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The key steps to effective problem solving

Problem solvingProblem solving is a skill that most businesses would say they are good at, but, the reality is different. Although many business owners and managers may be right, in that they could solve many of the most complex problems within their organisations, this doesnโ€™t always mean that they are solving the right problem.

Defining the right problem

When it comes to business, time is money. Businesses cannot afford to waste time, so when they are faced with a problem, they must solve it as quickly and as efficiently as possible. If the route cause of the problem is not defined clearly, then the hope of solving it can never be fully achieved.

Albert Einstein once said, โ€œIf I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving itโ€. These are wise words and advice that every entrepreneur should follow.

Knowing the exact cause of problems within a business is a vital first step, as well as the understanding of which problems are important. Without this knowledge, companies can miss opportunities, waste valuable resources and deviate from the overall objectives. We often hear about projects heading off down one route, when on evaluation – or with the benefit of hindsight – it is clear that it should have gone down another. If organisations become better at asking the right questions, they will end up tackling the right problems.

Understanding problems

Every business owner can benefit from having good problem solving skills. Every company will face many problems in its lifecycle and knowing how to correctly solve and overcome these problems is the key to long-term growth and success.

The key, before moving onto trying to solve problems, is to understand their two main features: goals and barriers.

Goals – problems involve setting out to achieve an overall objective or goal. Only if we know the goal, do we fully understand the extent of the problem.

Barriers โ€“ if there were no barriers in our way of achieving the goal, there would be no problem.

Problem solving involves overcoming these barriers to help us solve the problem at hand.

The problem solving stages

Identifying the problem

The first stage is to actually detect and recognise that a problem exists using the two features listed above. This is often more difficult than you may first think. What is the nature of the problem? Is there more than one problem? How can you best define the problem? By spending a good amount of time answering these questions, you will understand the problem more clearly and be able to communicate it to others more effectively.

Structure the problem

The second stage is to structure the problem. This involves increased understanding of the problem by gaining greater information about it through fact-finding and analysis. Building a better picture of its root causes and both the goals and barriers, is vital to the eventual solving.

Define possible solutions

The next stage is to generate a range of possible courses of action. The information gathered during the first two stages should now allow you to come up with some possible solutions, whilst not having to fully evaluate each idea. Brainstorming sessions and other idea generation techniques, are perfect for this kind of activity, involving as many team members as possible.

Making the decision

Once you have a list of possible solutions, now is the time to analyse each more carefully. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other business factors, and some may even lead to creating more problems. Once everything has been fully evaluated, you should then be able to narrow the list down to one final decision.


The final stage is to implement the chosen course of action. During this step, it is important to realise that other problems may arise and need to be solved along the way. Once this has been achieved, you should look to review and get feedback over a period of time to ensure the problem was solved correctly.

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