The approach to problem solving is dependent upon the nature of the problem and those involved. Problems can be caused by a variety of things – both negative and positive. For example:
- You feel stressed – stress is always the result when problems are dealt with badly.
- But problems do not always result in stress. Perhaps you have invented problems that may occur or cannot make a decision about something.
The interesting thing is that problems aren’t always negative. For example, you are invited on a cruise and you feel excited. The problems here are enjoyable – organising passports, time off work, what clothes to wear.
Effective problem solving is vital when you are undertaking a career transition or attempting to establish a long-term career.
How do you know when you have a problem?
Well here are some basic guidelines to problem solving and decision making:
1. Identifying the problem is the first step. Ask the following questions:
- What can you see that causes you to think there is a problem?
- Where is it happening?
- How is it happening?
- When is it happening?
- With whom is it happening?
- Why is it happening?
- Get the description of the problem down on paper.
Now if the problem seems a complex one – break it down into workable sections. Discuss it with another individual to verify your understanding of the problem, work out whether the problem can be classified as important, urgent or otherwise and then prioritise your steps.
It is also important to understand your role in the problem. Your role has a bearing on how you perceive the roles of others. If you are stressed you make the assumption that others are too and blame and reprimand others prematurely. You may ignore others’ accountability for the problem if you are feeling guilty about your role in causing the situation.
2. Look at potential causes of the problem.
Discuss with others who are aware of the problem and obtain their feedback on how they think it occurred. Once you have established everyone’s viewpoint then put everyone’s thoughts down in writing clearly defining what is happening, where, when, how, with whom and why.
3. Identify alternative approaches to solve the problem
Get together with others and brainstorm possible solutions. Brainstorming is a collection of ideas which are then assessed and the best idea implemented.
4. Select an approach.
- When selecting the best approach to adopt to solve a problem you need to bear in mind several things, namely:
- Will the approach provide a long term solution?
- Is it a realistic option?
- Can I adopt it now?
- Are the resources available to adopt it?
- Is it an affordable option?
- Is there time enough to implement it?
- What risk factors are there associated with the option?
5. Create an Action Plan.
- Here you need to consider what the end result will be when the problem is solved. Ask yourself:
- What steps do I need to implement?
- How will I know if all steps are implemented according to the Action Plan?
- What resources will I need in terms of money, people, facilities?
- What time frame will I need to implement the plan? Here write a schedule with start and completion times.
- Who is responsible for each step?
- Ensure that all parties are clear on all aspects of the Action Plan.
6. Monitor the progress of the Action Plan.
It is important that you monitor the Action Plan checking to see whether each step of the plan is being undertaken successfully, whether the plan can be completed on schedule and, if the plan is not being followed, is it realistic, are their sufficient resources available to execute it and does the plan need to be changed.
7. Verify if the problem has been solved.
At the completion of all steps, check to see whether you have achieved the desired outcome. If the problem is within a business environment, probably one of the best ways to establish whether the situation has been resolved is to resume normal operations. Any problems will soon come to light. Whether the problem is within our personal or business lives, you need at this stage to consider how best to avoid a similar problem occurring in the future and what has been learned from the experience.
What is a problem for one person may not be for another. Always try to look at the positive and not the negative of any problem encountered and that will make it easier to solve.