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Problem Solving 101

3 Steps to Solving a Problem

It could be the search bar that doesn't search your entire website, or a communication that you used as the first step in a process isn't being sent anymore, or they ran out of your favorite tea or coffee in the breakroom. 

Whatever problems you are currently facing at work, whether big or small, it may seem easiest just to ignore them in hopes that they'll figure themselves out, but that's not the most sustainable way of approaching them. The last time we checked, projects don't just happen;  people do projects. Problems don't just solve themselves; people solve problems.  Stuff doesn't just get itself done; people get things done. 

But, how do you start? 

We're offering three actionable steps to get you on the path to solving your problems. 

Step 1: Acknowledge the Problem 

You know what they say--the first step to finding a solution is admitting you have a problem. A problem could be a tricky task in front of you; it can be a process that your team or company has always used, a tool, or even a workplace relationship. Whatever you were thinking the problem is, congratulations--give yourself a pat on the back!  Not only are you acknowledging that something isn't as great as it could be, but you’re also taking that critical first step to making it better. Once you acknowledge the problem, you can start to get to why that problem exists so you can move towards the right solution.  One of the techniques we use in Business Analysis is to ask "why" about five times.  Simply asking "and why does this problem exist?" about five times can help us get to the root cause rather than just a symptom.


Step 2: Get Input from the Team

Depending on the severity of the problem, it might affect the entire team, or just one or two people (at the very least). It's likely that you are not the only one who experiences pain from a particular issue. If the problem is arising because of a change that's under way, others could be struggling with the same thing. Find them and embark on this problem-solving journey together. It might seem faster to go it alone, but in the long run, your solution will be better with the input of others.  Without them, you may be stuck with a limited set of options or perspective, or possibly even symptoms of a bigger problem that isn't obvious from where you're standing.  Better to engage others who have a different angle than yours and who can help find and implement more complete solutions.  When we've got the right folks assembled, we'll recognize that we've found a problem that we can solve, a problem that we want to solve, and a problem that by solving it, other problems go awayAdditionally, if the solution is going to require change or action, others will likely engage better if they were included in the conversation, which brings us to our next point.


Step 3: Choose a Solution Together 

Just like you identified the problem together and sought input from your team, apply some discipline together when selecting a solution. Don't just say yes to the first fix that comes along. Put some time and energy into carefully considering your options before making a decision. One of the tools we like we call the "BODI" tool - it helps lay out options in a way where you can compare even dissimilar solution options in a meaningful way to pick the best one.  Inspired in part by Edward DeBono's 6 Thinking Hats, the BODI tool helps you create a methodical approach to considering each option along the same set of decision-criteria.  For each solution, take just a few moments, and capture each of the following:

  • Benefits - What can you expect to gain from this solution option? What will it solve, and what good does that mean for you, your team, and your organization?
  • Obstacles - What's in the way of this particular solution? What would prevent implementation?  What's the down-side or the potential pain associated with this solution option?
  • Data - What do the numbers say? How much will this cost?  How much time will it take? Can you afford to do this? Can you afford not to? What do the consequences look like if you don't do anything?  What does the data tell you?
  • Instinct - What's your gut telling you? Is this a right solution for your situation for now?  (That doesn't mean it's the only possible solution, or that it's permanently the right or wrong solution, but for right now, is it a good choice to address the problem you're trying to solve?)

If you spend about a minute or more each on B, O, and D, you only need about 15 seconds on the I - your gut will tell you pretty fast if this is a right option or not.  You're looking for the solution option (or options!) with the "best BODI" - the most Benefits, the fewest Obstacles, the one where the Data tells a clear picture to yes, and the one that your Instinct says is right.

Here's a secret benefit of this approach.  As you've heard Sinikka say time and time again when talking about project management, the three things a project leader has to know when leading a project are these things:

  1. What are you doing, and why are you doing it?
  2. How are you going to get it done?
  3. What's could be standing in your way, and what are you doing to address those risks?

Using the BODI approach, you already know What you're doing (That's the solution option you picked).  You know Why you're doing it (to solve the problem you'd identified and to gain the cool benefits you captured).  The Data tells you a bit about the How you'll get to done from where you're standing.  And the Obstacles are already a documented list of the things that could be standing in your way!  

Looking for more tips like these? Check out our Right Stuff Problem Solving class!

What about you? What steps do you take to start problem solving when you hit a road block? How does your problem-solving approach translate to helping you get the solution implemented?  Let us know in the comments or on social media!


Topics: YP, Sinikka Waugh, Business Skills & Business Acumen

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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