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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.

Five-step Problem solving process:

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

1. Identify

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.

2. Analyze

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.

3. Explore

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.

4. Select

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. Who will do most of the work? Human Resource constraint.
  2. Does it have management approval?
  3. Is it scalable and sustainable?

5. Implement

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.

  1. In what order? Create tasks in order of priority. High priority tasks to be completed first followed by low priority tasks.
  2. Who will do it? Assign task to relevant resource.
  3. When will they do it? Create the timeline for implementing the solution.

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.

Identify: (Critical Thinking)

  1. Write a problem statement to clearly describe the problem.
  2. Find out if the problem is worth solving.

Analyze: (Critical Thinking)

  1. Ask the 5 Whys to arrive at the root cause of the problem.

Explore: (Creative Thinking)

  1. Brainstorm to get ideas to address the problem.

Select: (Critical Thinking)

  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.

Implement: (Critical Thinking)

  1. Design a way to measure the effectiveness of the solution.
  2. Build an implementation plan

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