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  • Jul 7, 2020

The Problem solving Loop

What happens when you or your organization is confronted with complex problem or issue? Are things not working the way they should? Is it people or material to blame? Was it a systemic issue, or just an isolated incident? If there were an easy solution, then why wasn’t it implemented?

When faced with a complex problem or issue, there is a template for coming up with a solution. It is commonly referred to as The Problem Solving Loop. Even when not explicitly used as a tool, many people will apply it even on a simplified level without actually even consciously recognizing the tool’s use. Analytical/Critical Thinking can be applied to nearly every step of the process.

Generally, there are five steps in the loop. Other methodologies could add in additional steps, but often they are really just breaking up the steps into parts. The first (1st) and the most critical step to complete correctly is defining the problem, or Problem Identification. You always want to start off on the right, yes?

The second (2nd) step would be looking for potential solutions and exploring ideas to List Courses of Action. Brainstorming and opening your mind to alternative ideas really can help to generate several options. How can you know if you are going to select the right choice if you haven’t looked at alternative solutions?

Naturally, the next step (3rd) would be to Select the Best Solution, including any application of analysis to determine the choice. Each choice can be weighed against the others. The assessment or judgements can be based on specific criteria to compare the options. Ultimately, a choice needs to be made.

After deciding on the best idea or solution, the fourth (4th) step would be to actually perform the Implementation and test it. However, the process doesn’t end there, and finally it is necessary to Evaluate to results of the solution and test whether it solved the defined problem. While conducting the final (5th) step, a determination can be made if the initial issue was resolved and/or new issues were discovered. This can trigger another cycle of the problem solving loop again.

Throughout my careers, I have applied this methodology at a structured level and simplified level for problems in the military and civilian sectors. Nearly all complex challenges are best resolved when using a proven problem solving process. Analyzing objectively will improve the results as well as efficiency of reaching the best solution.

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What is the OODA Loop?

The OODA Loop is a Model that summarizes Problem-Solving Processes in 4 simple Steps .

  • It is commonly used in Professional Problem-Solving situations.

Its name is an acronym for the 4 Steps it Proposes :

Four Steps of the OODA Loop

1. Observe : Analyze the Problem and Collect as much data as Possible.

  • How often this Problem takes place, When, Under which Circumstances, etc.

2. Orient : Study the Data and find different ways to tackle the Problem .

  • Problems can always be addressed in more than one way.

3. Decide : Establish How the Problem will be Addressed .

  • And what Strategy will be employed.

4. Act : Implement the Necessary Actions to Solve the Problem.

  • Establishing Schedules, Goals and Metrics.

This cycle should be Repeated Indefinitely until the Problem is completely Solved .

Let’s see the first example:

OODA Loop example

This Problem-solving Approach is widely used in Industry .

In the Manufacturing line there are many Problems whose Solution is not always obvious.

  • Small defects that alter the final product.
  • Omitted operations.
  • Raw materials with defects.

The most common mistake is to Settle for the first explanation found.

  • And keep going.

Usually this results in the Problem not being Solved Correctly because the data has not been analyzed deeply enough.

Process engineers follow the OODA Loop constantly (whether they know it or not) by analyzing the Data, finding the Root cause of problems, and Implementing the best possible Solutions.

* If you are interested in the Root Cause approach, we suggest you to visit:

  • Root Cause Analysis .

There, we explain different Problem-Solving Methods that focus specially on Root Causes.

We know that this method seems pretty obvious.

  • In fact, it is some of the most obvious Methods we have explained so far.

Therefore, How can it be of any help?

How can you take advantage of the OODA Loop?

How to Use the OODA Loop

It is an Easy Guideline to Remember .

  • Remembering the acronym OODA and what it means is very simple .

It contains the Essence of all Problem-Solving Processes .

  • A Careful Analysis , Reflect on the Alternatives , Act and Repeat the cycle.

It can be Taught to people Unfamiliar with Problem-Solving methods .

  • Technicians or Specialized workers can easily use and Remember it.

It is not as Obvious as it seems .

  • This model Reminds us that we have to Stop , Think , Analyze  and Act .

The best way to understand the OODA Loop and how you can use it is by sharing some examples with you:

OODA Loop examples

We have chosen 3 different situations in which the OODA Loop can be of great Help .

  • And we explain How to use it.

Let’s begin:

Negotiating - OODA Loop example

A good Negotiation is not one in which both parties discuss positions, but one in which both parties Reconcile Common Interests .

And the best way to seek Common Interests is to Analyze the needs of the other party .

The next time you are in a Negotiation, we suggest you this:

  • Observe the Issues that the Other Party highlights or mentions the Most.
  • Orient the conversation towards those Issues.
  • Decide how the two of you can get something good out of these Issues.
  • Act : Propose Agreements on those Matters, which you consider fair for both parties.

Then, you should Repeat this cycle, until the two of you come to an Agreement .

Starting a New Project - OODA Loop example

In New Projects , the OODA Loop can be of Great Help.

It helps you define your Products and approach your Customers in the most effective way.

If you Start a New Project or Develop a New Product:

  • Observe what People Consume, How Often, Their Preferences , etc.
  • Orient your Product or Project to fulfill the needs of your potential Customers.
  • Decide the appropriate Price , Marketing Campaign, etc.
  • Act : Launch a Beta Product.

Once you have information about your Beta Product, Repeat the Cycle until your Product is Perfect .

Improving a Skill - OODA Loop example

The OODA Loop can be used in your day to day .

  • As it is a very versatile method, you can use it in your personal life.

You can use it for improving your Skills , for example.

  • Observe what it takes to Master a Skill that you would like to improve.
  • Orient your analysis to include your Actual Capabilities .
  • Decide what Learning method and Approaches would be the best.
  • Act : Start Practicing and Create a Schedule with your Progress.

You should repeat this cycle, Checking your Personal Progress and trying New Approaches .


The OODA Loop is a Model that summarizes the Problem-Solving Process in 4 simple Steps.

  • Observe : Analyze the Problem and Collect as much data as Possible.
  • Orient : Study the Data and find different ways to tackle the Problem.
  • Decide : Establish How the Problem will be Addressed.
  • Act : Implement the Necessary Actions to Solve the Problem.

How to take advantage of the OODA Loop:

  • It is an Easy Guideline to Remember.
  • It contains the Essence of a Problem-Solving Process.
  • It can be Taught to people Unfamiliar with Problem-Solving methods.
  • It is not as Obvious as it seems.
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35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

the problem solving loop

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

the problem solving loop

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

the problem solving loop

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

the problem solving loop

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

Follow Now : Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."


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What Is Problem Solving?

By the Mind Tools Content Team

the problem solving loop

We all spend a lot of our time solving problems, both at work and in our personal lives.

Some problems are small, and we can quickly sort them out ourselves. But others are complex challenges that take collaboration, creativity, and a considerable amount of effort to solve.

At work, the types of problems we face depend largely on the organizations we're in and the jobs we do. A manager in a cleaning company, for example, might spend their day untangling staffing issues, resolving client complaints, and sorting out problems with equipment and supplies. An aircraft designer, on the other hand, might be grappling with a problem about aerodynamics, or trying to work out why a new safety feature isn't working. Meanwhile, a politician might be exploring solutions to racial injustice or climate change.

But whatever issues we face, there are some common ways to tackle them effectively. And we can all boost our confidence and ability to succeed by building a strong set of problem-solving skills.

Mind Tools offers a large collection of resources to help you do just that!

How Well Do You Solve Problems?

Start by taking an honest look at your existing skills. What's your current approach to solving problems, and how well is it working? Our quiz, How Good Is Your Problem Solving? lets you analyze your abilities, and signposts ways to address any areas of weakness.

Define Every Problem

The first step in solving a problem is understanding what that problem actually is. You need to be sure that you're dealing with the real problem – not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think that the problem lies with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real issue might be a general lack of training, or an unreasonable workload across the team.

Tools like 5 Whys , Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis get you asking the right questions, and help you to work through the layers of a problem to uncover what's really going on.

However, defining a problem doesn't mean deciding how to solve it straightaway. It's important to look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a short-sighted solution. The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, keeping you open to a variety of possible solutions.

Understanding Complexity

As you define your problem, you'll often discover just how complicated it is. There are likely several interrelated issues involved. That's why it's important to have ways to visualize, simplify and make sense of this tangled mess!

Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for understanding the relationships between them.

Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram . To generate viable solutions, you need a solid understanding of what's causing the problem.

When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart , Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you to see how various activities and inputs fit together. This may well highlight a missing element or bottleneck that's causing your problem.

Quite often, what seems to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. The Drill Down technique prompts you to split your problem into smaller, more manageable parts.

General Problem-Solving Tools

When you understand the problem in front of you, you’re ready to start solving it. With your definition to guide you, you can generate several possible solutions, choose the best one, then put it into action. That's the four-step approach at the heart of good problem solving.

There are various problem-solving styles to use. For example:

  • Constructive Controversy is a way of widening perspectives and energizing discussions.
  • Inductive Reasoning makes the most of people’s experiences and know-how, and can speed up solution finding.
  • Means-End Analysis can bring extra clarity to your thinking, and kick-start the process of implementing solutions.

Specific Problem-Solving Systems

Some particularly complicated or important problems call for a more comprehensive process. Again, Mind Tools has a range of approaches to try, including:

  • Simplex , which involves an eight-stage process: problem finding, fact finding, defining the problem, idea finding, selecting and evaluating, planning, selling the idea, and acting. These steps build upon the basic, four-step process described above, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization.
  • Appreciative Inquiry , which is a uniquely positive way of solving problems by examining what's working well in the areas surrounding them.
  • Soft Systems Methodology , which takes you through four stages to uncover more details about what's creating your problem, and then define actions that will improve the situation.

Further Problem-Solving Strategies

Good problem solving requires a number of other skills – all of which are covered by Mind Tools.

For example, we have a large section of resources to improve your Creativity , so that you come up with a range of possible solutions.

By strengthening your Decision Making , you'll be better at evaluating the options, selecting the best ones, then choosing how to implement them.

And our Project Management collection has valuable advice for strengthening the whole problem-solving process. The resources there will help you to make effective changes – and then keep them working long term.

Problems are an inescapable part of life, both in and out of work. So we can all benefit from having strong problem-solving skills.

It's important to understand your current approach to problem solving, and to know where and how to improve.

Define every problem you encounter – and understand its complexity, rather than trying to solve it too soon.

There's a range of general problem-solving approaches, helping you to generate possible answers, choose the best ones, and then implement your solution.

Some complicated or serious problems require more specific problem-solving systems, especially when they relate to business processes.

By boosting your creativity, decision-making and project-management skills, you’ll become even better at solving all the problems you face.

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Supporting the Problem-Solving Loop: designing highly interactive optimisation systems

  • Department of Human Centred Computing
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Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › Research › peer-review

Efficient optimisation algorithms have become important tools for finding high-quality solutions to hard, real-world problems such as production scheduling, timetabling, or vehicle routing. These algorithms are typically 'black boxes' that work on mathematical models of the problem to solve. However, many problems are difficult to fully specify, and require a 'human in the loop' who collaborates with the algorithm by refining the model and guiding the search to produce acceptable solutions. Recently, the Problem-Solving Loop was introduced as a high-level model of such interactive optimisation. Here, we present and evaluate nine recommendations for the design of interactive visualisation tools supporting the Problem-Solving Loop. They range from the choice of visual representation for solutions and constraints to the use of a solution gallery to support exploration of alternate solutions. We first examined the applicability of the recommendations by investigating how well they had been supported in previous interactive optimisation tools. We then evaluated the recommendations in the context of the vehicle routing problem with time windows (VRPTW). To do so we built a sophisticated interactive visual system for solving VRPTW that was informed by the recommendations. Ten participants then used this system to solve a variety of routing problems. We report on participant comments and interaction patterns with the tool. These showed the tool was regarded as highly usable and the results generally supported the usefulness of the underlying recommendations.

  • Interactive optimisation
  • Interactive systems and tools
  • Interface design
  • Vehicle routing

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  • 10.1109/TVCG.2020.3030364

Other files and links

  • Link to publication in Scopus

T1 - Supporting the Problem-Solving Loop

T2 - designing highly interactive optimisation systems

AU - Liu, Jie

AU - Dwyer, Tim

AU - Tack, Guido

AU - Gratzl, Samuel

AU - Marriott, Kim

PY - 2021/2

Y1 - 2021/2

N2 - Efficient optimisation algorithms have become important tools for finding high-quality solutions to hard, real-world problems such as production scheduling, timetabling, or vehicle routing. These algorithms are typically 'black boxes' that work on mathematical models of the problem to solve. However, many problems are difficult to fully specify, and require a 'human in the loop' who collaborates with the algorithm by refining the model and guiding the search to produce acceptable solutions. Recently, the Problem-Solving Loop was introduced as a high-level model of such interactive optimisation. Here, we present and evaluate nine recommendations for the design of interactive visualisation tools supporting the Problem-Solving Loop. They range from the choice of visual representation for solutions and constraints to the use of a solution gallery to support exploration of alternate solutions. We first examined the applicability of the recommendations by investigating how well they had been supported in previous interactive optimisation tools. We then evaluated the recommendations in the context of the vehicle routing problem with time windows (VRPTW). To do so we built a sophisticated interactive visual system for solving VRPTW that was informed by the recommendations. Ten participants then used this system to solve a variety of routing problems. We report on participant comments and interaction patterns with the tool. These showed the tool was regarded as highly usable and the results generally supported the usefulness of the underlying recommendations.

AB - Efficient optimisation algorithms have become important tools for finding high-quality solutions to hard, real-world problems such as production scheduling, timetabling, or vehicle routing. These algorithms are typically 'black boxes' that work on mathematical models of the problem to solve. However, many problems are difficult to fully specify, and require a 'human in the loop' who collaborates with the algorithm by refining the model and guiding the search to produce acceptable solutions. Recently, the Problem-Solving Loop was introduced as a high-level model of such interactive optimisation. Here, we present and evaluate nine recommendations for the design of interactive visualisation tools supporting the Problem-Solving Loop. They range from the choice of visual representation for solutions and constraints to the use of a solution gallery to support exploration of alternate solutions. We first examined the applicability of the recommendations by investigating how well they had been supported in previous interactive optimisation tools. We then evaluated the recommendations in the context of the vehicle routing problem with time windows (VRPTW). To do so we built a sophisticated interactive visual system for solving VRPTW that was informed by the recommendations. Ten participants then used this system to solve a variety of routing problems. We report on participant comments and interaction patterns with the tool. These showed the tool was regarded as highly usable and the results generally supported the usefulness of the underlying recommendations.

KW - Interactive optimisation

KW - Interactive systems and tools

KW - Interface design

KW - Usability

KW - Vehicle routing

UR -

U2 - 10.1109/TVCG.2020.3030364

DO - 10.1109/TVCG.2020.3030364

M3 - Article

C2 - 33112748

AN - SCOPUS:85100404595

SN - 1077-2626

JO - IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics

JF - IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics

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Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders in Any Industry

Business man leading team in problem-solving exercise with white board

  • 17 Jan 2023

Any organization offering a product or service is in the business of solving problems.

Whether providing medical care to address health issues or quick convenience to those hungry for dinner, a business’s purpose is to satisfy customer needs .

In addition to solving customers’ problems, you’ll undoubtedly encounter challenges within your organization as it evolves to meet customer needs. You’re likely to experience growing pains in the form of missed targets, unattained goals, and team disagreements.

Yet, the ubiquity of problems doesn’t have to be discouraging; with the right frameworks and tools, you can build the skills to solve consumers' and your organization’s most challenging issues.

Here’s a primer on problem-solving in business, why it’s important, the skills you need, and how to build them.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals.

Your business removes obstacles in customers’ lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals.

Design Thinking

Design thinking , as described by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , is a human-centered , solutions-based approach to problem-solving and innovation. Originally created for product design, design thinking’s use case has evolved . It’s now used to solve internal business problems, too.

The design thinking process has four stages :

4 Stages of Design Thinking

  • Clarify: Clarify a problem through research and feedback from those impacted.
  • Ideate: Armed with new insights, generate as many solutions as possible.
  • Develop: Combine and cull your ideas into a short list of viable, feasible, and desirable options before building prototypes (if making physical products) and creating a plan of action (if solving an intangible problem).
  • Implement: Execute the strongest idea, ensuring clear communication with all stakeholders about its potential value and deliberate reasoning.

Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise.

Creative Problem-Solving

Another, less structured approach to challenges is creative problem-solving , which employs a series of exercises to explore open-ended solutions and develop new perspectives. This is especially useful when a problem’s root cause has yet to be defined.

You can use creative problem-solving tools in design thinking’s “ideate” stage, which include:

  • Brainstorming: Instruct everyone to develop as many ideas as possible in an allotted time frame without passing judgment.
  • Divergent thinking exercises: Rather than arriving at the same conclusion (convergent thinking), instruct everyone to come up with a unique idea for a given prompt (divergent thinking). This type of exercise helps avoid the tendency to agree with others’ ideas without considering alternatives.
  • Alternate worlds: Ask your team to consider how various personas would manage the problem. For instance, how would a pilot approach it? What about a young child? What about a seasoned engineer?

It can be tempting to fall back on how problems have been solved before, especially if they worked well. However, if you’re striving for innovation, relying on existing systems can stunt your company’s growth.

Related: How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Why Is Problem-Solving Important for Leaders?

While obstacles’ specifics vary between industries, strong problem-solving skills are crucial for leaders in any field.

Whether building a new product or dealing with internal issues, you’re bound to come up against challenges. Having frameworks and tools at your disposal when they arise can turn issues into opportunities.

As a leader, it’s rarely your responsibility to solve a problem single-handedly, so it’s crucial to know how to empower employees to work together to find the best solution.

Your job is to guide them through each step of the framework and set the parameters and prompts within which they can be creative. Then, you can develop a list of ideas together, test the best ones, and implement the chosen solution.

Related: 5 Design Thinking Skills for Business Professionals

4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need

1. problem framing.

One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.

“Before you begin to generate solutions for your problem, you must always think hard about how you’re going to frame that problem,” Datar says in the course.

For instance, imagine you work for a company that sells children’s sneakers, and sales have plummeted. When framing the problem, consider:

  • What is the children’s sneaker market like right now?
  • Should we improve the quality of our sneakers?
  • Should we assess all children’s footwear?
  • Is this a marketing issue for children’s sneakers specifically?
  • Is this a bigger issue that impacts how we should market or produce all footwear?

While there’s no one right way to frame a problem, how you do can impact the solutions you generate. It’s imperative to accurately frame problems to align with organizational priorities and ensure your team generates useful ideas for your firm.

To solve a problem, you need to empathize with those impacted by it. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and experiences. While many believe empathy is a fixed trait, it’s a skill you can strengthen through practice.

When confronted with a problem, consider whom it impacts. Returning to the children’s sneaker example, think of who’s affected:

  • Your organization’s employees, because sales are down
  • The customers who typically buy your sneakers
  • The children who typically wear your sneakers

Empathy is required to get to the problem’s root and consider each group’s perspective. Assuming someone’s perspective often isn’t accurate, so the best way to get that information is by collecting user feedback.

For instance, if you asked customers who typically buy your children’s sneakers why they’ve stopped, they could say, “A new brand of children’s sneakers came onto the market that have soles with more traction. I want my child to be as safe as possible, so I bought those instead.”

When someone shares their feelings and experiences, you have an opportunity to empathize with them. This can yield solutions to their problem that directly address its root and shows you care. In this case, you may design a new line of children’s sneakers with extremely grippy soles for added safety, knowing that’s what your customers care most about.

Related: 3 Effective Methods for Assessing Customer Needs

3. Breaking Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind in which you examine situations through the lens of past experiences. This locks you into one mindset rather than allowing you to consider alternative possibilities.

For instance, your cognitive fixedness may make you think rubber is the only material for sneaker treads. What else could you use? Is there a grippier alternative you haven’t considered?

Problem-solving is all about overcoming cognitive fixedness. You not only need to foster this skill in yourself but among your team.

4. Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment

As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to problem-solving. In a psychologically safe environment, all team members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, which are likely influenced by their personal opinions and experiences.

If employees are penalized for “bad” ideas or chastised for questioning long-held procedures and systems, innovation has no place to take root.

By employing the design thinking framework and creative problem-solving exercises, you can foster a setting in which your team feels comfortable sharing ideas and new, innovative solutions can grow.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

How to Build Problem-Solving Skills

The most obvious answer to how to build your problem-solving skills is perhaps the most intimidating: You must practice.

Again and again, you’ll encounter challenges, use creative problem-solving tools and design thinking frameworks, and assess results to learn what to do differently next time.

While most of your practice will occur within your organization, you can learn in a lower-stakes setting by taking an online course, such as Design Thinking and Innovation . Datar guides you through each tool and framework, presenting real-world business examples to help you envision how you would approach the same types of problems in your organization.

Are you interested in uncovering innovative solutions for your organization’s business problems? Explore Design Thinking and Innovation —one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses —to learn how to leverage proven frameworks and tools to solve challenges. Not sure which course is right for you? Download our free flowchart .

the problem solving loop

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The 5 Steps of Problem Solving


Problem solving is a critical skill for success in business – in fact it’s often what you are hired and paid to do. This article explains the five problem solving steps and provides strategies on how to execute each one.

Defining Problem Solving

Before we talk about the stages of problem solving, it’s important to have a definition of what it is. Let’s look at the two roots of problem solving — problems and solutions.

Problem – a state of desire for reaching a definite goal from a present condition [1] Solution – the management of a problem in a way that successfully meets the goals set for treating it

[1] Problem solving on Wikipedia

One important call-out is the importance of having a goal. As defined above, the solution may not completely solve problem, but it does meet the goals you establish for treating it–you may not be able to completely resolve the problem (end world hunger), but you can have a goal to help it (reduce the number of starving children by 10%).

The Five Steps of Problem Solving

With that understanding of problem solving, let’s talk about the steps that can get you there. The five problem solving steps are shown in the chart below:

problem solving steps

However this chart as is a little misleading. Not all problems follow these steps linearly, especially for very challenging problems. Instead, you’ll likely move back and forth between the steps as you continue to work on the problem, as shown below:

problem solving steps iterative

Let’s explore of these steps in more detail, understanding what it is and the inputs and outputs of each phase.

1. Define the Problem

aka What are you trying to solve? In addition to getting clear on what the problem is, defining the problem also establishes a goal for what you want to achieve.

Input:  something is wrong or something could be improved. Output: a clear definition of the opportunity and a goal for fixing it.

2. Brainstorm Ideas

aka What are some ways to solve the problem? The goal is to create a list of possible solutions to choose from. The harder the problem, the more solutions you may need.

Input: a goal; research of the problem and possible solutions; imagination. Output: pick-list of possible solutions that would achieve the stated goal.

3. Decide on a Solution

aka What are you going to do? The ideal solution is effective (it will meet the goal), efficient (is affordable), and has the fewest side effects (limited consequences from implementation).

Input:  pick-list of possible solutions; decision-making criteria. Output: decision of what solution you will implement.

4. Implement the Solution

aka What are you doing? The implementation of a solution requires planning and execution. It’s often iterative, where the focus should be on short implementation cycles with testing and feedback, not trying to get it “perfect” the first time.

Input:  decision; planning; hard work. Output:  resolution to the problem.

5. Review the Results

aka What did you do? To know you successfully solved the problem, it’s important to review what worked, what didn’t and what impact the solution had. It also helps you improve long-term problem solving skills and keeps you from re-inventing the wheel.

Input:  resolutions; results of the implementation. Output: insights; case-studies; bullets on your resume.

Improving Problem Solving Skills

Once you understand the five steps of problem solving, you can build your skill level in each one. Often we’re naturally good at a couple of the phases and not as naturally good at others. Some people are great at generating ideas but struggle implementing them. Other people have great execution skills but can’t make decisions on which solutions to use. Knowing the different problem solving steps allows you to work on your weak areas, or team-up with someone who’s strengths complement yours.

Want to improve your problem solving skills? Want to perfect the art of problem solving?  Check out our training programs or try these 20 problem solving activities to improve creativity .


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22 thoughts on “The 5 Steps of Problem Solving”

the problem solving loop

very helpful and informative training

the problem solving loop

Thank you for the information

the problem solving loop


the problem solving loop

I’m writing my 7th edition of Effective Security Management. I would like to use your circular graphic illustration in a new chapter on problem solving. You’re welcome to phone me at — with attribution.

the problem solving loop

Sure thing, shoot us an email at [email protected] .

the problem solving loop

i love your presentation. It’s very clear. I think I would use it in teaching my class problem solving procedures. Thank you

the problem solving loop

It is well defined steps, thank you.

the problem solving loop

these step can you email them to me so I can print them out these steps are very helpful

the problem solving loop

I like the content of this article, it is really helpful. I would like to know much on how PAID process (i.e. Problem statement, Analyze the problem, Identify likely causes, and Define the actual causes) works in Problem Solving.

the problem solving loop

very useful information on problem solving process.Thank you for the update.

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the problem solving loop

It makes sense that a business would want to have an effective problem solving strategy. Things could get bad if they can’t find solutions! I think one of the most important things about problem solving is communication.

the problem solving loop

Well in our school teacher teach us –

1) problem ldentification 2) structuring the problem 3) looking for possible solutions 4) lmplementation 5) monitoring or seeking feedback 6) decision making

Pleace write about it …

the problem solving loop

I teach Professional communication (Speech) and I find the 5 steps to problem solving as described here the best method. Your teacher actually uses 4 steps. The Feedback and decision making are follow up to the actual implementation and solving of the problem.

the problem solving loop

i know the steps of doing some guideline for problem solving

the problem solving loop

steps are very useful to solve my problem

the problem solving loop

The steps given are very effective. Thank you for the wonderful presentation of the cycle/steps/procedure and their connections.

the problem solving loop

I like the steps for problem solving

the problem solving loop

It is very useful for solving difficult problem i would reccomend it to a friend

the problem solving loop

this is very interesting because once u have learned you will always differentiate the right from the wrong.

the problem solving loop

I like the contents of the problem solving steps. informative.

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Blog Business What is a Problem-Solving Flowchart & How to Make One

What is a Problem-Solving Flowchart & How to Make One

Written by: Danesh Ramuthi Aug 10, 2023

What is A Problem Solving Flowchart

Problem-Solving Flowcharts, contrary to what many believe aren’t just aesthetic wonders — they’re almost like magical blueprints for troubleshooting those pesky problems that many of us face.

Flowcharts take business challenges and turn them into a navigable pathway. In this post, I will guide you on key aspects of problem-solving flowcharts such as what it is, the advantages of problem-solving flowcharts, how to create one and more.

Besides, you’ll also discover how to create problem-solving flowcharts with the help of Venngage’s Flowchart Maker.

And for those of you thinking, “I’m no designer, how can I create one?” worry not! I’ve got you covered. Just hop on Venggage’s Flowchart Templates and you’ll be charting your way to problem-solving glory in no time.

Click to jump ahead:

What are problem-solving flowcharts?

When to use problem-solving flowcharts, what are the advantages of flowcharts in problem-solving, what are the 7 steps of problem-solving flowcharts.

  • 5 different types of problem-solving flowcharts

Best practices for designing effective problem-solving flowcharts

How to make a flowchart using venngage , problem-solving flowcharts faqs.

  • Final Thoughts

Problem-Solving Flowcharts is a graphical representation used to break down problem or process into smaller, manageable parts, identify the root causes and outline a step-by-step solution. 

It helps in visually organizing information and showing the relationships between various parts of the problem.

This type of flowcharts consists of different symbols and arrows, each representing different components or steps in the problem-solving process. 

By following the flow of the chart, individuals or teams can methodically approach problem, analyze different aspects of it and come to a well-informed solution.

Problem Agitate Solution Flow Chart Template

Problem-Solving Flowcharts is a versatile tool that can be used in various scenarios. Here’s when to consider utilizing one:

  • Complex Problems: When faced with a multifaceted issue that involves multiple steps or variables, flowcharts can help break down the complexity into digestible parts.
  • Team Collaboration: If you’re working with a team and need a common understanding of problem and its potential solutions then a flowchart provides a visual that everyone can refer to.
  • Analyzing Processes: In a situation where you need to understand a particular process, whether it’s within a project or a part of regular operations then mapping it out in a flowchart can offer clarity.
  • Decision Making: When various paths or decisions might be taken, a flowchart can outline the potential outcomes of each aiding in making an informed choice.
  • Training and Onboarding: Flowcharts can be used in training materials to help new employees understand complex processes or procedures which makes the learning curve smoother.
  • Identifying Root Causes: If you’re looking to identify the underlying causes of problem then a flowchart can facilitate a systematic approach to reaching the root of the issue.

Related: How to Use Fishbone Diagrams to Solve Complex Problems

Problem-solving flowcharts can offer several benefits to the users who are looking to solve a particular problem. Few advantages of flowcharts in problem solving are: 

Visual Clarity

When you’re dealing with multifaceted problems or processes, words alone can make the situation seem even more tangled. Flowcharts distill these complexities into easily understandable visual elements. 

By mapping out each phase or component of problem, flowcharts offer a bird’s eye view enabling individuals to grasp the bigger picture and the finer details simultaneously.

Sequential Representation

Flowcharts excel in laying out the sequence of events or actions. By indicating a clear starting point and illustrating each subsequent step, they guide users through a process or solution path methodically. 

This linear representation ensures that no step is overlooked and each is executed in the right order.  


Problem-solving often requires team effort and flowcharts are instrumental in fostering collaborative environments. 

When a team is discussing potential solutions or trying to understand problem’s intricacies, a flowchart serves as a collective reference point. 

It aids in synchronizing everyone’s understanding, minimizing miscommunications and promoting constructive discussions. 

Read more about: Flowcharts Symbols and Meaning

Website User Flow Diagram

1. Define the Problem  

Before anything else, it’s essential to articulate the problem or task you want to solve clearly and accurately. By understanding exactly what needs to be addressed you can ensure that subsequent steps align with the core issue.

2. Identify the Inputs and Outputs  

Determine what inputs (such as data, information or resources) will be required to solve the problem and what the desired outputs or outcomes are. Identifying these factors will guide you in structuring the steps needed to reach the end goal and ensure that all necessary resources are at hand.

3. Identify the Main Steps  

Break down the problem-solving process into its main steps or subtasks. This involves pinpointing the essential actions or stages necessary to reach the solution. Create a roadmap that helps in understanding how to approach the problem methodically.

4. Use Decision Symbols  

In problem-solving, decisions often lead to different paths or outcomes. Using standard symbols to represent these decision points in the flowcharts allows for a clear understanding of these critical junctures. It helps visually present various scenarios and their consequences.

5. Add Descriptions and Details  

A well-designed flowcharts is concise but clear in its labeling. Using arrows and short, descriptive phrases to explain what happens at each step or decision point ensures that the flowcharts communicates the process without unnecessary complexity. 

6. Revise and Refine  

Creating a flowcharts is not always a one-and-done process. It may require revisions to improve its clarity, accuracy or comprehensiveness. Necessary refinement ensures that the flowcharts precisely reflects the problem-solving process and is free from errors or ambiguities.

7. Use Flowchart Tool  

While it’s possible to draw a flowcharts manually, using a flowcharts tool like Venngage’s Flowchart Maker and Venngage’s Flowchart Templates can make the process more efficient and flexible. These tools come with pre-designed templates and intuitive interfaces that make it easy to create, modify and share flowcharts. 

Root Cause Analysis Flow Chart

5 different types of problem-solving flowcharts 

Let’s have a look at 5 most common types of flowcharts that individuals and organizations often use. 

1. Process Flowchart s

A process flowcharts is a visual representation of the sequence of steps and decisions involved in executing a particular process or procedure. 

It serves as a blueprint that showcases how different stages or functions are interconnected in a systematic flow and it highlights the direction of the process from its beginning to its end.

Proposal Process Flowchart

Process flowcharts are instrumental in training and onboarding, sales process , process optimization, documentation, recruitment and in any scenario where clear communication of a process is crucial.

Simple Recruitment Process Flowchart

2. Flowcharts Infographic 

A flowcharts infographic is a great way to showcase the process or a series of steps using a combination of graphics, icons, symbols and concise text. It aims to communicate complex information in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, making it a popular tool for conveying information, data and instructions in a visually engaging way.

Icon Competitor Process Infographic Template

For example, you can use this flowchart to illustrate a health insurance process that visually explains the steps involved from finding a provider to paying for your healthcare provider. 

Flowchart Infographic Template

3. Circular Flowcharts

A circular flowcharts is used to illustrate the flow of information, goods, services or money within a closed system or process. It gets its name from its circular shape, which emphasizes the continuous and cyclical nature of the flow. 

Marketing Life Cycle Circular Flowchart Diagram

Circular flowcharts are widely used in various fields such as economics, business, engineering and process management to help visualize and understand complex systems.

In a circular flowcharts , elements are represented using various shapes and connected with arrows to indicate the direction of flow. The circular arrangement indicates that the process is ongoing and repeats itself over time.

Quad Life Cycle Flowchart

4. Swimlane flowcharts

Swimlane flowcharts , also known as cross-functional flowcharts are a specific type of flowchart that organizes the process flow into lanes or “swimlanes.” 

Each lane represents a different participant or functional area involved in the process and the flowchart shows how activities or information move between these participants. 

Swimlane Process Flow

Swimlane flowcharts are particularly useful for illustrating complex processes that involve multiple stakeholders or departments.

In a swimlane flowcharts, the process is divided horizontally into lanes and each lane is labeled with the name of the department, person or role responsible for that part of the process. Vertically, the flowchart displays the sequence of steps or actions taken in the process.

the problem solving loop

5. Decision Flowchart s

Decision flowcharts, also known as decision trees or flow diagrams are graphical representations that illustrate the process of making decisions or solving problems. 

They are widely used in various fields such as computer science, business mapping , engineering and problem-solving scenarios. 

Vibrant Decision Flowchart Template

Decision flowcharts help break down complex decision-making processes into simple, sequential steps, making it easier to understand and follow.

A decision tree is a specialized flowchart used to visually represent the process of decision-making. 

Businesses and other individuals can employ a decision tree analysis as a tool to aid in evaluating different options and the possible consequences associated with each choice.

Decision trees Infographics can be used to create a more nuanced type of flowchart that is more informative and visually appealing by combining a decision flowchart and the flowchart infographic. 

Decision flowcharts are valuable tools for visualizing decision-making processes, analyzing complex problems and communicating them effectively to others.

Illustrative Decision Flowchart Template

Designing effective problem-solving flowcharts involves careful consideration of various factors to ensure clarity, accuracy and usability. Here are some best practices to create efficient and useful problem-solving flowcharts:

  • Understand the problem first & clearly define it
  • Keep it simple
  • Use standard & recognizable symbols
  • Ensure that the flowchart follows a logical and sequential order
  • Clearly label each decision point, action and outcome
  • Verify the flowchart’s accuracy by testing it
  • Clearly state the decision criteria that lead to different branches
  • Provide context when the flowchart is part of a larger process or system
  • Review and revise the flowchart

Creating problem-solving flowchart on Venngage is incredibly simple. All you have to do is:

  • Start by Signing Up and Creating an Account with Venngage
  • Choose a flowchart template that best suits your needs from our library.
  • Start editing your flowchart by choosing the desired shapes, labels and colors.
  • You can also enhance your flowchart by incorporating icons, illustrations or backgrounds all of which are readily available in our library.
  • Once done, you will have 2 options to choose from, either sharing it online for free or downloading your flowchart to your desktop by subscribing to the Premium or Business Plan. 

Is flowchart the representation of problem solutions?

Flowcharts are not the representation of problem solutions per se; rather, they are a visual representation of processes, decision-making steps and actions taken to arrive at a solution to problem.

What are the 3 basic structures of flowcharts?

3 Basic Structures of Flowcharts are:

  • Sequence: Simplify Complexity
  • Selection (Decision): Embrace Choices
  • Repetition (Loop): Emphasize Iteration

What are the elements of a good flowchart?

A good flowchart should exhibit clarity and simplicity, using consistent symbols and labels to depict a logical sequence of steps. It should be readable, with appropriate white space to avoid clutter while eliminating ambiguity through well-defined decision criteria and paths.

Can flowcharts be used for both simple and complex problem-solving?

Yes, flowcharts can be used for both simple and complex problem-solving scenarios. Flowcharts are versatile visual tools that can effectively represent various processes, decision-making steps and problem-solving approaches regardless of their complexity.

In both cases, flowcharts offer a systematic and visual means of organizing information, identifying potential problems and facilitating collaboration among team members.

Can problem-solving flowcharts be used in any industry or domain?

Problem-solving flowcharts can be used in virtually any industry or domain. The versatility and effectiveness of flowcharts make them applicable to a wide range of fields such as Business and Management, Software Development and IT, Healthcare, Education, Finance, Marketing & Sales and a lot more other industries. 

Final thoughts

Problem-solving flowcharts are a valuable and versatile tool that empowers individuals and teams to tackle complex problems with clarity and efficiency.

By visually representing the step-by-step process of identifying, analyzing and resolving issues, flowcharts serve as navigational guides simplifying intricate challenges into digestible parts.

With the aid of modern tools like Venngage’s Flowchart Maker and Venngage’s Flowchart Templates , designing impactful flowcharts becomes accessible to all while revolutionizing the way problems are approached and solved.

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Triple Loop Learning

Home » Resource hub » Systems Practice Toolkit » Triple Loop Learning

The triple loop learning model supports learning and reflection within teams and individuals. It highlights three modes of learning, as shown in the graphic below. Understanding these modes helps teams to reflect in different ways: from the day-to-day activities to the wider context in which they take place.

  • Loop 1 helps problem-solving and course-correction, asking: ‘Are we doing things right?’.
  • Loop 2 questions the assumptions a set of activities are based on, and asks: ‘Are we doing the right things?’ ( 1 ).
  • Loop 3 questions the questions, and asks: ‘How do we decide what’s right’?

It digs into the underlying assumptions and values that shape the activities’ approach, inviting ‘ continual reflection on the learning process, the contexts within which learning occurs, and the assumptions and values motivating the learning’ . ( 2 )

the problem solving loop

Learning and systems change

Learning is a core systems practice. Tools 1 and 2 showed how working with complex problems requires testing, reflecting, and adapting, none of which is possible without embedding learning cultures and practices.

To support systemic change, learning needs to be embedded across that system. People from different parts of the system learning together can generate insights, ideas and solutions that lead to a richer understanding of complex issues and more innovative approaches to problem-solving.

Many different inputs, spaces and processes are needed for this, from centring lived experience and shared data to embedding feedback loops and decentralising decision-making.

The Learning section of our toolkit includes two tools: Triple Loop Learning, which supports team learning, and the Reflexive Practice Model, which supports individual learning.

Reflection isn’t new – “plan, do, review” has been with us forever and is arguably one of the most important human traits of all. The triple loop learning model sheds light on the different levels that we operate on in the 'review' element. It is a model that can help [actors] in any field have greater self-awareness and tap into deeper levels of questioning.

Alex Atkinson

A framework for learning

As shown in the diagram below, this framework actually has four loops – three learning loops and one ‘defensive reasoning’ loop. This first loop is not a learning loop as it is a loop of self-justification that blocks learning. The framework shows what is happening in each loop: its primary concern, the questions it poses, and the learning approach it enables.

Diagram of triple loop learning framework. Fuller version of content provided in text in the table on subsequent pages

Guidance for use

There are different versions of the Triple Loop Learning framework. This is a natural part of collective learning, as different people test and iterate concepts over time. Our version particularly draws on the work of systems practice consultant and academic, Joan O’Donnell , which itself draws on the original Double Loop Learning Framework created by Argyris and Schön. ( 3 )

The following rules of thumb can help guide your use of this framework:

  • It’s non-judgmental: Everyone will find themselves in each of these loops at different times. While we might aspire to be strategic and enquiring at all times, sometimes we are in ‘reactive’ and even ‘defensive’ modes. This framework does not say that Single Loop Learning– the reactive mode– is intrinsically bad: course correction is a necessary part of day-to-day learning and improvement. The important thing is not to just stay in this loop and avoid the broader questions and enquiries in Loops 2 and 3. The aim should be to achieve balance between Loops 1, 2 and 3.
  • It’s non-linear: Learning is never linear. Although there is a logic of moving from the micro-level daily details of Loop 1 out to the bigger picture questions of Loops 2 and 3, in reality we may do some Loop 2 reflections within Loop 1 conversations, or ask some Loop 3 questions within a Loop 2 strategy assessment. The purpose of this framework is to increase our consciousness of these different learning modes and so create spaces for them.
  • Its use can be spontaneous or structured: The framework can be used in either a spontaneous or structured way. Sometimes you might bring the tool into a project review meeting to consider learning at different levels, or you might use it to intentionally structure and plan learning conversations, creating explicit spaces for the different loops at different points in your process.
  • It can be used by individuals or teams: As well as the team uses described above, the framework can also be used as a personal reflection tool. You might print out the framework and think about when you might have found yourself in each of the loops. You might ask yourself some of the questions in Loops 2 and 3 to consider your own approaches to, or assumptions about, a situation.

Triple Loop Learning and System Change

Reflection allows us to consciously direct change. It helps us to understand the existing dynamics of change in a situation and our own role in and relationship to them. By doing this, we are more able to intentionally influence them. Triple loop learning encourages learners to reflect at different levels, and so be able to influence change within them.

The graphic below summarises the kind of change that each learning loop can facilitate.

  • Loop 1: Reviewing actions to identify errors and improvements can lead to changing actions. 
  • Loop 2: Challenging assumptions about current actions and the course set can lead to changing approaches to situations.
  • Loop 3: Challenging assumptions about the approach and the context in which the activities exist can change perspectives and opens the possibility of changing wider norms and structures.

the problem solving loop

Below we provide further detail on using the framework, along with examples of questions to ask, situations in which you might use these approaches, and potential changes that might happen as a result of using these tools.

Learning Loops Example

Loop: defensive.

Mode: Self-justifying: How do I / we protect my / our own interests?

Description: Although this is a loop, it is one that blocks learning. It avoids feedback and what it perceives as criticism. It believes that if it can convince others that its actions are correct then its position / status will be secure. This mode is often one born of insecurity and fear– the belief that accepting feedback and correction will undermine position, status or advantage.

Questions: How do I / we cover up flaws and ensure ‘business as usual’ continues? How can we present a positive picture at all times?

Example: A team in a youth charity seeking to reduce youth violence has not met the projected engagement targets for a funded project. Participant data is adjusted to meet the targets. Unaware of these issues, the funder accepts the project reports, and similarly presents the positive programme achievements to its stakeholders and funding is renewed. Although this may bring benefit in the short-term, this is unlikely to hold, and opportunities for learning about how engagement can be more effective will be inhibited.

Loop: Single

Mode: Reactive: Am I / are we doing it right?

Description: Single loop learning focuses on correcting actions and behaviours without questioning the fundamental assumptions or beliefs that underpin those actions. The emphasis is on problem-solving and achieving desired outcomes more efficiently through improvements in working practices and operations.

Questions: How do we correct errors or improve processes and practices to meet existing goals? What is contributing to achieving our goals and what is hindering them?

Example: The programme team use data to analyse how many young people they have reached, compared to their targets. They look at what engagement methods have been successful and haven’t, then decide to concentrate their resources on the more successful engagement approaches. In doing so, they are able to improve their engagement data. However, this reactive learning, which focuses mainly on the numbers, may miss opportunities to understand why unsuccessful approaches haven’t worked or to develop new approaches.

Possible changes: Higher numbers of young people are engaged.

Loop: Double

Mode: Reflective: Am I / are we doing the right things?

Description: Double-loop learning encourages learners to not only correct actions but also question the underlying assumptions that guide those actions. Rather than correcting course, it doesn’t assume the course previously set is itself correct. This compels teams to look harder at whether their actions offer the best chance of achieving their goals, and opens the possibility of exploring alternative approaches.

Questions: What assumptions are we making about how to achieve our goals? Are they correct? Do we need to try different approaches? What might they be?

Example: Here, the programme team question whether the activities they are offering are the right ones – they had previously assumed young people would want to come, but perhaps the problem is the activity itself. Perhaps young people aren’t interested. They consider their broader violence prevention goals and they engage young people in exploring what activities they might be more interested in attending, which could deliver the same overall outcomes. They may they do this as part of a strategy review process, for example.

Possible changes: Change in strategy and approach leading to possible innovations in youth engagement. Change in mentality and understanding about the drivers of violence affecting young people.

Loop: Triple

Mode: Subjective: How do we know what’s right?

Description: The third loop goes beyond actions to examine the context– the norms, structures, patterns– in which the actions occur. It questions the relationship between the actions taken and the wider context, how these contribute to each other and how patterns of behaviour are created. Loop 3 moves from a subject-object view of the team/ individual as the protagonist acting upon a situation/ group of people, to one acting with it. This engages those groups/ people in the process, shifting power relationships and democratising learning. In Loop 3 we are zooming out from our normal mental frameworks to question the situation and our agency, role and motives within it. This is deepening our reflective capacity.

Questions: Are our goals the right ones? Why have we set those goals? Are there other views on this problem/ situation or other goals that could be set? What are the wider norms and structures that are creating this problem? Are there ways in which we are contributing to it ourselves (perhaps unwittingly)? What role do we play in this system / situation? Are there different roles we should be playing? What do others think?

Example: In this loop, the programme team decide to establish ongoing reflection sessions. In these sessions, members are invited to reflect on what their experiences are telling them about youth violence in the local area and why it isn’t improving. This may lead them to question the basis for the actions and the approach they take. They bring in external perspectives, and again seek the perspectives of the young people themselves, to help develop a fuller picture of the issue. They consider what role they are playing and how they might use their role in a different way– considering how their activities might contribute more towards breaking cycles of violence.

  • Circular organizing and triple loop learning: Romme and Van Witteloostuijn, Journal of Organizational Change Management , 1999.
  • Beyond Agency and Structure: Triple-Loop Learning: Yuthas, K., Dillard J., Rogers R., Journal of Business Ethics , 2004.
  • Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective

Blank Triple Loop Learning templates to download

  • NPC Tool 7 Triple Loop Learning Table Blank

Systems Practice Toolkit

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Technique 6.1: Structured Problem Solving

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As we have mentioned, the Evolve Loop defines and encompasses the Solve Loop. The structured problem solving process puts some context around the practices of the Solve Loop. The Solve Loop is not intended to be a linear or sequential model. The practices operate as independent entities, and they are used as needed in responding to requests. The structured problem solving process provides direction on how to use the Solve Loop practices in an effective way.

In some respects, problem solving is an art. However, we have found that a little bit of structure in the problem solving process can help improve the outcome. The structure of the KCS article also helps reinforce an effective approach to problem solving.

Consider a crime scene: the first thing the police do when a crime is reported is to preserve and record the situation. The first officers to arrive on the scene are trained to secure the area; they mark the location of the evidence and bodies and take pictures. When the detective shows up to solve the crime, they first seek to understand the situation, then begin to ask clarifying questions, and then eventually go off to do research.

The structured problem solving process involves application of the four practices in the Solve Loop. It helps the responders collect, organize, and analyze the information used in solving the issue. Note that there are different skills used in different steps in the problem solving process, and, as a result, different responders or collaborators may be involved in each step.

Having explicit techniques in the workflow not only improves the problem solving process, but also creates a KCS article as a by-product of the problem solving process. The structured problem solving process in KCS includes two simple, yet powerful, concepts:

  • Seek to understand before we seek to solve (a Core Concept)
  • Search early, search often (a Solve Loop technique)

First, we seek to understand the situation in the requestor's context, and we capture it to preserve it. Then we seek to understand what we collectively know about the issue (search the knowledge base). These concepts are not unique to KCS; Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe outline these same problem-solving methodologies in The Rational Manager , as does Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People .

Structured Problem Solving Model

Searching will sometimes result in finding articles that describe similar situations. While perhaps not perfect for our situation, articles about similar issues can provide additional insight or trigger qualifying questions that we had not thought of. This complements what we know about analyzing this kind of issue. If an existing article is not found after refining our search a few times, we start the diagnostic  process. We tap into our problem solving experience and use whatever tools are relevant. We continue to ask clarifying questions. As we build a richer understanding of the issue, we check the knowledge base frequently. If we do not find anything pertinent to the situation in the knowledge base, and we cannot resolve the problem, we then collaborate with others or escalate the issue for more additional  research .

Different Skills at Different Points

Managing the Conversation

We are seeing better integration of the various systems the responders use to resolve issues. However, if systems are not integrated and we have to use multiple systems and screens to handle issues, this section is relevant.  In environments where we need to use multiple applications to get the job done - for example, a case or incident management system that keeps track of the events, and a separate knowledge management system that houses the KCS article - it's helpful to design the KCS workflow to manage the conversation in order to minimize the need to jump back and forth between systems.

Deal with the administrative elements at the beginning (contact initiation) and end of each contact (wrap up) - not interspersed throughout the resolution process. This approach will allow focus on the objective of problem solving.

Enabling Collaboration

Problem solving is a collaborative process.  Ask any responder what they do when they realize they are working on something new or unfamiliar and they will tell you they reach out to their peers: they collaborate.  All too often they do it i n spite of the traditional processes and escalation rules. What if our process and infrastructure facilitated collaboration instead of inhibited it?

Support Analysts have collaborated for years using tools like email and instant messenger or just asking others nearby: the "prairie dog" support model (over the cubicle wall). These are helpful but limited in their effectiveness. We are seeing some significant infrastructure improvements integrated into the responder user interface that facilitate collaboration.

The opportunity to improve the effectiveness of collaboration lies in our ability to know things like availability, who knows what, and who is interested in what.  Effective collaboration, or what we call Intelligent Swarming, is a function of relevance. By relevance we mean that for a given issue, we want to bring together the best resources we have (people and/or content) to solve the issue.  To accomplish this we have to know something about the issue and something about our resources, content, and people. Earlier versions of KCS focused on capturing the collective experience of the organization in a KCS article (content). What is emerging is the idea of people profiles that capture both the experiences and interests of the people.

Just as a search gives us access to the past experience of others through the KCS article, we could improve the relevance of collaboration by providing access to the people profiles.  Where KCS helps connect people to content or knowledge for known issues, Intelligent Swarming helps connect people to people for new issues. 

The Consortium members have been working for some time to bring the concept of Intelligent Swarming to operational reality.  An increasing number of members have moved their organizations from an escalation-based model to a collaboration-based model. They are realizing amazing benefits.  For more information, see the Intelligent Swarming initiative on the Consortium web site.

We have learned some things from skills-based routing. Most organizations that have done it report mediocre results. The issue is that if the profiles are detailed enough to be helpful in getting an issue to the right person, they are difficult to create. If they are created, the dynamics of the environment make them impossible to maintain. On the other hand, if the skills profiles are at the level of detail where they are creatable and maintainable, they are not specific enough to be very accurate in routing.

We have come to the conclusion that the people profiles must be largely programmatic or maintained by the system and tunable by the people in order to reflect interests. The experiences of a Support Analyst, or any responder, change on a week-to-week basis.

Some operational examples of enabling collaboration:

  • Simple version - launch instant messenger (without leaving the problem solving environment - see the prototype user interface on the next page)
  • Sophisticated version - finds relevant people based on the information captured in the incident or WIP article
  • People finder capabilities
  • Directed swarm - a team of people triage all incoming issues or a team of people work on any reported severity 1 issues. This takes the KCS concept of collective ownership of knowledge and applies it to incidents. A different view on incident ownership: distinguish ownership of response from ownership to solve. An individual is responsible to respond to the customer but the team owns resolution of the issue. ( See the BMC case study .)
  • Enabling visibility to all open incidents and filters that allow responders to see the incidents they might be able to solve or assist with. This enables an opt-in model; people choose to help.

Learning Loop Playbooks

  • Shop Card Decks
  • Video Libary

Engineering , Leadership , User experience , User experience , Product management

Problem-Solving Workshop

A collaborative learning environment designed to help participants develop skills to identify and solve problems. product glossary problem-solving workshop also called: problem-solving session and problem-solving exercise see also: how might we , hypothesis statement , premortem , problem statement , six thinking hats , swot analysis , affinity diagram , circles method , design thinking , jobs-to-be-done framework (jtbd) relevant metrics: attendance and engagement, pre- and post-workshop assessments, goal achievement, participant satisfaction, knowledge retention, application of skills, networking and collaboration, and commitment to continuous improvement in this article what is a problem-solving workshop.

A Problem-Solving Workshop is a collaborative event in which a group of people come together to identify and solve a problem. It is a structured process that involves brainstorming, analyzing, and developing solutions to a problem. A problem-solving workshop is a rapid session that helps you:

  • Unlocking the Core of the Issue . A problem-solving workshop serves as an accelerated session designed to delve into the underlying cause of a dilemma, enabling participants to better comprehend its complexities.
  • Generate ideas . With a deeper understanding of the problem at hand, participants rapidly brainstorm potential solutions. They then carefully assess these ideas, ensuring their feasibility and effectiveness in addressing the issue.
  • Evaluating ideas . Participants scrutinize their proposed ideas, determining their robustness and ability to withstand potential challenges to ensure that only the most viable and reliable solutions are considered for implementation, enhancing the likelihood of successfully resolving the problem.
  • Make a plan to test or implement . Equipped with a well-rounded perspective and carefully evaluated solutions, the workshop empowers attendees to devise a strategic plan for testing or implementing their chosen resolution, ultimately guiding them toward the ideal solution to their problem.

The workshop typically begins with a discussion of the problem and its context. Participants then brainstorm potential solutions and evaluate them based on their feasibility and potential impact. After the brainstorming session, the group works together to develop a plan of action to address the problem. This plan may include changes to existing processes, new procedures, or other solutions.

The Problem-Solving Workshop is an effective way to identify and solve problems in the context of Product Management and User Experience. It allows for a collaborative approach to problem-solving, which can lead to more creative and effective solutions. It also allows for a structured approach to problem-solving, which can help ensure that the problem is addressed in a timely and efficient manner.

Where did Problem-Solving Workshops come from?

The idea of coming together to solve problems can be traced back to ancient human societies that held gatherings to discuss issues and find solutions. In modern times, problem-solving workshops have been shaped by developments in various fields like psychology, education, management, design, and innovation.

Some significant influences on problem-solving workshops include:

  • Brainstorming . Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, introduced brainstorming in the 1940s as a group creativity technique to generate ideas and solve problems. This method encouraged people to share their ideas freely, no matter how wild, and suspend judgment during the idea-generation process. Brainstorming has since been incorporated into many problem-solving workshops.
  • Quality circles . In the 1960s, Japanese companies introduced quality circles, which are small groups of employees who meet regularly to discuss and solve work-related problems. These circles aimed to improve the quality of products and processes by involving employees in problem-solving and decision-making. The concept of quality circles has inspired many problem-solving workshops in various industries.
  • Design thinking . The design thinking methodology, pioneered by companies like IDEO and Stanford University’s, has played a crucial role in shaping modern problem-solving workshops. Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving that encourages empathy, experimentation, and collaboration. It involves a series of steps, such as empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, which can be adapted to various problem-solving workshop formats.
  • Lean and Agile methodologies . Lean and Agile methodologies, which originated in the manufacturing and software development sectors, respectively, have also influenced problem-solving workshops. These approaches emphasize collaboration, continuous improvement, and rapid iteration to achieve better results.
  • Facilitation techniques . The growth of professional facilitation has also impacted problem-solving workshops. Skilled facilitators use various tools and techniques to guide groups through problem-solving processes, ensuring that the workshop’s objectives are met and that participants stay engaged and focused.

Why should I conduct a problem-solving workshop?

Conducting a problem-solving exercise can be beneficial in several ways. It can help individuals or teams to:

  • Identify the root cause of a problem . By engaging in a structured problem-solving exercise, participants can gain a deeper understanding of the issue and identify the underlying causes.
  • Generate new ideas and solutions . By brainstorming and evaluating various solutions, individuals or teams can develop creative and effective solutions that they may not have thought of otherwise.
  • Encourage collaboration and teamwork . Collaborative problem-solving exercises can foster a sense of teamwork and create a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the problem and the solution.
  • Improve decision-making . By evaluating various options and considering different perspectives, participants can make informed and effective decisions that take into account a wide range of factors.
  • Enhance learning and development . Problem-solving exercises can provide opportunities for individuals or teams to learn new skills, practice critical thinking, and develop problem-solving abilities that can be applied to future challenges.

How to run a problem-solving workshop

Step 1: assemble a well-rounded team.

Gather individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives who are relevant to the problem at hand. This may include team members, cross-functional collaborators, subject matter experts, or stakeholders. A diverse group will enhance the ideation process and facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.

Consider the following factors:

  • Diversity . Assemble a team with a mix of expertise, backgrounds, perspectives, and roles relevant to the problem. Diversity encourages creative thinking and helps avoid groupthink or blind spots.
  • Relevant stakeholders . Ensure that key stakeholders, including decision-makers, subject matter experts, and those directly affected by the problem, are included in the workshop. Their insights and buy-in are crucial for the success of the proposed solutions.
  • Size of the group . Aim for a group size that allows for effective collaboration and communication. Ideally, the group should be large enough to generate a variety of ideas but small enough to facilitate productive discussions. Typically, a group of 6-10 participants is considered optimal for a problem-solving workshop.
  • Team dynamics . Select participants who are open-minded, willing to collaborate, and capable of engaging in constructive discussions. The right balance of personalities is essential for fostering a positive atmosphere and effective teamwork.
  • Establish clear roles . Assign roles and responsibilities to participants, such as a facilitator to guide the workshop, a timekeeper to monitor progress, and a note-taker to document key points and decisions. Clearly defined roles help ensure the smooth flow of the workshop.
  • Preparation . Communicate the workshop’s purpose, goals, and expectations to participants beforehand. Encourage them to familiarize themselves with the problem and come prepared with any relevant data or insights. This will enable a more focused and productive discussion during the workshop.

Step 2: Establish the Objective and Scope

Clearly define the purpose and goals of the workshop. Ensure that all participants understand the problem to be addressed, its context, and any constraints or limitations. Set a time limit for the workshop to maintain focus and efficiency.

Consider the following:

  • Preparation and research . A facilitator should be well-prepared with a thorough understanding of the problem, its context, and the workshop’s objectives. This may involve conducting research, reviewing relevant materials, and consulting with key stakeholders or subject matter experts beforehand.
  • Active listening . Practice active listening during the workshop to ensure participants feel heard and understood. Encourage questions and clarifications to address any misunderstandings or ambiguities regarding the problem, scope, or objectives.
  • Flexibility and adaptability . Be prepared to adjust the workshop’s objectives or scope if new information or insights emerge during the discussion. Maintain an open-minded approach and adapt to the needs of the group while ensuring that the workshop remains focused and productive.
  • Time management . Monitor the workshop’s progress and allocate time appropriately for each stage. If necessary, intervene to refocus the discussion, maintain momentum, or transition to the next step in the problem-solving process.

Each of the following workshop exercises can contribute to the success of establishing a clear objective and scope by helping participants gain a deeper understanding of the problem, its context, and the needs of those affected, leading to a clearer definition of the objective and scope:

  • Six Thinking Hats . This exercise, developed by Edward de Bono, encourages participants to approach the problem from six different perspectives, represented by metaphorical “hats.” These perspectives are: facts and information (white hat), emotions and feelings (red hat), cautious and critical thinking (black hat), optimistic and positive thinking (yellow hat), creative and alternative thinking (green hat), and process and organization (blue hat). This technique can help the group establish a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, its context, and potential constraints, leading to a clearer definition of the objective and scope.
  • Stakeholder Mapping . In this exercise, participants identify and analyze the key stakeholders involved in or affected by the problem. This helps the group understand the different perspectives, priorities, and needs of these stakeholders, providing valuable context for the problem-solving process. By considering stakeholder needs and concerns, the workshop can better define the objective and scope while ensuring that potential solutions address relevant issues.
  • Empathy Mapping . This exercise helps participants gain insight into the needs, motivations, and challenges of the individuals affected by the problem, such as customers, users, or team members. By creating an empathy map, the group can better understand the problem from the perspective of those who are directly impacted. This understanding can help the group establish a clearer and more focused objective and scope for the workshop, ensuring that potential solutions address the most critical concerns of the affected individuals.

Step 3: Identify the Right Problem and Root Cause

Begin the workshop by collectively discussing the problem to gain a deeper understanding of its nuances. Use techniques like the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagram to identify the root cause of the problem, ensuring that the team’s efforts are directed towards solving the underlying issue rather than merely addressing symptoms.

Approach this step with a well-defined strategy that guides participants through the process of understanding the problem and its underlying factors. The facilitator plays a pivotal role in creating an environment that encourages open and honest dialogue, allowing participants to share their insights and collectively work towards identifying the root cause.

Strike a balance between allowing sufficient time for discussions and ensuring that the workshop maintains momentum and stays on track. The facilitator may need to intervene occasionally to refocus the conversation or steer the group towards the desired outcome.

Be prepared to adapt to the evolving dynamics of the workshop. They must be flexible and responsive to new insights or challenges that emerge during the discussions. If necessary, the facilitator may need to adjust the workshop’s objectives, scope, or methodology to ensure that the group remains focused on addressing the problem’s root cause.

Consider using one of these workshop exercises to identify the right problem:

  • Five Whys . This technique involves asking “Why?” repeatedly to dig deeper into the problem and uncover the root cause. By using this approach in the workshop, participants can move beyond surface-level symptoms to identify the true source of the issue. The facilitator can guide the group through the Five Whys exercise, ensuring that the discussion stays focused and productive.
  • Fishbone Diagram . Also known as the Ishikawa or cause-and-effect diagram, this tool visually represents the relationship between a problem and its potential causes. Participants brainstorm and categorize potential causes into distinct branches, which can help the group identify the root cause. The facilitator can lead the group through the Fishbone Diagram exercise, encouraging them to consider various aspects of the problem and promoting a comprehensive understanding.
  • Round Robin . This brainstorming technique involves giving each participant a chance to contribute an idea or perspective on the problem in a structured and organized manner. This ensures equal participation and helps to gather diverse insights. Using the Round Robin method, the facilitator can facilitate discussions on the problem’s root cause by encouraging participants to share their thoughts and perspectives without interruption.
  • Force Field Analysis . This exercise helps participants identify the driving and restraining forces that influence a problem. By analyzing these forces, the group can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying factors contributing to the issue. The facilitator can guide participants through the Force Field Analysis, helping them to identify and assess the various forces at play and facilitating discussions on how these forces might relate to the root cause of the problem.

Step 4: Generate Ideas to Solve the Problem

Encourage participants to brainstorm solutions, emphasizing the importance of open-mindedness and creativity. Utilize techniques like mind mapping, round-robin, or the six thinking hats to foster an environment conducive to idea generation. Ensure that all participants have an opportunity to share their thoughts, and discourage judgment or criticism during this stage.

Make sure that all participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas, no matter how unconventional they may seem. This requires the facilitator to create a non-judgmental and supportive atmosphere that promotes inclusivity and equal participation.

One critical aspect for the facilitator is the use of various brainstorming techniques and ideation exercises that can stimulate creative thinking and encourage diverse perspectives. By employing a mix of individual and group activities, the facilitator can cater to different thinking styles and preferences, ensuring that everyone contributes to the ideation process.

These workshop exercises are great for generating ideas to solve the problem you identified:

  • Mind Mapping . This technique helps to visually organize information around a central concept, allowing participants to generate ideas in a structured manner. It encourages them to think about the problem from different perspectives and make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, which can lead to creative solutions.
  • Crazy Eights . In this exercise, participants are given eight minutes to sketch out eight different ideas on a piece of paper. The time constraint forces them to think quickly and encourages them to generate a wide variety of ideas. By sharing and discussing their sketches afterward, the group can build upon each other’s ideas and develop more innovative solutions.
  • Reverse Brainstorming . This technique prompts participants to think about the problem from an opposite perspective, by asking them to come up with ways to make the situation worse. By challenging conventional thinking, reverse brainstorming helps uncover new insights and approaches that may not have been considered otherwise.
  • How Might We . This exercise frames the problem as an open-ended question, starting with the phrase “How might we…?”. This positive and optimistic framing encourages participants to think creatively and generate ideas without constraints. The open-ended nature of the question also promotes collaboration, as participants can build on each other’s ideas to find innovative solutions.
  • Forced Analogy . In this exercise, participants are asked to draw analogies between the problem at hand and unrelated objects or scenarios. This encourages them to think about the problem from a new perspective and come up with creative ideas that they may not have considered otherwise. The forced analogy technique can reveal hidden connections and inspire innovative solutions.
  • SCAMPER . This is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Participants are prompted to think about the problem and generate ideas using each of these seven approaches. The SCAMPER technique encourages participants to look at the problem from different angles and find unique solutions.

Step 5: Evaluate and Refine Ideas

Once a range of potential solutions has been generated, evaluate their robustness and viability. Encourage participants to consider potential challenges, drawbacks, and risks associated with each idea. Use a decision matrix, SWOT analysis, or other evaluation tools to help compare and prioritize the proposed solutions.

Seek to create an environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas while also being open to constructive feedback. The facilitator must balance encouragement and critical thinking, promoting an atmosphere where ideas are assessed objectively, and their merits and drawbacks are examined thoroughly.

Be aware of any biases, power imbalances, or dominant personalities that may influence the evaluation process. By skillfully navigating these dynamics, the facilitator can ensure that all voices are heard and that the evaluation process remains objective and fair.

These workshop exercises are great for evaluating and refining ideas.

  • SWOT Analysis . This exercise requires participants to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with each proposed solution. By conducting a SWOT Analysis, the group can thoroughly evaluate the viability and potential impact of each idea, identifying potential challenges and opportunities.
  • Pros and Cons . In this exercise, participants list the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed solution. This method encourages participants to think critically about the potential outcomes of each idea, enabling the group to make a more informed decision.
  • Poster Session . In this exercise, each proposed solution is presented on a poster, and participants are given time to review and provide feedback on each idea. The Poster Session promotes thoughtful consideration of each solution and allows for open discussion and collaborative evaluation.
  • Plus/Delta . This exercise involves participants identifying the positive and negative aspects of an idea or solution. It can help to refine ideas by focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of each one.
  • Affinity Mapping . This exercise involves grouping similar ideas together and can help to identify common themes and patterns. It can help to refine ideas by clarifying the relationships between different solutions.
  • Assumptions Collection . This exercise involves identifying assumptions that have been made about the problem or solution and testing them to see if they are valid. It can help to refine ideas by identifying any flawed assumptions and correcting them.
  • Force Field Analysis . This exercise involves identifying the forces that are supporting and opposing a proposed solution. It can help to refine ideas by addressing the barriers and challenges that need to be overcome for the solution to be successful.

By incorporating these workshop exercises, participants can thoroughly evaluate the proposed ideas to ensure they are robust and viable. These

Step 6: Select the Best Solution

As a group, decide on the most promising solution(s) based on the evaluation process. Discuss the reasoning behind the selection and ensure that all participants are on board with the decision.

To promote objectivity, encourage the use of predefined criteria or frameworks for evaluating the proposed solutions. By providing a structured approach to decision-making, participants will be better equipped to weigh the pros and cons of each idea, ultimately leading to a more informed choice.

This will also help you maintain a neutral stance throughout the selection process, allowing the group to discuss and debate the merits of each solution without bias. As a facilitator, your goal is to ensure that the group focuses on the problem at hand and avoids getting sidetracked by personal preferences or interpersonal conflicts.

If you see that the group is struggling to reach a consensus, you might need to guide them toward a decision. By summarizing the key points of the discussion and highlighting the most promising solutions, the facilitator can help the group make a well-informed decision that best addresses the problem.

The following workshop exercises are great for facilitating the selection process:

  • Dot Voting . This method helps participants prioritize solutions by giving them a limited number of dots or stickers that they can distribute among the proposed ideas. The solutions with the most votes are considered the most promising and can be further discussed or refined.
  • Fist to Five . This technique allows the group to quickly gauge the level of support for each solution. Participants indicate their level of agreement by raising a certain number of fingers (1 to 5), with five fingers signifying strong support. The solutions with the highest average scores are deemed the most favorable.
  • Stack Ranking . In this exercise, participants rank the proposed solutions in order of preference, assigning a unique position to each idea. The facilitator then tallies the rankings and determines the overall order of preference for the group. This helps identify the top solutions based on collective input.
  • Trade-off Sliders . This method encourages participants to consider the pros and cons of each solution by using sliders to represent various criteria, such as cost, time, or quality. Participants adjust the sliders to visually represent the trade-offs they are willing to make, and the facilitator synthesizes the results to identify the most viable solutions.
  • SWOT Analysis . By evaluating each solution’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, participants can gain a comprehensive understanding of the potential outcomes and risks associated with each idea. This structured analysis helps the group make a more informed decision about which solution is best suited to address the problem.
  • Decision Matrix . The facilitator creates a matrix with the proposed solutions as rows and the evaluation criteria as columns. Participants then score each solution based on how well it meets the criteria. The solution with the highest total score is considered the best option. This method promotes objective decision-making and allows for a clear comparison of the proposed solutions.
  • Priority Mapping . This technique involves visually mapping ideas based on their importance and urgency. By using Priority Mapping, the group can quickly identify the most critical and time-sensitive ideas, ensuring that the most pressing solutions are prioritized for implementation.

Step 7: Develop a Plan for Implementation or Testing

With the chosen solution(s) in hand, create a detailed plan outlining the steps required for implementation or testing. Assign responsibilities, establish deadlines, and set milestones to ensure accountability and progress. Consider creating a pilot project or running tests to validate the effectiveness of the solution before a full-scale implementation.

Seek to guide the group in setting realistic timelines and defining clear roles and responsibilities. This involves promoting open communication, ensuring that everyone’s input is valued, and addressing any concerns that may emerge.

You might also consider to spend time establishing key metrics for monitoring success and setting up checkpoints to evaluate the success of the implementation, enabling the team to learn from their experiences and iterate on the solution as necessary.

The following workshop exercises work great for exploring an creating an implementation plan.

  • Project timeline . A project timeline is an effective way to help the team map out the key milestones, tasks, and deadlines involved in implementing the chosen solution. It allows the team to visualize the project’s overall progress and identify potential issues that may arise during the implementation process.
  • Future-Back Planning . Future-Back Planning is a technique that helps the team envision what success will look like in the future and work backward to identify the necessary steps to achieve that success. This approach can help the team develop a clear vision and strategy for implementing the solution.
  • RACI Matrix . A RACI Matrix is a tool that can be used to clarify roles and responsibilities during the implementation process. It helps ensure that each team member understands their role in the project and can help prevent confusion or misunderstandings.
  • Dependency Map . A Dependency Map is a visual tool that helps the team identify the interdependencies between different tasks or components of the project. This can help the team develop a more realistic and feasible plan for implementing the solution.
  • Sailboat . The Sailboat exercise can be used to help the team identify potential obstacles or challenges that may arise during the implementation process. It involves visualizing the solution as a sailboat and identifying the factors that may help or hinder its progress towards the desired destination. This exercise can help the team proactively address any potential roadblocks and develop a plan to overcome them.

Step 8: Follow Up and Iterate

After the workshop, monitor the progress of the solution’s implementation or testing. Gather feedback, evaluate results, and make any necessary adjustments or refinements. Encourage open communication among participants, and consider scheduling follow-up meetings to review progress and address any emerging challenges.

The solution that was chosen may need to be adjusted or refined based on feedback or unexpected challenges that arise. As a facilitator, you should encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas and foster an environment where experimentation and iteration are encouraged.

Find ways celebrate successes and acknowledge the efforts of the team throughout the process. This can help maintain morale and motivation for continued improvement and innovation.

Typical pitfalls when running a Problem-Solving Workshop

  • Finding the Right Facilitator . Finding a facilitator who is knowledgeable and experienced in problem-solving techniques can be a challenge. It is important to find someone who can effectively lead the workshop and ensure that all participants are engaged and productive.
  • Establishing Clear Goals . Establishing clear goals for the workshop is essential for its success. Without a clear understanding of the objectives, it can be difficult to ensure that the workshop is productive and successful.
  • Creating an Engaging Environment . Creating an engaging environment for the workshop is key to its success. Participants need to feel comfortable and be able to focus on the task at hand.
  • Managing Time . Time management is essential for a successful workshop. It is important to ensure that the workshop is structured in a way that allows for productive discussion and problem-solving.
  • Ensuring Participation . Ensuring that all participants are actively engaged in the workshop is essential. It is important to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to contribute and share their ideas.

Google is known for its commitment to fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. The company regularly conducts workshops, hackathons, and brainstorming sessions to encourage creative problem-solving among employees. Google’s “20% time” policy, which allowed employees to dedicate 20% of their time to side projects, has led to the development of successful products like Gmail and Google Maps.

IDEO, a global design consultancy, is renowned for its human-centered, collaborative approach to problem-solving called “design thinking.” The company conducts workshops, both internally and for clients, to tackle complex challenges and create innovative solutions. This approach has helped IDEO to develop breakthrough products, such as the Apple mouse and the Palm V PDA.

Procter & Gamble (P&G)

P&G is a consumer goods company that has leveraged problem-solving workshops and open innovation programs to drive growth. They have held workshops and innovation sessions, such as the “Clay Street Project,” where cross-functional teams come together to tackle complex challenges and create new products. The company’s innovation initiatives have resulted in successful products like Swiffer, Febreze, and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

LEGO, the toy company known for its iconic plastic bricks, has used problem-solving workshops to foster innovation and drive business growth. The company has employed design thinking workshops to explore new product ideas and refine existing ones. LEGO’s commitment to problem-solving and innovation has led to the creation of successful product lines such as LEGO Mindstorms, LEGO Architecture, and LEGO Ideas.

  • What is the purpose of the workshop?
  • What are the objectives of the workshop?
  • Who will be attending the workshop?
  • What topics will be covered in the workshop?
  • What methods will be used to facilitate problem-solving?
  • What is the expected outcome of the workshop?
  • How will the success of the workshop be measured?
  • What is the timeline for the workshop?
  • What is the budget for the workshop?

You might also be interested in reading up on:

  • How Might We
  • Hypothesis Statement
  • Problem Statement
  • Six Thinking Hats
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Affinity Diagram
  • CIRCLES Method
  • Design Thinking
  • Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework (JTBD)
  • Tim Brown @tceb62
  • Tom Kelley @TomKelley74
  • Jeanne Liedtka @jeanneliedtka
  • Tendayi Viki @tendayiviki
  • Dave Gray @davegray
  • Lateral Thinking : Creativity Step by Step by Edward de Bono (1970)
  • Thinkertoys : A Handbook of CreativeThinking Techniques by Michael Michalko (1991)
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making : A Guide for Managers by Barry K. Baines (2000)
  • The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird (2012)
  • Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono (1985)
  • Innovation Games : Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play by Luke Hohmann (2006)
  • Gamestorming by Dave Gray (2010)

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Problem Solving

Foundations course, introduction.

Before we start digging into some pretty nifty JavaScript, we need to begin talking about problem solving : the most important skill a developer needs.

Problem solving is the core thing software developers do. The programming languages and tools they use are secondary to this fundamental skill.

From his book, “Think Like a Programmer” , V. Anton Spraul defines problem solving in programming as:

Problem solving is writing an original program that performs a particular set of tasks and meets all stated constraints.

The set of tasks can range from solving small coding exercises all the way up to building a social network site like Facebook or a search engine like Google. Each problem has its own set of constraints, for example, high performance and scalability may not matter too much in a coding exercise but it will be vital in apps like Google that need to service billions of search queries each day.

New programmers often find problem solving the hardest skill to build. It’s not uncommon for budding programmers to breeze through learning syntax and programming concepts, yet when trying to code something on their own, they find themselves staring blankly at their text editor not knowing where to start.

The best way to improve your problem solving ability is by building experience by making lots and lots of programs. The more practice you have the better you’ll be prepared to solve real world problems.

In this lesson we will walk through a few techniques that can be used to help with the problem solving process.

Lesson overview

This section contains a general overview of topics that you will learn in this lesson.

  • Explain the three steps in the problem solving process.
  • Explain what pseudocode is and be able to use it to solve problems.
  • Be able to break a problem down into subproblems.

Understand the problem

The first step to solving a problem is understanding exactly what the problem is. If you don’t understand the problem, you won’t know when you’ve successfully solved it and may waste a lot of time on a wrong solution .

To gain clarity and understanding of the problem, write it down on paper, reword it in plain English until it makes sense to you, and draw diagrams if that helps. When you can explain the problem to someone else in plain English, you understand it.

Now that you know what you’re aiming to solve, don’t jump into coding just yet. It’s time to plan out how you’re going to solve it first. Some of the questions you should answer at this stage of the process:

  • Does your program have a user interface? What will it look like? What functionality will the interface have? Sketch this out on paper.
  • What inputs will your program have? Will the user enter data or will you get input from somewhere else?
  • What’s the desired output?
  • Given your inputs, what are the steps necessary to return the desired output?

The last question is where you will write out an algorithm to solve the problem. You can think of an algorithm as a recipe for solving a particular problem. It defines the steps that need to be taken by the computer to solve a problem in pseudocode.

Pseudocode is writing out the logic for your program in natural language instead of code. It helps you slow down and think through the steps your program will have to go through to solve the problem.

Here’s an example of what the pseudocode for a program that prints all numbers up to an inputted number might look like:

This is a basic program to demonstrate how pseudocode looks. There will be more examples of pseudocode included in the assignments.

Divide and conquer

From your planning, you should have identified some subproblems of the big problem you’re solving. Each of the steps in the algorithm we wrote out in the last section are subproblems. Pick the smallest or simplest one and start there with coding.

It’s important to remember that you might not know all the steps that you might need up front, so your algorithm may be incomplete -— this is fine. Getting started with and solving one of the subproblems you have identified in the planning stage often reveals the next subproblem you can work on. Or, if you already know the next subproblem, it’s often simpler with the first subproblem solved.

Many beginners try to solve the big problem in one go. Don’t do this . If the problem is sufficiently complex, you’ll get yourself tied in knots and make life a lot harder for yourself. Decomposing problems into smaller and easier to solve subproblems is a much better approach. Decomposition is the main way to deal with complexity, making problems easier and more approachable to solve and understand.

In short, break the big problem down and solve each of the smaller problems until you’ve solved the big problem.

Solving Fizz Buzz

To demonstrate this workflow in action, let’s solve Fizz Buzz

Understanding the problem

Write a program that takes a user’s input and prints the numbers from one to the number the user entered. However, for multiples of three print Fizz instead of the number and for the multiples of five print Buzz . For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print FizzBuzz .

This is the big picture problem we will be solving. But we can always make it clearer by rewording it.

Write a program that allows the user to enter a number, print each number between one and the number the user entered, but for numbers that divide by 3 without a remainder print Fizz instead. For numbers that divide by 5 without a remainder print Buzz and finally for numbers that divide by both 3 and 5 without a remainder print FizzBuzz .

Does your program have an interface? What will it look like? Our FizzBuzz solution will be a browser console program, so we don’t need an interface. The only user interaction will be allowing users to enter a number.

What inputs will your program have? Will the user enter data or will you get input from somewhere else? The user will enter a number from a prompt (popup box).

What’s the desired output? The desired output is a list of numbers from 1 to the number the user entered. But each number that is divisible by 3 will output Fizz , each number that is divisible by 5 will output Buzz and each number that is divisible by both 3 and 5 will output FizzBuzz .

Writing the pseudocode

What are the steps necessary to return the desired output? Here is an algorithm in pseudocode for this problem:

Dividing and conquering

As we can see from the algorithm we developed, the first subproblem we can solve is getting input from the user. So let’s start there and verify it works by printing the entered number.

With JavaScript, we’ll use the “prompt” method.

The above code should create a little popup box that asks the user for a number. The input we get back will be stored in our variable answer .

We wrapped the prompt call in a parseInt function so that a number is returned from the user’s input.

With that done, let’s move on to the next subproblem: “Loop from 1 to the entered number”. There are many ways to do this in JavaScript. One of the common ways - that you actually see in many other languages like Java, C++, and Ruby - is with the for loop :

If you haven’t seen this before and it looks strange, it’s actually straightforward. We declare a variable i and assign it 1: the initial value of the variable i in our loop. The second clause, i <= answer is our condition. We want to loop until i is greater than answer . The third clause, i++ , tells our loop to increment i by 1 every iteration. As a result, if the user inputs 10, this loop would print numbers 1 - 10 to the console.

Most of the time, programmers find themselves looping from 0. Due to the needs of our program, we’re starting from 1

With that working, let’s move on to the next problem: If the current number is divisible by 3, then print Fizz .

We are using the modulus operator ( % ) here to divide the current number by three. If you recall from a previous lesson, the modulus operator returns the remainder of a division. So if a remainder of 0 is returned from the division, it means the current number is divisible by 3.

After this change the program will now output this when you run it and the user inputs 10:

The program is starting to take shape. The final few subproblems should be easy to solve as the basic structure is in place and they are just different variations of the condition we’ve already got in place. Let’s tackle the next one: If the current number is divisible by 5 then print Buzz .

When you run the program now, you should see this output if the user inputs 10:

We have one more subproblem to solve to complete the program: If the current number is divisible by 3 and 5 then print FizzBuzz .

We’ve had to move the conditionals around a little to get it to work. The first condition now checks if i is divisible by 3 and 5 instead of checking if i is just divisible by 3. We’ve had to do this because if we kept it the way it was, it would run the first condition if (i % 3 === 0) , so that if i was divisible by 3, it would print Fizz and then move on to the next number in the iteration, even if i was divisible by 5 as well.

With the condition if (i % 3 === 0 && i % 5 === 0) coming first, we check that i is divisible by both 3 and 5 before moving on to check if it is divisible by 3 or 5 individually in the else if conditions.

The program is now complete! If you run it now you should get this output when the user inputs 20:

  • Read How to Think Like a Programmer - Lessons in Problem Solving by Richard Reis.
  • Watch How to Begin Thinking Like a Programmer by Coding Tech. It’s an hour long but packed full of information and definitely worth your time watching.
  • Read this Pseudocode: What It Is and How to Write It article from Built In.

Knowledge check

The following questions are an opportunity to reflect on key topics in this lesson. If you can’t answer a question, click on it to review the material, but keep in mind you are not expected to memorize or master this knowledge.

  • What are the three stages in the problem solving process?
  • Why is it important to clearly understand the problem first?
  • What can you do to help get a clearer understanding of the problem?
  • What are some of the things you should do in the planning stage of the problem solving process?
  • What is an algorithm?
  • What is pseudocode?
  • What are the advantages of breaking a problem down and solving the smaller problems?

Additional resources

This section contains helpful links to related content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.

  • Read the first chapter in Think Like a Programmer: An Introduction to Creative Problem Solving ( not free ). This book’s examples are in C++, but you will understand everything since the main idea of the book is to teach programmers to better solve problems. It’s an amazing book and worth every penny. It will make you a better programmer.
  • Watch this video on repetitive programming techniques .
  • Watch Jonathan Blow on solving hard problems where he gives sage advice on how to approach problem solving in software projects.

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Problem Solving: Nested Loops

Learn about nested loops.

for-for loop

  • for-while loop
  • The for-do while loop

Nested loops

In the previous lessons, we used loops and their nesting without specifically talking about them. Let us now discuss more deeply the syntax and working of the nested loops.

There are several versions of nested loops. Let’s discuss some of them.

If a for loop is written inside the body of another for loop, we will call it a nested for loop.

The syntax of nested for loop is is as follows:

Get hands-on with 1200+ tech skills courses.

  • While Loops
  • Break and Continue
  • Flowcharts Describing Loops
  • Review Questions

In this chapter, you will learn about two kinds of repetition structures in Python: for loops and while loops . This section describes for loops.

For Loops are a component of many programming languages. A for loop is a repetition structure where a section of code runs a specified number of times.

Say we want to print out the statements:

One way to accomplish this task is by coding three print statements in a row: In [1]: print ( 'Problem solving in teams' ) print ( 'Problem solving in teams' ) print ( 'Problem solving in teams' )

Another way to accomplish the same task is to use a for loop. The basic structure of a for loop in Python is below:

Where <var> can be any variable, range(<num>) is the number of times the for loop runs and <code> are the lines of code that execute each time the for loop runs.

Note the for loop starts with the keyword for and includes a colon : . Both for and the colon : are required. Also, note <code> is indented. Each line of code that runs as part of the for loop needs to be indented the same number of spaces. Standard indentation in Python is four spaces.

The example above can be rewritten using a for loop: In [2]: for i in range ( 3 ): print ( 'Problem solving in teams' )

Python's range() function

Python's range() function returns an iterable list of values starting at zero and ending at n-1 . For example, when range(3) is called, the values 0, 1, 2 are returned. 3 is not part of the output, even though the function input was range(3) . We can be confirm the behavior of range() with a for loop: In [3]: for i in range ( 3 ): print ( i )

Remember Python counting starts at 0 and ends at n-1 .

Customizing range()

Python's range() function can be customized by supplying up to three arguments. The general format of the range function is below:

When range(3) is called, it produces the same output as range(0,3,1) ( start=0 , stop=3 , step=1 ). Remember Python counting starts at 0 and ends at n-1 . If only two arguments are supplied, as in range(0,3) , a step=1 is assumed.

The table below includes examples of the Python's range() function and the associated output.

A code section that uses a for loop and range() with three arguments is below: In [4]: for i in range ( 5 , 9 , 1 ): print ( i )

For loops with lists

For loops can also be run using Python lists. If a list is used, the loop will run as many times as there are items in the list. The general syntax is:

Where <var> is a variable name assigned to the item in the list and <list> is the list object. Remember to include a colon : after the list. <code> is the programming code that runs for each item in the list.

An example of a list in a for loop is below: In [5]: my_list = [ 'electrical' , 'civil' , 'mechanical' ] for item in my_list : print ( item )

The loop ran three times because there are three items in my_list . Each time through the loop, the variable item is set to one of the items in the list.

  • first time through the loop, item='electrical'
  • second time through the loop item='civil'
  • third time through the loop item='mechanical' .

For loops with strings

For loops can also be run using strings. In Python, strings can be indexed just like lists. A loop defined by a string runs as many times as there are characters in the string. The general structure a for loop using a string is:

Where <char> is one of the characters in the string <string> . Just like for loops with range() and for loops with lists, make sure to include a colon : after the list. <code> is the programming code that runs for each character in the string. <code> needs to be indented

An example of a string in a for loop is below: In [6]: for letter in "Gabby" : print ( f "looping over letters in name: { letter } " )

The Joy of Creative Problem-Solving

Shows Nermeen Dashoush standing next to figure from tv series

Nermeen Dashoush with Stu, one of the characters from PBSKIDS’ Lyla in the Loop . Photo courtesy of Nermeen Dashoush

Nermeen Dashoush, an advisor for PBS KIDS’ Lyla in the Loop , talks about helping kids become better scientific thinkers

Finn gardiner.

Nermeen Dashoush is enthusiastic about taking dense STEM concepts—for example, algorithms, the design process, and computational thinking—and showing people how they actually use these seemingly sophisticated problem-solving skills in their everyday lives.

A clinical assistant professor of early childhood at BU Wheelock, Dashoush brought her enthusiasm for popularizing science concepts to the PBS KIDS series Lyla in the Loop . As the lead advisor to the program, Dashoush used her skills as a science educator to structure the academic content of the program, define learning objectives, and create tip sheets for parents to discuss the show’s main lessons with their children. (BU Wheelock’s Scott Solberg also worked on the series as an advisor on the representation of careers and career development.)

Dashoush spoke to us about working on Lyla in the Loop and what she hopes viewers will take away from it.

BU Wheelock: As an advisor to Lyla in the Loop , what excites you most about working on the series?

Nermeen Dashoush: As a science educator, I’m excited about seeing problem-solving, the design process, and computational thinking every day. It’s also about the racial representation. It’s also funny and cute, and the characters are so joyful.

BU Wheelock: What skills can children learn from watching Lyla ?

Nermeen Dashoush: Our main focus is on how to solve problems by breaking things down into parts and making them more manageable. We take computational thinking skills that are the precursor to computer science—for example, algorithms and decomposition—and present them in a way that’s part of our everyday lives, since we all solve problems every day.

BU Wheelock: There’s a perception that studying science is a solitary activity. What does Lyla show kids about this notion?

Nermeen Dashoush: The misconception that science is a solo process has to be broken in many ways. Science isn’t a solo process; it’s a social process. So we show how people interact to solve problems, like Lyla, her family, and her friends. We’re working on it from the teacher ed perspective, but we also need to work on it in informal learning as well, such as in museums, on TV shows, and in technology.

BU Wheelock: Lyla features a Black protagonist alongside a very diverse cast of family, friends, and neighbors. How did the team ensure such rich representation?

Nermeen Dashoush: Lyla’s family is Black, and her mother is Jamaican. We also have a Vietnamese family on the show. We wanted to make sure we captured authentic stories, voices, names, and the designs of homes in every step of the process. To help do that, we had a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisor. Our team was diverse behind the scenes, too: our lead writer is Black, and we have multiple Black writers.

BU Wheelock: What impact is the diversity represented on the show having so far?

Nermeen Dashoush: We’ve heard from kids: “She looks like me,” “She has my hair,” and so on. My daughter, for example, recognizes that the characters have curly hair and sleep with bonnets. She said, “She has a bonnet just like me.” The show is powerful in creating a mirror and window into a child’s life that was really missing in kids’ media.

BU Wheelock: Are there any lessons in the work you’re doing on Lyla for students working toward degrees in education?

Nermeen Dashoush: Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom. We can also use our degrees and expertise to influence informal learning spaces as well, such as technology and the media. When students learn about curriculum design or teacher education materials, they can transfer those skills to scripts, animation, illustrations, or family engagement material. I used my skills in communicating concepts to parents through media, implementing learning objectives, developing lesson plans as an advisor to the show, and advising on multiple apps that are developed to accompany the series. I’d love to see my students reading something like this and see how those skills from their degrees transfer.

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SH66: The Value of Loops for Learning: Don't Just Fix the Diver /Instructor Counter-Errorism in Diving: Applying Human Factors to Diving

In this episode, we delve into the concept of learning loops in scuba diving, inspired by the works of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön. We explore single-loop learning, focusing on immediate problem-solving like fixing a malfunctioning buoyancy control device (BCD), and double-loop learning, which involves analyzing underlying issues such as calibration errors in a rebreather. Then, we introduce triple-loop learning, which considers broader contexts like team dynamics and learning culture within the dive community. Practical examples illustrate each loop's application, from troubleshooting equipment issues to enhancing training programs. Drawing parallels with other high-risk domains like wildland firefighting, we emphasize the importance of fostering a learning culture and embracing continuous improvement at every level of diving. Whether troubleshooting a BCD or revising safety protocols, remember that each dive offers opportunities for growth and deeper understanding, contributing to a safer and more knowledgeable diving community.   Original blog: Links: Learning in Loops doc: Standards changes: Blog about moving too quickly through the system: Human and Organisational Performance: Brad Mayhew’s blog: What is a Just Culture?: Tags: English, Gareth Lock, HOP, Human Performance, Leadership, Learning

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