Tag: Analyzing Problems

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

In the past few decades, psychologists and business people alike have discovered that successful problem solvers tend to use the same type of process to identify and implement the solutions to their problems. This process works for any kind of problem, large or small.

This guide will give your team an overview of the entire creative problem solving process, as well as key problem solving tools that they can use every day. We will be covering the following topics:

Related: Problem Solving Team Building Activities

The Problem Solving Method

To begin, let’s look at the creative problem solving process. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will define “problem” and other situations that lend themselves to the creative problem solving process. We will introduce the concept of teams solving problems using a creative process. The approach we use in this guide includes six steps, which are also introduced in this section.

What is a Problem?

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary includes several definitions for the word “problem.” The definitions that we are most concerned with while learning about the creative problem solving process are:

  • “any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty,” and
  • “a question proposed for solution or discussion.”

A problem can be defined as a scenario in which the current situation does not match the desired situation, or anytime actual performance does not match expectations. Other labels for a problem include challenges or opportunities, or any situation or circumstance for which there is room for improvement.

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving has evolved since its inception in the 1950s. However, it is always a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions.

The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers in your team come up with solutions that are innovative, rather than obtaining help to learn the answers or implementing standard procedures.

The creative problem solving process is at work anytime your team identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.

What are the Steps in the Creative Solving Process?

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:

  1. Information Gathering by your team, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding.
  2. Problem Definition, or making sure your team understands the correct problem before proceeding.
  3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools.
  4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding.
  5. Selecting the Best Solution(s).
  6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s).

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Information Gathering

Information Gathering Stage of Problem Solving

The first step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to gather information about the problem. To effectively solve the correct problem, your team will need to know as much about it as possible. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will explore different types of information, key questions, and different methods used to gather information.

Understanding Types of Information

There are many different types of information. The following list includes information your team will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • Opinionated Fact
  • Concept
  • Assumption
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.

Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Identifying Key Questions

When tackling a new problem, your team must talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. They can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. They should remember to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should they ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Which?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is for your team to ask if it has been solved before. They should find out if anyone in the company or network has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information

When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods your team can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways the team can collect information about a problem:

  • Conduct interviews.
  • Identify and study statistics.
  • Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
  • Conduct technical experiments.
  • Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
  • Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

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Problem Definition

Problem Definition Stage of Problem Solving

The next step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to identify the problem. This section of the problem solving guide will explore why your team needs to clearly define the problem. It also introduces several tools for your team to use when defining a problem and writing a problem statement.

Defining the Problem

Defining the problem is the first step in the creative problem solving process. When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. Your team must understand the problem before they spend time or money implementing a solution.

Your team must take care in defining the problem. The way that they define the problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways. They must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process to achieve a successful solution. They may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. However, your team must identify the underlying problem to generate the right solutions. Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.

Four tools your team can use in defining the problem are:

  • Determining where the problem originated
  • Defining the present state and the desired state
  • Stating and restating the problem
  • Analyzing the problem

Your team may not use all of these tools to help define a problem. Different tools lend themselves to some kinds of problems better than other kinds.

Determining Where the Problem Originated

Successful problem solvers get to the root of the problem by interviewing or questioning anyone who might know something useful about the problem.  They ask questions about the problem, including questions that:

  • Clarify the situation
  • Challenge assumptions about the problem
  • Determine possible reasons and evidence
  • Explore different perspectives concerning the problem
  • Ask more about the original question

If they did not define the problem, they should find out who did. Think about that person’s motivations. Challenge their assumptions to dig deeper into the problem.

Defining the Present State and the Desired State

When using this tool, your team writes a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then they write a statement of what they would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. They can refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.

Stating and Restating the Problem

The problem statement and restatement technique also helps evolve the understanding of the problem. First, they can write a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then use various triggers to help them identify the true problem. The triggers are:

  • Emphasize different words in the statement and ask questions about each emphasis.
  • Replace one word in the statement with a substitute that explicitly defines the word to reframe the problem.
  • Rephrase the statement with positives instead of negatives or negatives instead of positives to obtain an opposite problem.
  • Add or change words that indicate quantity or time, such as always, never, sometimes, every, none or some.
  • Identify any persuasive or opinionated words in the statement. Replace or eliminate them.
  • Try drawing a picture of the problem or writing the problem as an equation.

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Analyzing the Problem

Analyzing the Problem

When the cause of the problem is not known, such as in troubleshooting operations, your team can look at the what, where, who, and extent of the problem to help define it.

What? –. Use “what” questions both to identify what the problem is, as well as what the problem is not. “What” questions can also help identify a possible cause.

Where? – “Where” questions help to locate the problem. Use “where” questions to distinguish the difference between locations where the problem exists and where it does not exist.

When? – “When” questions help discover the timing of the problem. Use “when” questions to distinguish the difference between when the problem occurs and when it does not, or when the problem was first observed and when it was last observed.

Extent? – Questions that explore the magnitude of the problem include:

  • How far vs. how localized?
  • How many units are affected vs. how many units are not affected?
  • How much of something is affected vs. how much is not affected?

Examining the distinctions between what, where, when, and to what extent the problem is and what, where, when and to what extent it is not can lead to helpful insights about the problem. Your team must remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement

Writing an accurate problem statement can help your team accurately represent the problem. This helps clarify unclear problems. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the types and effectiveness of potential solutions are improved.

The problem statement should:

  • Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
  • Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve

The problem statement should not include:

  • Any mention of possible causes
  • Any potential solutions

A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.

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Preparing for Brainstorming

Preparing for Brainstorming

Before your team learn’s ways to generate solutions in the problem solving process, they need to prepare the way for creativity. This section of our problem solving guide introduces common mental blocks to productive brainstorming, as well as techniques for dealing with the mental blocks. It also presents some ideas for stimulating creativity.

Identifying Mental Blocks

Brainstorming can help your team solve the problem, even for problems that seem unsolvable or that seem to only have inadequate solutions. However, before beginning a successful brainstorming session to generate ideas, the team members must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

There are many types of mental blocks. Most blocks to problem-solving fit into the following categories.

  • Emotions: Emotional blocks can include anything from a fear of risk-taking to a tendency to judge or approach the problem with a negative attitude.
  • Distractions: Too much information, irrelevant information, or environmental distractions can prevent a productive brainstorming session.
  • Assumptions: If problem-solvers assume there is only one correct solution, they will be unable to generate additional ideas. Assumptions also become mental blocks from stereotypes or perceived boundaries where none exist.
  • Culture: Culture defines the way we live and limits the ideas we may generate or consider. However, not every culture is the same. Sometimes the cultural blocks are unnecessary, and sometimes we do not consider cultural limitations when we should.
  • Communication difficulties: If we cannot communicate our ideas in some way – speaking, writing, or pictures – these communication difficulties can block our progress in generating ideas.

Removing Mental Blocks

So what do you do when you identify a mental block? Carol Goman has identified several structured techniques for blockbusting.

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, your team must list the positive aspects or possible outcomes of the problem. Remember that problems are also opportunities for improvement.

The next technique deals with risk-taking. To remove emotional blocks arising from a fear of failure, the team should define the risk, then indicate why it is important. Define what the worst possible outcome might be and what options there are in that scenario. Think about how to deal with that possible failure.

The next technique encourages your team to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that your team’s problem solvers can come up with innovative solutions.

The fourth technique is to allow imagination, feelings, and a sense of humor to overcome a reliance on logic and a need to conduct problem solving in a step-by-step manner.

The fifth technique involves encouraging your team’s creativity. We’ll look at that in more detail in the next topic.

Stimulating Creativity

The creative problem solving process requires creativity. However, many people feel that they are not creative. This is the sign of a mental block at work. Everyone can tap into creative resources in their brains. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra prodding.

Creativity is not something to be turned on and off when needed. The potential for creativity is always there. Your team just needs to learn how to access it.

Here are some tips for creating a creative mental space to encourage productive brainstorming sessions.

  • Go outside for a few minutes, especially for a nature walk or bike ride. Exercising and getting sunshine even for just a few minutes are sure ways to redirect your brain to a more creative outlook.
  • Change your perspective. Work on the floor or go to the park for the brainstorming session.
  • Breathe deeply. Especially when stressed, we tend to become shallow breathers. Fill your entire lungs with air to get some extra oxygen to your brain. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 15 minutes for not only more creativity but for a great burst of energy.
  • Meditate. Focus intently on a candle flame or find another way to quiet your mind of all of your responsibilities and distractions. For a group, try guided meditation.
  • Write in a journal. Write for 15-20 minutes in a spare notebook or plain paper. It does not have to be about the specific problem you need to solve, but you may discover some mental blocks if you do write about the problem. Dump all of your mental clutter on to one to three pages that no one will ever see (unless you want them to). Then let the pages and their recorded thoughts go, even if just in your mind.

Once your team gets your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas every day:

  • Carry a small notebook or jot ideas in your PDA. Be prepared for ideas whenever they come. Ideas often come as you are drifting off to sleep or as you are waking.
  • Stretch your boundaries by posing new questions to yourself, learning things outside your specialty, or breaking up set patterns of doing things.
  • Be receptive to new, fragile ideas that may still need time to develop.
  • Be observant of details, including self details.
  • Find a creative hobby, including working puzzles and playing games.

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Generating Solutions

Generating Solutions to Problems

Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the problem solving process. Your team needs to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. This section of the problem solving guide begins with some ground rules for brainstorming sessions. Then it presents several idea-generating techniques, including free-association style brainstorming, brainwriting, mind mapping, and Duncker Diagrams.

Brainstorming Basics

To come up with a good idea, your team must come up with many ideas. The first rule of brainstorming is to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can.

Some of the ideas will not be good. If your team starts analyzing the ideas while they are generating them, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and they may miss out on some great ideas. Therefore, the second rule for brainstorming sessions is to defer judgment.

They must allow creativity and imagination to take over in this phase of the process. The next rule for brainstorming is for the team to come up with the wildest, most imaginative solutions to the problem that they can. Often they might not consider a solution because of assumptions or associational constraints. However, sometimes those solutions, even if they do not end up implementing them, can lead to a successful solution. So along with deferring judgment, they should allow those ideas that might be considered crazy to flow. One of those crazy ideas might just contain the seeds of the perfect solution.

Finally, they can use early ideas as springboards to other ideas. This is called “piggybacking” and is the next rule for brainstorming.

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping are two additional tools to generate ideas.

Brainwriting

Brainwriting is similar to free-association brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on those ideas.

Before a brainwriting session, create sheets of paper with a grid of nine squares on each sheet. You will need as many sheets as there are participants in the brainwriting session with one or two extra sheets. Plan to sit participants in a circle or around a table. Determine how long the session will last, and remind participants that there is no talking. Remind participants of the other rules for brainstorming, especially deferring judgment.

For the session itself, state the problem or challenge to be solved. Each participant fills out three ideas on a brainwriting grid. Then he or she places that brainwriting sheet in the center of the table and selects a new sheet. Before writing additional ideas, the participant reads the three ideas at the top (generated by a different participant). The hope is that these items will suggest additional ideas to the participants. The participants should not write down the same ideas they have written on other sheets. This activity continues until all of the grids are full or the time runs out. At the end of the activity, there should be many ideas to consider and discuss.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper but can be conducted alone.

The problem solver starts by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.

Duncker Diagrams

Duncker Diagrams are used with the present state and desired state statements. A Duncker diagram generates solutions by creating possible pathways from the present state to the desired state. However, the Duncker diagram also addresses an additional pathway of solving the problem by making it okay not to reach the desired state.

Duncker diagrams can help with refining the problem as well as generating ideas for solutions. The diagram begins with general solutions. Then it suggests functional solutions that give more specifics on what to do. The diagram can also include specific solutions of how to complete each item in the functional solutions.

The Morphological Matrix

Fritz Zwicky developed a method for general morphological analysis in the 1960s. The method has since been applied to many different fields. It is a method of listing examples of different attributes or issues to an item (or problem), and randomly combining the different examples to form a solution. Depending on the number of issues or attributes identified, there can be quite a large number of possible combinations.

The Morphological Matrix is a grid with several different columns. The problem solvers enter a specific attribute or issue about the item or problem at the top of each column. Then for each column, problem solvers generate a list of examples for that attribute. Once there are many different ideas in the columns, the solutions can be combined strategically or randomly. While some combinations naturally are incompatible, problem solvers should not rule out ideas until they reach the analysis phase of the problem-solving process.

For complex problems, computer-assisted morphological assessment can be done. This matrix can help identify different considerations of the problem. It can also help formulate comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

The Six Thinking Hats

Dr. Edward de Bono introduced a concept for thinking more effectively in teams in his book, Six Thinking Hats. The premise of this idea is that the brain thinks about things in several different ways.

The identified different categories of thought are assigned to a color-coded “hat,” as described below. The hats provide a structured way to think about different aspects of a problem.

  1. White hat – Facts and Information: This hat includes Information collected or identified as missing.
  2. Red Hat – Feelings and Emotion: This hat includes feelings, including gut reactions to ideas or items identified in another area.
  3. Black Hat – Critical Judgment: This hat includes details about obstacles to solving the problem or other negative connotations about an item or idea. Since people are naturally critical, it is important to limit black hat thinking to its appropriate role.
  4. Yellow Hat – Positive Judgment: This hat is the opposite of the black hat. It includes details about the benefits of an idea or issue or thoughts about favoring an idea. It is still critical thinking and judgment, as opposed to blind optimism.
  5. Green Hat – Alternatives and Learning: This hat concerns ideas about new possibilities and thinking about implications rather than judgments. Green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity.
  6. Blue Hat – The Big Picture: This hat serves as the facilitator of the group thinking process. This hat can be used to set objectives both for the problem solving process and the thinking session itself.

The six thinking hat methodology allows a deliberate focusing during problem solving sessions, with an agreed-upon sequence and time limit to each hat. It ensures that everyone in the team is focused on a particular approach at the same time, rather than having one team member reacting emotionally (red hat) while others are being objective (white hat) and still another is wearing the black hat to form critical judgments of ideas.

The green hat is the main thinking hat for generating solutions in the problem solving process. The other hats can be used as a reminder of the rules of productive brainstorming sessions, such as limiting critical judgment (positive and negative – yellow and black hats).

The Blink Method

Malcolm Gladwell popularizes scientific research about the power of the adaptive unconscious in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s premise is that in an age of information overload, our decisions based on limited information are often as good as or better than decisions made with ample critical thinking.

In the examples and research Gladwell presents, experts and average subjects alike are better able and happier with choices made through what he calls “thin-slicing,” or coming to a conclusion with limited information. An example presented is the case in which many experts identify a statue as a fake when the museum that spent money on the statue did not identify it as such with weeks of research.

Gladwell also presents the cautions of the adaptive unconscious. Our power to make effective decisions by tapping into this power can be corrupted by personal likes and dislikes and stereotypes. Rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous consequences, as presented in his example of an innocent man shot on his doorstep 41 times by New York policemen.

Gladwell summarizes the dilemma between when to tap into our unconscious, and when to use a more critical approach as thus: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated – when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought process may be superior.”

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Analyzing Solutions

Analyzing Solutions to Problems

With many different solutions in hand, the problem solvers in your team need to analyze those solutions to determine the effectiveness of each one. This section of the problem solving guide helps your team consider the criteria or goals for solving the problem, as well as distinguishing between wants and needs. This section also introduces the cost/benefit analysis as a method of analyzing solutions.

Developing Criteria

Your team should return to the information generated when defining the problem. Then consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem.

When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, they must also consider the following:

  • Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
  • Think about what they want the solution to do or not do.
  • Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for their goals or problem-solving criteria.

Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:

  • Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences of delaying action?
  • Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
  • Impact – Is the problem serious?

Your team must think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use their imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.

Analyzing Wants and Needs

The creative problem solving process is a fluid process, with some steps overlapping each other. Sometimes as the process provides additional information, problem solvers need to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, to analyze the potential solutions, the wants and needs for the desired state after the problem is solved must be very clear.

Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, the team can disregard it from further analyzing.

Wants are nice to have items. The team can provide a weight to each item to indicate its importance. For each potential solution, they can provide a rating for how well the solution addresses the selected want. Multiply the rating by the weight of the want to score the potential solution.

With scores for each item, it is an easy matter to rank the potential solutions in order of preference.

Using Cost/Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.

It is important to include ALL of the benefits and costs. This can be tricky, especially with intangible benefits (or costs). Some benefits or costs may be obvious, but others may take a little digging to uncover. For example, imagine you want to replace three employees with a machine that makes stamps. A hidden benefit is that you may be able to use large feedstock instead of individual sheets, saving materials costs. In the same example, you would not only consider the salaries of the employees but the total cost for those employees, including benefits and overhead.

The value assigned to the costs and benefits must be the same unit, which is why monetary value is suggested. The valuations assigned should represent what the involved parties would spend on the benefit or cost. For example, if people are always willing to save five minutes and spend an extra 50 cents on parking closer, they are demonstrating that time is worth more than 10 cents per minute. The considerations should also include the time value of money or the value of money spent or earned now versus money spent or earned at some future point.

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Selecting a Solution

Selecting a Solution for the Problem

The next step in the problem solving process is for your team to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, your team would have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a shortlist of possibilities, they can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This section of the problem solving guide discusses that final analysis, as well as a tool for selecting a solution called Paired Comparison Analysis. It also discusses analyzing potential problems that may arise with a selected solution.

Doing a Final Analysis

In the previous stage of the process, the team performed a cost/benefit analysis. However, since they cannot always know all of the potential variables, this analysis should not be the only one they perform.

For each potential solution, they must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with the team’s priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. It may be helpful to create a map for each solution that addresses all of the relevant issues.

Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate results and the long-term possibilities.

In the final analysis, the team will refine the shortlist and keep re-refining it until they determine the most effective solution.

Paired Comparison Analysis

The Paired Comparison Analysis tool is a method of prioritizing a small number of workable solutions. The first step for using this tool is to list all of the possible solutions. Label each potential solution with a letter or number.

Next, compare the solutions in pairs. Decide only between those two which solution is preferable. Assign a number to indicate the strength of the preference for each option. For example, problem solvers could assign a “3” to items they strongly prefer, a “2” to a moderate preference, or a “1” to a mild preference.

This first round continues two at a time until all of the solutions are ranked. Then all the ranks are added together to obtain a priority score for each item. The top score is the preferred solution.

Analyzing Potential Problems

Your team must think forward to the solution implementation. Ask how, when, who, what, and where in relation to implementing the solution. Does the imagined future state with this problem solution match the desired state developed earlier in the process?

They can brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.

Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem solving process. They also need to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.

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Planning The Next Steps

Once your team selected one or more solutions to the problem, it is time to implement them. This section of the problem solving guide looks at identifying tasks and resources, and re-evaluating the solution and adapting as necessary.

Identifying Tasks

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time for the team to think about the steps for making the solution become reality. What steps are necessary to put the solution into place?

Once again the team can brainstorm with people involved with the problem to determine the specific steps necessary to make the solution become a reality. While making that list, the team should identify any tasks that are critical to the timing of the solution implementation. Critical tasks are items that will delay the entire implementation schedule if they are not completed on time. Non-critical tasks are items that can be done as time and resources permit.

Recording Lessons Learned

Once your team solved the problem successfully, it is time to apply what they have learned to make solving future problems easier.

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Planning the Follow-Up Meeting

Have a follow-up meeting after the solution has been implemented. Here are some things to consider when planning this meeting:

  • Make sure you have a clear agenda for the meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to conduct a final evaluation of the problem, the selected solution, and the implementation project. Use the follow-up meeting to find out if any of the team members still have frustrations about the problem or its solution. It is also time to celebrate successes and identify improvements, discussed in the next two topics.
  • Make sure to invite all of the team members involved with the creative problem solving process and the solution implementation.
  • Make sure to consider the meeting arrangements, such as refreshments and equipment needed.
  • Invite the participants in plenty of time, to make sure that all key members can be present for the meeting. Make such each participant knows the purpose of the meeting so that all have the appropriate incentive to attend.

Celebrating Successes

After the problem has been solved, take the time to celebrate the things that went well in the problem solving process. Try to recognize each person for their contributions and accomplishments.

You can celebrate successes by recognizing the contributions of the team members in the follow-up meeting. Alternatively, you can have a party or other form of celebration. A good activity just needs to help the team celebrate a job well done in coming up with all the solutions, evaluating them, and finally implementing a solution effectively.

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Identifying Improvements

There have probably been some bumps along the road in the creative problem solving process. Your team should take the time to identify lessons learned and ways to make improvements so that the next problem solved will be even better.

Meeting with team members and stakeholders to identify improvements is a valuable exercise for several reasons.

  • It ensures everyone is aware of the challenges encountered and what was done to resolve them.
  • If something is learned from a mistake or failed endeavor, then the effort put into the task is not entirely wasted.
  • Participants can apply these lessons to future problems and be more successful.

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Identifying Resources

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time to think about the resources for making the solution become reality. What else is necessary to put the solution into place?

The types of resources that may be involved are listed below, along with some questions to think about to assign resources to the project of implementing the solution.

  • Time: How will you schedule the project? When would you like the solution completed? How much time will each task identified take?
  • Personnel: Who will complete each identified task?
  • Equipment: Is there any special equipment required to implement the task? Does the equipment exist or need to be obtained?
  • Money: How much will the solution cost? Where will the money come from?
  • Information: Is any additional information required to implement the solution? Who will obtain it? How?

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Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting

Once your team determined the tasks and the resources necessary to implement the solution, take action! Now is the time to use your project management skills to keep the solution implementation on track.

As part of the implementation process, you will also continue to evaluate the solution(s). It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary, based on the evaluation of the solution’s effectiveness at solving the problem. You may need to make adjustments to the plan as new information about the solution comes to light.

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