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What is Problem Solving? How to master it

Having excellent problem-solving abilities may make a significant impact in your career. Problems are at the heart of much of what people accomplish at work on a daily basis. The difficulties you confront might be vast or little, simple or complicated, easy or tough, whether you’re addressing an issue for an internal or external customer, helping people who are solving difficulties or identifying new issues to address.


Finding solutions to problems is an important aspect of any manager’s job. As a result, being a confident problem solver is critical to your success. A decent technique to follow when tackling a challenge contributes to a lot of that confidence. You can address problems fast and effectively with one.

what is problem solving? how to master it

There are four basic steps in solving a problem:

1) Defining the problem.

2) Generating alternatives.

3) Evaluating and selecting alternatives.

4) Implementing solutions.

Steps 2–4 of this method are detailed in other Mind Tools sections. For further information, check our articles on Step 2 (creating alternatives), Step 3 (considering and selecting options), and Step 4 (project management) (implementing solutions).

As a result, the articles in this part of Mind Tools are geared at assisting you in completing the first of these processes — identifying the problem. Making an understanding of the complicated context in which the problem arises is an important element of this since it allows you to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. Many of the tools in this area can assist you in doing so.

Let’s talk about Problem Solving in Detail

what is problem solving? how to master it

Defining the Problem

The key to a successful problem definition is to focus on the actual problem rather than its symptoms. If your department’s performance is poor, for example, you may believe the issue is with the people who submit work. However, if you dig a little further, you could find that the true problem is a lack of training or an excessive workload.


Asking the proper questions and working through the layers of a problem with tools like 5 Whys, Appreciation, and Root Cause Analysis can help you figure out what’s actually going on. It’s also critical at this point to ensure that you examine the problem from a variety of angles.

Understanding Complexity

When your problem is straightforward, the answer is typically self-evident, and you won’t need to go through the four phases we discussed previously. As a result, if you use this more formal approach, your problem is likely to be complex and difficult to comprehend, because there are a slew of interconnected concerns.

The good news is that there are a variety of tools available to help you decipher this jumbled mess! Many of them aid in the creation of a clear visual depiction of the scenario, allowing you to better comprehend what is happening.

Affinity Diagrams are useful for grouping together disparate pieces of information into themes and establishing connections between them.

The Cause-and-Effect Diagram is another common tool. To come up with effective remedies, you must first understand what’s creating the issue. In the case of subpar work, Cause-and-Effect diagrams would show that a lack of training might be a contributing factor, as well as other probable reasons such as job overload and technological issues.

Create a Flow Chart, Swim Lane Diagram, or Systems Diagram to show how multiple actions and inputs fit together when your problem happens inside a business process. This will frequently assist you in identifying a missing component or bottleneck that is causing your issue.

Quite frequently, what appears to be a single issue turns out to be a slew of issues. To return to our example, subpar work might be caused by a lack of abilities, but heavy workloads, as well as overly short lead periods and low motivation, might also be factors. The Drill Down Method will assist you in breaking down your problem into smaller chunks that may then be tackled individually.

The four-step problem-solving strategy we described at the start of this post will come in handy in a variety of circumstances. Simplex, Appreciative Inquiry, or Soft Systems Methodology might be used for a more complete procedure (SSM).

These give step-by-step instructions for properly solving an issue.

Simplex is made up of eight stages: problem identification, fact-gathering, problem definition, idea generation, selection and evaluation, planning, marketing the concept, and action. These phases expand on the fundamental process stated earlier, creating a cycle of problem-solving that will help your company develop over time.

Appreciative Inquiry takes a refreshingly optimistic approach to problem-solving by looking at what’s functioning well in the places around them.

Soft Systems Methodology is intended to assist you in comprehending complicated problems so that you may begin to solve them. It works in four steps to assist you learn more about what’s causing the problem and then determine what measures to take to fix the issue.

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