14 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 21, 2022

Published May 11, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Practicing different problem-solving strategies can help professionals develop efficient solutions to challenges they encounter at work and in their everyday lives. Each industry, business and career has its own unique challenges, which means employees may implement different strategies to solve them. If you are interested in learning how to solve problems more effectively, then understanding how to implement several common problem-solving strategies may benefit you. In this article, we discuss what problem-solving strategies are, share why they are important and list several examples of problem-solving strategies you can try.

What are problem-solving strategies?

A problem-solving strategy is a plan used to find a solution or overcome a challenge. Each problem-solving strategy includes multiple steps to provide you with helpful guidelines on how to resolve a business problem or industry challenge. Effective problem-solving requires you to identify the problem, select the right process to approach it and follow a plan tailored to the specific issue you are trying to solve.

Related: Problem-Solving Games for Problem-Based Learning at Work

Why is it important to understand multiple problem-solving strategies?

Understanding how a variety of problem-solving strategies work is important because different problems typically require you to approach them in different ways to find the best solution. By mastering several problem-solving strategies, you can more effectively select the right plan of action when faced with challenges in the future. This can help you solve problems faster and develop stronger critical thinking skills.

Related: 10 Ways To Improve Your Creative Problem-Solving Skills

14 types of problem-solving strategies

Here are some examples of problem-solving strategies you can practice using to see which works best for you in different situations:

1. Define the problem

Taking the time to define a potential challenge can help you identify certain elements to create a plan to resolve them. Breaking down different areas and potential solutions to a problem can help you recognize how extensive the challenge could be and what strategies to put in place for a resolution.

For example, a company with a high employee turnover rate may focus on quickly hiring new employees to solve the immediate problem of being understaffed. If the hiring manager took the time to define the problem, they may realize that the ultimate reason they are understaffed is because their onboarding system makes it challenging for new hires to acclimate to the company culture. With this knowledge, the hiring manager may allocate additional resources to develop a more effective and welcoming onboarding process to increase employee retention.

2. Visualize the problem

You might feel challenged when assessing the full scope of a problem or situation if you're closely involved with it. In these cases, try to visualize the problem by taking the time to focus on each individual element. For example, if you're fixing a printer in your office that isn't working properly, you can visualize the different components of the printer, such as the paper tray or the ink cartridges, to determine the key issue. Once you identify this, your problem may be much easier to solve.

3. Draw a diagram of the problem

While visualizing the problem can be helpful, it may be easier to understand a more complex problem if you can see it. Try drawing a picture or a diagram to help you illustrate the situation. For example, if you want to improve how quickly your team can develop and sell a product, you may illustrate several steps of this process to help you identify potential areas of improvement.

Related: 10 Essential Critical Thinking Skills (and How To Improve Them)

4. Break the problem into smaller pieces

It may be helpful to break larger problems down into smaller pieces or steps. This allows you to focus on resolving each smaller piece of the problem individually, which may be more manageable. Start by identifying what the requirements to solve this problem are. You can ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish and what obstacles you need to overcome. Make a list of each relevant task you think of. Then organize each step by listing them in order of when they need to be accomplished. Finally, divide the list by assigning different tasks to individual members of your team.

5. Redefine the problem

If the problem seems like it might really be unsolvable, consider redefining the problem. For example, if a business you work for wants to develop a certain product, and needs additional resources to accomplish this, you might redefine the problem by asking why the business wants to develop this product in the first place.

You might discover that your business wants to develop this product because there is high consumer demand for it. Instead of focusing on how the business can create that specific product, you may determine that it is more viable to identify another product with high consumer demand that your business has the resources to produce.

6. Collect and organize information about the problem

A specific action may cause a problem that is reinforced over time. Collecting information about the problem and organizing it into a chart, table or list can help you identify if there is an underlying pattern.

For example, if you want to predict the lifespan of a laptop that a company produces, you may collect data from customers who have reported issues with their laptop over the past year. Then you might use a chart to categorize the age of the laptops and how severe the issues the customers reported were to help you pinpoint the average lifespan of a laptop.

7. Work backwards

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to work backwards to solve it. This can be helpful if you need to recreate specific events to locate the root cause of a problem. For example, a car manufacturer may want to produce a vehicle that is better than their competitor's newest model. To do this, they might reverse engineer their competitor's vehicle to determine how they developed it. Then they can replicate the steps their competitor took to create a new vehicle that is even better.

8. Use the Kipling Method

The Kipling Method, named after Rudyard Kipling's poem "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men," is a popular system used to define problems. It highlights six important questions you can ask the next time need to overcome a challenge. These six questions are:

  • What is the problem?

  • Why is the problem important?

  • When did the problem arise and when does it need to be solved?

  • How did the problem happen?

  • Where is the problem occurring?

  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering each of these questions can help you identify what steps you need to take next to solve it.

9. Use your past experience

Take the time to consider if you have encountered a similar situation to your current problem in the past. This can help you draw connections between different events. Ask yourself how you approached the previous situation and adapt those solutions to the problem you are currently trying to solve. For example, a company trying to market a new clothing line may consider marketing tactics they have previously used, such as magazine advertisements, influencer campaigns or social media ads. By analyzing what tactics have worked in the past, they can create a successful marketing campaign again.

10. Bring in a facilitator

If you are trying to solve a complex problem with a group of other people, bringing in a facilitator can help increase your efficiency and mediate your collaboration. Having an impartial third party can help your group stay on task, document the process and have a more meaningful conversation. Consider inviting a facilitator to your next group meeting to help you generate better solutions.

Related: 3 Problem-Solving Activities for Team Building

11. Consider the trial-and-error approach

If your problem has multiple solutions and you are trying to find the best one, using the trial-and-error approach may be useful. Make a list of several potential solutions and then try them one by one. Take notes as you go so you have something to reference once you have completed your trials. Then use this information to determine the most effective solution.

Related: 10 Ideation Techniques for Problem-Solving

12. Develop a decision matrix for evaluation

If you develop multiple solutions for a problem, you may need to determine which one is the best. A decision matrix can be an excellent tool to help you approach this task because it allows you to rank potential solutions. Some factors you can analyze when ranking each potential solution are:

  • Timeliness

  • Risk

  • Manageability

  • Expense

  • Practicality

  • Effectiveness

After you have decided which factors to include, use them to rank each potential solution by assigning a weighted value of 0 to 10 in each of these areas. For example, one solution may receive a score of 10 in the timeliness factor because it meets all the requirements, while another solution may only receive a seven. Once you have ranked each of your potential solutions based on these factors, add up the total number of points each solution received. The solution with the highest number of points should meet the most important criteria.

Read more: How To Use a Decision Matrix

13. Ask your peers for help

Getting opinions from your peers can expose you to new perspectives and unique solutions. Friends, families or colleagues may have different experiences, ideas and skills that they can contribute to help you find the best solution to your problem. Consider asking a diverse range of colleagues or peers to share what they would do if they were in your situation. Even if you don't end up taking one of their suggestions, the conversation may help you process your ideas and arrive at a new solution.

Related: 25 Brainstorming Techniques for Problem-Solving and Planning

14. Step away from the problem

If the problem you are working on does not need an immediate solution, consider stepping away from it for a short period of time. You can do this literally by taking a walk to help clear your mind or figuratively by setting the problem aside for a few days until you are ready to approach it again. Allowing yourself time to rest, exercise and take care of your own well-being can make solving the problem easier when you come back to it because you may feel energized and focused.

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