writing and sent to each of the Delphi
panel for individual work.
compiles another document that details all the individual positions taken
by the panel and distributes a copy to each member
with a facilitator compiling the individual comments into a single document
and distributing it to the group, continues until a consensus is reached.
Not a group
a problem or an issue to the appropriate individuals, asking them to list
their solutions, compiling a master list, circulating this master list
to all participants, and asks them to comment in writing on each item on
the list. The list with comments is then circulate to the participants.
The procedure is continued until a decision is reached.
Good for when
time and distance constraints make it difficult for group members to meet.
group is not talking about the here-and-now of the problem, it is engaged
is a group story-telling method wherein everyone in the group adds something
to the topic at hand, which may not necessarily be the primary focus.
is what the fantasy chain is about at the surface level.
is the underlying theme (what the group members are really thinking about).
Helps the group
define itself by creating symbols that are meaningful and that help determine
Enables a group
to discuss indirectly matters that might be too painful or difficult to
bring out into the open.
Helps a group
deal with emotionally "heavy" information.
in which groups create their shared images of the world, each other, and
what they are about as a group.
A group's identity
converges through these shared fantasies.
introduces a topic that is to be discussed by the group in any way they
unstructured thoughts about a given topic.
to analyze people's interests and values.
large corporations, and political candidates use focus groups to understand
how others perceive their strengths and weaknesses.
is a thinking technique connecting two different universes of meaning.
The key to metaphorical thinking is similarity.
logical thinking can stifle the creative process, so use metaphors as a
way of thinking differently about something. Make and look at metaphors
in your thinking, and be aware of the metaphors you use. Metaphors
are wonderful, so long as we remember that they don't constitute a means
of proof. As by definition, a metaphor must break down at some point.
State the objectives of thinking
in metaphors: to see comparisons between two ideas, and to gain new
insights from comparisons
Brainstorm possible metaphors for
some aspects of the problem
"Piggyback" on metaphors; build on
Choose the best metaphors to carry
Examine all imaginable areas of comparison
in the metaphor
Ask questions the metaphor might
Look for insights into causes, effects,
and solutions for your problem
possible solutions, it is essential to remember to:
Hold back from
evaluating proposed solutions.
Make a point
of "thinking outside" of your own experience and expertise.
in the process.
Go for quantity
- at least 20 or so possible solutions before narrowing the list to between
four and six of the best suggestions.
SELECTING THE BEST SOLUTIONS
Steps to Decision Making
Information and Do Not Jump to Conclusions
the essence of the decision making process. It is very important
to spend time on this step before suggesting solutions. It is said
that successful groups do not jump to the solution stage quickly.
They spend ample amount of time gathering information and analyzing the
problem. The main purpose of this step is to gather as much information
on a topic as possible. The group needs to think about their audience.
They need to think about who will be reading it and when. While accuracy
is important, there can be a trade-off between gathering information and
letting morally significant options and information disappear.
step, the group needs to come up with relevant facts and circumstances.
They need to gather this information within the decision time available.
It does not have to be a lot of information, but all of the important information
needs to be stated in brief context.
Have to Be Made?
full of choices and decisions. Even deciding not to decide is, of
course, a decision. This stage is very crucial to overcoming a problem,
and, of course, making a group decision. The members of the group
need to put thoughts and ideas into play in order to make good decisions.
The group needs to brainstorm and gather lots of options to come to one
that there may be more than one decision maker. Their interactions
can be very important and influential in a group decision.
step the group needs to begin defining the problem. The group members
need to define the problem and come up with other ideas so they are not
limited to just one final decision. If their first alternative does
not work out, they can make another decision and choose other alternatives.
The following are some steps to follow while finding feasible alternatives:
problem. Try to phrase it as a question.
goals and options.
options available at that time.
importance of the problem.
all meeting times and places.
Options at Each Stage
step you should be sure to ask many questions. Each decision maker
needs to take into account good or bad consequences. Here, you should
ask what the likely consequences are of various decisions.
Morally Significant Factors in Each Alternative
step you need to use your ethical resources to determine what the decision
will be. The following are the most significant factors you
should use as a guideline when determining your decision.
principals that are widely accepted throughout a group or organization.
of the group need to ask themselves questions such as, Would I be exploiting
others? Have promises been made?
the decision, think to yourself whether or not your decision will hurt
and work willingly with the members of your group.
of Possible Resolutions
must be made, but which solution should your group choose? In identifying
the best solution or solutions to the problem, the group should consider
from among the four to six suggestions that were decided upon from the
ideas which they had gathered. The different factors, or criteria,
that people use to make their decisions are often unclear or never voiced.
This can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of other people's
Ideas and Information on the Actual Problem
Type of Decision Criteria
exactly is your audience. This allows you to specify a solution that
best addresses a specific audience.
establish the history of the problem to be solved, as well as what caused
the problem to occur. This allows for accuracy within your solution.
the problem to be solved relates to other issues. However, be careful
not to bring forth any other problems while solving the initial problem.
examine the facts and all of the gathered information. This allows
the group to challenge facts and assumptions, making sure they can withstand
any type of scrutiny or disagreement.
Make sure that
you have gathered enough information on the problem.
of the group should focus on what makes an acceptable decision.
an ideal decision consists of and what should be included and excluded
out of that decision.
a reasonable or fairly good solution would be. This becomes important
when the ideal solution can not be reached.
standards the group should utilize to judge a decision.
is valid and feasible about the decision made.
such questions as:
Have all solutions
been accounted for?
What, if any,
is the evidence to support each of the chosen decisions?
Did the group
use brainstorming techniques to produce ideas?
or Determining the Best Solution
stage in the process the group is working towards an agreement on the final
solution. This is done by testing all previously made solutions using
the decision making criteria set forth by the group. The group goal
in this step is to make sure they have found the solution that will best
solve the problem and address any other issues that may have been a consequence
of that problem.
phase, the group should eliminate any solution that does not meet the requirements
and focus on those that could ultimately be utilized. The group should
be concerned with whether or not the solution chosen solves the problem
or just minimizes it.
Is the solution
workable in relation to the problem?
Are there any
limits that the solution presents?
at the advantages and disadvantages, which are there more of?
Does the chosen
idea live up to the standards of the decision criteria?
Are the facts
and information gathered consistent with the proposed solution?
phase the group should be focusing on two main goals.
For this to
work, complete dedication on the part of all group members is needed.
Everyone in the group has to be willing to work with one another while
offering their unique skills and talents. Group members also have
to be willing to take full responsibility for the solution they choose.
The best way
to make the solution apply and function when applied to the problem.
are needed for the solution to work?
within the group plays a very important part in the decision implementation
process. While in this phase, the group should ask such questions
as (Schein, 1969):
Once this is
done, the group can implement the solution.
What do we
have to do to accomplish our proposed course of action?
Who will be
responsible for implementing the proposed plan?
When can our
group reasonably expect results?
events or accidents are likely to jeopardize our actions?
should we consult who can help us with our proposal?
should we consult who could threaten our proposal?
final step, it is important to have the support of the entire group.
Keep in mind that in case this primary solution does not work as planned,
the group will have to look for alternative solutions. Tracking the
effect of the solution in the long run also serves to be a helpful future
model and determines what is and what is not needed in a solution.
Develop an Action Plan
An action plan
is a chart that lists the tasks that need to be done and identifies who
will be responsible for each, when and what action is necessary, where
to start, and how.
Implement the Solution
groups who choose the solution are not the ones who will implement it.
If this is the case, members who select the solution should clearly explain
why they selected it to the ones who will implement it. Showing that
the problem solving process was an organized and orderly process will convince
others that the solution is valid.
to Sub-home Page
member of the group should monitor whether or not specific tasks are being
performed or short-term targets are being achieved as planned. This
monitoring should take place regularly until all tasks are completed.
Some suggested monitoring techniques are:
Contingency Plan if Necessary
or role play
on action plan
of all work
may involve repeating the initial seven-step problem solving process to
address additional problems as needed. Make certain that the goal
has been reached and that a plan is in place to ensure that the problem
will not recur.
following questions and score each answer on a scale of 1 (no participation
at all) to 5 (participated very well) to ascertain how well your group
solved the problem:
How well did
the group assess the problem or decision?
How well did
the group identify its goal?
How well did
the group identify the positive consequences of the solutions under consideration?
How well did
the group identify the negative consequences of the solutions under consideration?
Did the group
draw reasonable conclusions from available information?