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Guide to solving problems critically and creatively

Problems are everywhere. In our daily lives, workplaces, homes, personal relationships and what not. We cant just leave all those problems to be solved by themselves. We need to come to the solution and fix the problem as soon as possible. This need smart work and this is what I am going to talk about.

But what really is a problem. A problem is a situation that could lead to a negative outcome. Finding solution to the problems in hand is crucial to avoid those negative outcome. This is where critical and creative thinking comes into play.

Five-step Problem solving process:

Five-step problem solving process is used to solve problem in a successful manner.

A Problem Well stated is a problem half solved.

— Charles Kettering

This is the first step of solving a problem. In this step, problem statement is written down in which we identify and answer the “who”, “when”, “where” and “what” of the situation.

Every problem contains within itself the seeds of its own solution.

— Stanley Arnold

In this step, we analyze the cause of the problem by asking the question “Why” fives times repeatedly until we get to the root cause of the problem. Five is not a magic number. Sometimes you can reach the root cause by 3 or 4 “Why” questions and other times, it can even take 6 or 7 times to reach to the root cause. Once we have the root cause of the problem, it is easier for us to apply creative thinking and explore for possible solutions to solve the problem.

In this step, we brainstorm and do creative thinking to get plenty of ideas as a solution to the problem in hand. The more ideas we can brainstorm, the better it is. The focus here should be on quantity rather than quality. Ideas from different people should also be welcomed and incorporated. Ideas from people from different domains and backgrounds should also be taken into account and should be carried forward. Ideas from everyone should be welcomed, whether its a smart idea or an absurd one. Sometimes an absurd idea can be carried forward into a final solution to the problem, therefore criticism to any ideas should be avoided.

Brainstorming for ideas can be made more effective by looking outside one’s experience and area of expertise.

After brainstorming, we have plenty of ideas to deal with. Now in this step, we have to decide upon which idea is the best solution for our problem under the given circumstances. Here we ask few questions to ourselves. The questions may include but are not limited to:

  1. How long does it take to implement the solution? Time constraint.
  2. Who will do most of the work? Human Resource constraint.
  3. Does it have management approval?
  4. Is it scalable and sustainable?

and any other questions that may arise. Do not select the solution which is easy and quick to implement. It may have its loop holes associated with it.

Selecting the solution can be made easy with the three step process:

  1. Identify the type of solution you are looking for.

There are 5 type of solutions as shown below. (refer to the image below). It is up to us to decide which solution we need to implement according to the situation.

Corrective, adaptive and interim solution are used when the problem has already occurred and we need to solve it. Whereas contingent and preventive solution is used before the occurrence of the problem.

2. Decide who should select the best solution.

To decide who should select the best options, three factors are considered. (a) Time, (b) Quality and (c) Buy-In. If time is an important factor then one person should decide the best solution. for example, if we don’t have enough time, then more people should not be involved in deciding for the solution and it takes lots of time. If Quality is an important factor, then one person should consult with advisors and stakeholders to decide the best solution. Buy-in mean that are many stakeholders own the situation or problem and they have decision making powers to fix things. If buy-in is an important factor, meaning that the whole team or stakeholders owns the problem, then the whole team should reaches consensus to decide the best solution.

3. Choose the solution that you will implement.

To chose the best solution, use effectiveness and implement matrix to decide the best solution. In most cases the best solution is the one which is easy to implement and highly effective in problem solving.

Perfect solutions to our difficulties can’t be found in an imperfect world.

— Sir Winston Churchill

Until now we have gone through the process of identifying what the problem is, brainstorming for its solution and selecting the best solution. As quoted above. Even the best solution is not a perfect solution. There is always room for improvement. Now that we have selected the best solution for our problem, it is now time to implement it.

The first step for implementation is to design a way to measure how well the solution works. (a) Establish the criteria of success (b) Determine what you will measure and (c) Decide how you will measure. These three steps are important for success because if you cant measure success then you cant manage it well.

The second step is to build an implementation plan. This include answering four questions

  1. What need to be done? Create a work breakdown structure or Identify individual tasks that need to be done.
  2. In what order? Create tasks in order of priority. High priority tasks to be completed first followed by low priority tasks.
  3. Who will do it? Assign task to relevant resource.
  4. When will they do it? Create the timeline for implementing the solution.

This plan is used in all kind of problem solving, whether it is a small-scale problem or a large-scale problem. The person in-charge needs to manage it well to make sure the solution is implemented successfully.

Conclusion:

Now we have looked at the five-step problem solving process. Was it too much to digest? Okay, so lets summarize to make it clear. Here is the sequence to be followed to solve the problem.

  1. Write a problem statement to clearly describe the problem.
  2. Find out if the problem is worth solving.
  1. Ask the 5 Whys to arrive at the root cause of the problem.
  1. Brainstorm to get ideas to address the problem.
  1. Identify different types of solutions for the problem.
  2. Identify who should choose the solution.
  3. Use the Ease and Effectiveness matrix to select the best solution.
  1. Design a way to measure the effectiveness of the solution.
  2. Build an implementation plan

Happy Reading!!!!!!!!

I am a Senior Software Engineer at Afiniti | Ex-IBMer.

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