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!

problem solving methodology information technology

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!

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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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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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What Is Problem Solving? How Software Engineers Approach Complex Challenges

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From debugging an existing system to designing an entirely new software application, a day in the life of a software engineer is filled with various challenges and complexities. The one skill that glues these disparate tasks together and makes them manageable? Problem solving . 

Throughout this blog post, we’ll explore why problem-solving skills are so critical for software engineers, delve into the techniques they use to address complex challenges, and discuss how hiring managers can identify these skills during the hiring process. 

What Is Problem Solving?

But what exactly is problem solving in the context of software engineering? How does it work, and why is it so important?

Problem solving, in the simplest terms, is the process of identifying a problem, analyzing it, and finding the most effective solution to overcome it. For software engineers, this process is deeply embedded in their daily workflow. It could be something as simple as figuring out why a piece of code isn’t working as expected, or something as complex as designing the architecture for a new software system. 

In a world where technology is evolving at a blistering pace, the complexity and volume of problems that software engineers face are also growing. As such, the ability to tackle these issues head-on and find innovative solutions is not only a handy skill — it’s a necessity. 

The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills for Software Engineers

Problem-solving isn’t just another ability that software engineers pull out of their toolkits when they encounter a bug or a system failure. It’s a constant, ongoing process that’s intrinsic to every aspect of their work. Let’s break down why this skill is so critical.

Driving Development Forward

Without problem solving, software development would hit a standstill. Every new feature, every optimization, and every bug fix is a problem that needs solving. Whether it’s a performance issue that needs diagnosing or a user interface that needs improving, the capacity to tackle and solve these problems is what keeps the wheels of development turning.

It’s estimated that 60% of software development lifecycle costs are related to maintenance tasks, including debugging and problem solving. This highlights how pivotal this skill is to the everyday functioning and advancement of software systems.

Innovation and Optimization

The importance of problem solving isn’t confined to reactive scenarios; it also plays a major role in proactive, innovative initiatives . Software engineers often need to think outside the box to come up with creative solutions, whether it’s optimizing an algorithm to run faster or designing a new feature to meet customer needs. These are all forms of problem solving.

Consider the development of the modern smartphone. It wasn’t born out of a pre-existing issue but was a solution to a problem people didn’t realize they had — a device that combined communication, entertainment, and productivity into one handheld tool.

Increasing Efficiency and Productivity

Good problem-solving skills can save a lot of time and resources. Effective problem-solvers are adept at dissecting an issue to understand its root cause, thus reducing the time spent on trial and error. This efficiency means projects move faster, releases happen sooner, and businesses stay ahead of their competition.

Improving Software Quality

Problem solving also plays a significant role in enhancing the quality of the end product. By tackling the root causes of bugs and system failures, software engineers can deliver reliable, high-performing software. This is critical because, according to the Consortium for Information and Software Quality, poor quality software in the U.S. in 2022 cost at least $2.41 trillion in operational issues, wasted developer time, and other related problems.

Problem-Solving Techniques in Software Engineering

So how do software engineers go about tackling these complex challenges? Let’s explore some of the key problem-solving techniques, theories, and processes they commonly use.

Decomposition

Breaking down a problem into smaller, manageable parts is one of the first steps in the problem-solving process. It’s like dealing with a complicated puzzle. You don’t try to solve it all at once. Instead, you separate the pieces, group them based on similarities, and then start working on the smaller sets. This method allows software engineers to handle complex issues without being overwhelmed and makes it easier to identify where things might be going wrong.

Abstraction

In the realm of software engineering, abstraction means focusing on the necessary information only and ignoring irrelevant details. It is a way of simplifying complex systems to make them easier to understand and manage. For instance, a software engineer might ignore the details of how a database works to focus on the information it holds and how to retrieve or modify that information.

Algorithmic Thinking

At its core, software engineering is about creating algorithms — step-by-step procedures to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Algorithmic thinking involves conceiving and expressing these procedures clearly and accurately and viewing every problem through an algorithmic lens. A well-designed algorithm not only solves the problem at hand but also does so efficiently, saving computational resources.

Parallel Thinking

Parallel thinking is a structured process where team members think in the same direction at the same time, allowing for more organized discussion and collaboration. It’s an approach popularized by Edward de Bono with the “ Six Thinking Hats ” technique, where each “hat” represents a different style of thinking.

In the context of software engineering, parallel thinking can be highly effective for problem solving. For instance, when dealing with a complex issue, the team can use the “White Hat” to focus solely on the data and facts about the problem, then the “Black Hat” to consider potential problems with a proposed solution, and so on. This structured approach can lead to more comprehensive analysis and more effective solutions, and it ensures that everyone’s perspectives are considered.

This is the process of identifying and fixing errors in code . Debugging involves carefully reviewing the code, reproducing and analyzing the error, and then making necessary modifications to rectify the problem. It’s a key part of maintaining and improving software quality.

Testing and Validation

Testing is an essential part of problem solving in software engineering. Engineers use a variety of tests to verify that their code works as expected and to uncover any potential issues. These range from unit tests that check individual components of the code to integration tests that ensure the pieces work well together. Validation, on the other hand, ensures that the solution not only works but also fulfills the intended requirements and objectives.

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Evaluating Problem-Solving Skills

We’ve examined the importance of problem-solving in the work of a software engineer and explored various techniques software engineers employ to approach complex challenges. Now, let’s delve into how hiring teams can identify and evaluate problem-solving skills during the hiring process.

Recognizing Problem-Solving Skills in Candidates

How can you tell if a candidate is a good problem solver? Look for these indicators:

  • Previous Experience: A history of dealing with complex, challenging projects is often a good sign. Ask the candidate to discuss a difficult problem they faced in a previous role and how they solved it.
  • Problem-Solving Questions: During interviews, pose hypothetical scenarios or present real problems your company has faced. Ask candidates to explain how they would tackle these issues. You’re not just looking for a correct solution but the thought process that led them there.
  • Technical Tests: Coding challenges and other technical tests can provide insight into a candidate’s problem-solving abilities. Consider leveraging a platform for assessing these skills in a realistic, job-related context.

Assessing Problem-Solving Skills

Once you’ve identified potential problem solvers, here are a few ways you can assess their skills:

  • Solution Effectiveness: Did the candidate solve the problem? How efficient and effective is their solution?
  • Approach and Process: Go beyond whether or not they solved the problem and examine how they arrived at their solution. Did they break the problem down into manageable parts? Did they consider different perspectives and possibilities?
  • Communication: A good problem solver can explain their thought process clearly. Can the candidate effectively communicate how they arrived at their solution and why they chose it?
  • Adaptability: Problem-solving often involves a degree of trial and error. How does the candidate handle roadblocks? Do they adapt their approach based on new information or feedback?

Hiring managers play a crucial role in identifying and fostering problem-solving skills within their teams. By focusing on these abilities during the hiring process, companies can build teams that are more capable, innovative, and resilient.

Key Takeaways

As you can see, problem solving plays a pivotal role in software engineering. Far from being an occasional requirement, it is the lifeblood that drives development forward, catalyzes innovation, and delivers of quality software. 

By leveraging problem-solving techniques, software engineers employ a powerful suite of strategies to overcome complex challenges. But mastering these techniques isn’t simple feat. It requires a learning mindset, regular practice, collaboration, reflective thinking, resilience, and a commitment to staying updated with industry trends. 

For hiring managers and team leads, recognizing these skills and fostering a culture that values and nurtures problem solving is key. It’s this emphasis on problem solving that can differentiate an average team from a high-performing one and an ordinary product from an industry-leading one.

At the end of the day, software engineering is fundamentally about solving problems — problems that matter to businesses, to users, and to the wider society. And it’s the proficient problem solvers who stand at the forefront of this dynamic field, turning challenges into opportunities, and ideas into reality.

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At the core of our methodology is the Foresight Framework, a proven and proprietary methodology to find future innovation opportunities and to create forward-looking organizations. The methodology began at Stanford University and has been tested with various teams and companies since 2004. Comprised of 15 core methods for problem scoping and problem solving, the Foresight Framework is designed to address complex problems and future planning as systematically, creatively, and efficiently as possible.

By using this framework, participants prepare successfully for the future by answering three fundamental questions:

  • How do I begin looking for future opportunities?
  • How can I create a path to these opportunities that anticipates the inevitable changes along the way?
  • What can I start doing today that will help me get there first?

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Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation

Looking for practical foresight methods? Download a free PDF of our playbook (or  buy a print version ) as your in-house guide.

Phase I: Perspective

Methods in the Perspective phase give you a broad frame of reference, holding up a mirror to the past so you may better anticipate the future.

Phase II: Opportunity

By understanding future customer changes, methods in the Opportunity phase help you develop an ability to see growth opportunities that exist today and extend into the future.

Phase III: Solution

Methods in the Solution phase seek to define the questions that exist along different paths to innovation, which are specific to your industry, customers, organization, and team skills.

Phase IV: Team

Methods in the Team phase focus on finding the talent and leadership your team needs to take an idea forward as a new opportunity or innovation.

Phase V: Vision

Methods in the Vision phase sharpen your team’s vision so that it may take on a life of its own and guide everyone’s actions forward.​

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  • Under the creative commons license ( CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 ), the  Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation  is available for free download to individuals, companies, and organizations for non-commercial purposes only. 
  • Parties interested in applying the foresight methods from the Foresight Framework for internal development, university teaching or educational reasons, or other purposes may do so with attribution and with no intention to profit.
  • Other third party trademarks referenced on the website and in the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation are the property of their respective owners.

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  • Commercial usage of the Foresight Framework and all related methods are restricted and full copyright are retained by the book's authors. You may not use trademarks, methods, or other intellectual property assets in connection with web sites, products, packaging, manuals, promotional/advertising materials, or for any other purpose except pursuant to an express written licensing agreement from the publisher. Contact the Innovation Leadership Group LLC's licensing team [email protected]  for more information.​

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Problem management

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For this section, we will dive into the various techniques employed to find the root cause of a problem in an IT environment.

IT Problem management techniques

The problem management process can be mandated with a good service desk tool, but the techniques used for investigation and diagnosis should vary according to the organization. It's recommended that investigation techniques are flexible based on the organization's needs rather than being overly prescriptive.

Since problems can appear in any shape or size, it's impossible to stick to one technique to find a solution every time; instead, using a combination of techniques will yield the best results. A simple LAN connectivity problem might be solved with a quick brainstorming session, but a network or VoIP issue might need a deeper look.

Here are several techniques you can practice in your organization's problem management process.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming techniques  for problem solving

By establishing a dialogue between departments, you gain various perspectives and new information, generating many potential solutions.

To have a productive brainstorming session, you need a moderator. The moderator handles the following:

  • Driving the direction of the meeting
  • Documenting the insights obtained
  • Highlighting the measures to be taken
  • Tracking the discussed deliverable
  • Preventing a time-consuming session

Brainstorming sessions are more productive when collaborative problem-solving techniques, such as Ishikawa analysis and the five whys method, are used. These techniques will be discussed later in this section.

Kepner-Tregoe method

Kepner tregoe problem solving method

The Kepner-Tregoe (K-T) method is a problem-solving and decision-making technique used in many fields due to its step-by-step approach for logically solving a problem. It's well-suited for solving complex problems in both proactive and reactive problem management.

The method follows four processes:

  • Situation appraisal: Assessment and clarification of the scenario
  • Problem analysis: Connecting cause with effect
  • Decision analysis: Weighing the alternate options
  • Potential problem analysis: Anticipating the future

However, problem analysis is the only part that concerns IT problem management, and it consists of five steps.

Define the problem

Identifying what the problem truly is can be a problem in itself. Since problem management is inherently a collaborative effort, having a comprehensive definition of the problem eliminates preconceived notions that any participating member might have, saving a considerable amount of time.

For example, if an organization's automatic data backup on a server has failed, the problem can be defined as:

Failed backup on server

This definition indeed describes the deviation from the normal situation, but it demands more questions and information. A good model of a definition should be unambiguous and easily understood.

To remove ambiguity, the above definition can be updated to:

Data backup on November 15 failed on server #34-C

This definition provides more clarity, and spares employees from redundant questions. Nevertheless, this definition can be further improved. Suppose the cause of the data backup failure can be attributed to an event such as the application of a new patch; then the initial problem analysis would undoubtedly lead to this event.

To save time and effort, let's update the definition to:

Data backup on November 15 failed on server #34-C after application of patch 3.124 by engineer Noah

This detailed definition leaves no room for redundant questions, and provides a good amount of information on where the problem could lie. These extra minutes spent on the initial definition save valuable time and effort, provide a logical sense of direction to analysis, and remove any preconceived notions about the problem.

Describe the problem

The next step is to lay out a detailed description of the problem. The K-T method provides the questions that need to be asked on any problem to help identify the possible causes.

The questions below help describe four parts of any problem:

  • What is the problem?
  • Where did the problem occur?
  • When did the problem occur?
  • To what extent did the problem occur?

Each of these questions demands two types of answers:

IS: As in, "What is the problem?" or "Where is the problem?"

COULD BE but IS NOT: As in, "Where could the problem be but is not?"

This exercise helps compare and highlight the what, where, when, and how the deviation from normal performance in business processes is happening.

Establish possible causes

The comparison between normal performance and deviated performance made in the previous step helps in shortlisting the possible causes of the problem. Making a table with all the information in one place can be helpful to make the comparison.

New possible causes become evident when the information is assembled together. For our example problem, the root cause can be narrowed down to:

Procedural error caused by the inadequate transfer of knowledge by the Level 3 engineers.

Whatever the problem, a sound analysis for possible causes can be done based on relevant comparison.

Test the most probable cause

The penultimate step is to short-list the probable causes and test them before proceeding to the conclusion. Each probable cause should follow this question:

If _______ is the root cause of this problem, does it explain what the problem IS and what the problem COULD BE but IS NOT?

Again, it's beneficial to populate all the information into a table.

Verify the true cause

The final step is to eliminate all the improbable causes and provide evidence to the most probable causes. With this verification, it's time to propose a solution to the problem. Without evidence of the possible root cause, the solution should not be attempted.

Ishikawa analysis, or fishbone diagram analysis

Fishbone analysis

Ishikawa analysis uses the fishbone framework to enumerate the cause and effects of a problem, and can be used in conjunction with brainstorming sessions and the five whys method. The simplicity in executing RCA using an Ishikawa diagram shouldn't deceive you of its prowess to handle complex problems.

To start the analysis, define the problem and use it as the head of the fishbone. Draw the spine and add the categories that the problem could be originating from as ribs to the fishbone.

Generally, it's easiest to start the categories with the four dimensions of service management: partners, processes, people, and technology. However, these categories can be anything relevant to your problem, environment, organization, or industry.

Once these categories form the ribs of the fishbone, start attaching possible causes to each category. Each possible cause can also branch out to detail the reason for that occurrence. This could lead to a complex diagram of four to five levels of causes and effects, subsequently drilling down to the root cause of the problem.

Ishikawa diagaram

It's recommended to split up dense ribs into additional ribs as required. Alternatively, merging empty ribs with other suitable ribs keeps the fishbone clean and easy to read. Additionally, you should ensure the ribs are populated with causes, not just symptoms of the problem.

This analysis is again a collaborative effort, and requires a moderator to direct the brainstorming sessions in an effective way. Every participant has the opportunity to engage, providing a comprehensive view of the problem.

Pareto analysis

Pareto analysis

The Pareto principle is an observation that approximately 80 percent of effects come from approximately 20 percent of causes. This observation applies to a wide range of subjects, including problem management.

When trying to reduce the number of incidents occurring in an organization, it's highly efficient to apply Pareto analysis before jumping into solving the problems. Pareto analysis prioritizes the causes of incidents, and helps in managing problems based on their impact and probability.

This analysis is carried out by generating a Pareto chart from a Pareto table. A Pareto table consists of the cumulative count of classification of all problems. A Pareto chart is a bar graph showing the cumulative percentage of the frequency of various classification of problems.

To create a Pareto chart, follow the steps given below:

  • Collect problem ticket data from your service desk tool.
  • Remodel the data into categories based on various attributes.
  • Create a Pareto table to find the frequency of problems in each classification over a period of time.
  • Compute the frequency of problem occurrences in each category.
  • Generate the cumulative frequency percentage in decreasing order.
  • Plot the data on a graph to create a Pareto chart.

The most important step is to remodel the data into a countable set of classifications and attributes.

Pareto chart analysis

This chart helps identify the problems that should be solved first to significantly reduce service disruption. This analysis complements the Ishikawa and Kepner-Tregoe methods by providing a way to prioritize the category of problems, while the other methods analyze the root cause.

It's important to remember that the 80/20 rule suggests likely causes, and may be incorrect at times.

Five whys technique

5 whys example

Five whys is a straightforward technique for RCA. It defines a problem statement, then repeatedly asks why until the underlying root cause of the problem is discovered. The number of whys doesn't need to be limited to five, but can be based on the problem and the situation.

The five whys technique complements many other problem-solving techniques like the Ishikawa method, Pareto analysis, and the K-T method.

Using the previous example of the data backup failure in a server, let's apply the five whys technique.

The above iterative process reveals the absence of a standardized format, which has led to the problem of data backup failure.

For our purposes, the example above is a simple execution of the method. In a real scenario, the next question depends on the answer to the previous question, so it's imperative to collaborate with stakeholders who have elaborate knowledge of the domain the problem resides in.

By adopting parts of the K-T method along with the five whys technique, such as providing evidence to each answer before validating it with a return question, you can ensure precise analysis during problem-solving sessions.

5 whys to solve problems

Other techniques

Apart from the five major techniques, there are still numerous others, each with their own unique strengths. Overall, problem investigation is carried out using a combination of techniques suitable for the situation. Some other techniques that are prevalent in the problem management community are chronological testing, fault tree analysis, the fault isolation method, hypothesis testing, and pain value analysis. It's worth taking the time to learn many techniques as your organization's problem management process matures.

You have made it so far! In our penultimate part of the six-part series, you will learn about the best practices of problem management that can help you jump past any hurdles during your problem management journey.

Reactive vs Proactive problem management

Problem management best practices

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Download a free copy of our incident management handbook and a best practice checklist to review your problem management solution.

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An effective problem solving process for IT professionals

1. what is the actual problem.

This should be the first question an IT professional should ask when it comes to troubleshooting various IT related issues – even if only to verify the information that has already been provided. Typically this will mean having a conversation with the individual or group of individuals that reported the problem in the first place. It’s certainly not unheard of for the reported problem to get muddied or distorted when going through multiple people or channels before you first hear of it.

People often rephrase things when dictating what someone else previously said, so it’s quite possible for the original complaint to turn into something completely different as it passes through different people:

“The Amazon website tends to lock up my web browser whenever I add items into my Cart.” Mary, Sales Department.
“Helpdesk? Mary’s internet isn’t working when she’s online shopping.” CASE STUDY This Wisconsin manufacturer needed to modernize its IT infrastructure to support rapid business growth. Discover what they did Mary’s Boss
“Please help Mary so she can browse shopping sites. I think the internet filter is probably blocking that category.” John, creating Helpdesk ticket

We’ve all encountered these types of scenarios in the past and they can be really frustrating, even more so when the issues are much more important than whether a single employee is capable of adding items to their Amazon shopping cart.

The point here being,  don’t take what’s being told to you for granted . Spend the time necessary to verify that what is being reported to you is actually what’s occurring and the original reason the issue was raised in the first place. Furthermore, taking the time to speak with the source, in this case, Mary, allows you to ask important follow-up questions that can further aid in diagnosing the problem as its being reported.

2. Who is experiencing the problem?

Without knowledge of who is experiencing the problem, your ability to focus your troubleshooting efforts into a precise area will be diminished and you might wind up going off in a direction that’s not even necessary or even remotely related to the source of the problem. One of the questions that should be asked is, who exactly is experiencing the problem?

Is it (for example):

  • A single user
  • A group/department of users
  • The entire remote branch office location
  • The entire main office location –and- remote branch offices

Every organization is different as it relates to the “Who”, but there are stark differences in the following scenario and what could be the underlying issue relating to the company’s IP Phones when the IT professional called in to solve the problem has a clearer understanding of “Who” is actually affected:

Problem solving

Single User

  • Jerry’s IP phone isn’t working
  • This is likely an issue with Jerry’s phone specifically

problem solving methodology information technology

A group/dept. of users

  • The entire 2nd floor is having problems with IP phones
  • This might be an issue specific to a network switch/VLAN on the 2nd floor

problem solving methodology information technology

Remote/branch office

  • All users in the remote/branch office are having problems with IP phones
  • This might be an issue specific to the VPN connection between offices

problem solving methodology information technology

Main and remote offices

  • All users in the main and remote offices are having problems with IP phones
  • This might be an issue specific to the core switch or IP Phone System itself

The point here is, when the IT professional starts to  understand “Who” is really affected , they can eliminate having to navigate down unnecessary paths while troubleshooting and can instead work towards narrowing down their troubleshooting efforts to a more specific and concise area. In the case of the single user above, why waste time troubleshooting the VPN tunnel when only Jerry is affected by the issue? This is why  knowing the “Who” is extremely important.

Here’s another example of something an IT Professional or Wireless Engineer hears from time to time.   “Help!  Wireless is completely down in the entire building.  Everyone is reporting problems” .   In these situations, do yourself a favor and pay special attention to words or phrases such as “entire”, “everyone”, and “completely down” when problems are reported.  These “all-inclusive” phraseologies tend to exaggerate what’s really happening and have the potential to lead you astray.

It’s not uncommon that while investigating the problem, the IT Professional or Wireless Engineers quickly learns that the “entire” building, or “everyone”, or that the wireless network being “completely down” (which, for example, in a school, might affect 3,000+ users) turns out to be a single wireless Access Point being down in one small office that is affecting 5 actual users (not, 3,000+ users as “everyone” seems to imply).

Bear in mind,  problems can sometimes be overblown and overstated , especially when a user, or group of users, is regularly frustrated with or intimated by technology (any IT professional has likely experienced those high-maintenance users that cry wolf over just about anything!).

Problem solving process - lightbulb

3. When did the problem start?

Knowing when the problem actually started (with attention to finite details such as the exact day and exact time) can often provide a better understanding of the problem and help trigger more definitive ideas and potential solutions relating to the underlying root cause that a given IT professional is expected to solve. Imagine being brought into a new customer to resolve critical problems with their Internet Services and being told,

“The internet pipe is a problem. People are randomly seeing spotty performance and oddball issues whenever web surfing and we don’t know why.”

Now, a less-experienced IT professional might just start diving headfirst into firewall logs, bandwidth monitoring, opening up a trouble-ticket directly with the ISP and trying to figure out what is going on, but someone with more experience will first pause to ask additional questions , wanting more specifics as to “When” the problem started happening.

  • Has this ALWAYS been a problem?
  • WHEN were these random internet browsing issues first reported?

For a problem solving process you need to know when the problem started.

Certainly looking back into firewall logs and bandwidth utilization metrics over the last 2 week period makes sense knowing the issue presented itself within the last 10 days, but it hardly warrants spending much time at all looking back at logs and bandwidth utilization metrics from 3+ months ago. That being said, once again, try to VERIFY the information being told to you . Perhaps the person giving you the answer vaguely remembers that it was 10 days ago, but in truth, it’s only been 3 days!

In this particular situation where the internet is being reported as sporadic, it’s altogether possible that roughly 11 days ago, another on-site computer technician decided to enable the UTM (Unified Threat Management) functionality within their firewall to allow for additional Antivirus inspection, IDS (Intrusion Detection Services), Geo-IP Filtering, and a plethora of other goodies typically included in UTM feature-sets.

Unfortunately, as a direct result, the firewall’s processors/CPUs have become overloaded and cannot move traffic through it quickly enough to keep up with the additional processing demands required when the firewall’s UTM feature-set was enabled.

4. Is the problem intermittent or constant?

Another key element to an effective problem solving process is finding out if the reported issue is occurring constantly or whether it’s only occurring intermittently? Problems that are constant, or fixed , are generally (though not always) easier to troubleshoot . Whereas problems that are intermittent and seemingly random, are generally more difficult to troubleshoot.

How many times have we as IT professionals been called in to troubleshoot a problem, only to find that upon our arrival, the issue suddenly doesn’t seem to exist anymore yet no one did anything specific to actually resolve the problem!? Those situations can be really frustrating, not only for the IT professional but for the end-user as well because the likelihood of the issue reappearing is rather high (and most likely reappears just a few short moments after the IT professional has left!)

The best thing to do in these scenarios is document WHEN the issue occurred and how LONG it lasted before it miraculously “fixed itself”, so the next time that same problem is reported, you might be able to piece together some crude and basic assumptions or theories based on WHEN it happened previously and how LONG it lasted each time.

Wireless chaos only at lunchtime?!

Problem solving techniques identity odd wireless issues

5. What changed recently?

This is one question that is unfortunately not asked often enough, is just plain overlooked, or in other cases is just completely disregarded (shame on you if you fall into that category!). Technology is a very touchy and hypersensitive beast , and more often than not, it doesn’t take too kindly to introducing changes. Even the changes that are supposed to solve and prevent other known problems, often result in the introduction of new and unexpected problems.

It’s not unheard of that sometimes even routine maintenance on equipment can cause problems .

Take for example, updating firmware on a network switch . This should be a relatively trouble-free routine operation, but suddenly users are reporting that they’re occasionally having problems logging into their desktops. It’s happening to more than one user, in fact, it’s being reported sporadically throughout the building early in the morning hours when most employees arrive for the start of their shift.

“What Changed” recently? Over the weekend you decided to update the firmware on your edge switches and now the port security that was set up on the switches using AAA authentication with Radius, isn’t behaving as expected. Unfortunately, it looks like the new firmware update might have introduced a random bug! What’s the solution? Back rev your switches , or look for ever newer firmware code that might resolve the problem.

Man looking at purple screen of death

You haven’t changed anything with the VMWare software itself, still running on the same trusted vSphere 6.0 Update 1 release that has been rock solid and problem-free in your environment. So “What Changed” recently? Wait a minute, come to think of it, the host server that is regularly crashing recently had an additional 64GB of memory added to it one week ago! Might be worth removing that extra 64GB of memory and seeing if the problem goes away. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time new or additional hardware was the result of the underlying issue .

6. Can the problem be recreated?

Another helpful step for effective problem solving is trying to recreate the actual problem. As discussed before, reported problems can either be of a constant or intermittent nature. Taking the time to re-create the problem can be beneficial and especially helpful in cases where you might need to break out tools such as Wireshark to capture packets and network traffic for future analysis and evaluation. IT professionals have to make use of such tools in more complex technical support issues especially when the flow of network traffic is in question or when there’s a need to examine whether the traffic is making it from the source to destination devices.

If possible, take advantage of any sandbox or test environments that are available. Having these environments gives you the flexibility to recreate the issue and effectively “break” things on purpose, without putting your production network or systems at risk and without interrupting services that end-users are relying on during standard business hours.

Recreating the problem is also advantageous in situations where the IT professional may need to involve 3rd party technical support from a vendor as well. Often, these vendors will have the means to establish remote sessions to take control of your desktop (or the machine in which you’ve successfully recreated the problem on), which gives the vendor the ability to actually see the issue while it’s occurring to further help diagnose what is happening.

7. Are benchmarks and logs available?

Having some kind of benchmarking tool available to track and record network and server performance is beyond measure in terms of its overall value when helping an IT professional track down challenging technical issues. One of the key areas worth checking when problems are being reported is looking at the actual METRICS over a historical period of time. Metrics can prove to be invaluable when trying to figure out: Whether the problem reported actually exists or is a false positive

Maybe you’ve been in a situation where someone reports, “The file server is really slow today!” Without historical benchmarks available, taking a look at the current server performance may not yield any fruitful results because the CPU, disk, network, and memory counters all SEEM to be operating at a reasonable level, but based on and compared to what exactly?

With historical benchmarks available, there is a foundation to actually compare today’s performance on the server as it relates to the CPU, Disk, Network, and Memory (and any other metric/counter you want) VERSUS what the server has been utilizing for the past days, weeks, or months prior.

What historical benchmarks might help you discover is, that according to the historical data, perhaps there is absolutely NO difference in the server performance today versus previous days, weeks, or months? The complaint of “The file server is really slow today” turns out to be a false positive in that case, proven by the metrics an historical benchmarks. Finding the real cause and resolution to the user’s complaint is going to require you to start looking into other areas aside from the server itself. Perhaps it’s a client-side issue or networking issue.

Having benchmarks available is crucial in taking out illogical guess-work and assumptions, and replacing them with hard evidence and facts to back up your problem solving process. There are countless software options available that will give you the data you need for metrics, though we often recommend using PRTG from Paessler, which is a wonderful utility for acquiring benchmarks on your network and servers.

Logs are another important thing to consider during the troubleshooting process. Going back into log history can give a stumped IT Professional some additional clues as to what is going on, especially in cases where the question of “ When did the problem start?” remains unanswered.

Having network devices (switches, routers, firewalls, wireless, etc.) sending their log information to a dedicated syslog server (for example, Kiwi Syslog Server from SolarWinds) gives someone the opportunity to search for entries related to particular devices (by IP address) for specific warning messages or error messages.

Syslog messages and the historical information gathered here can sometimes help point the IT Professional in the right direction, not to mention, the logs themselves can be extremely valuable to the vendor of the product as well when they are involved in troubleshooting what is happening.

8. I’m officially stuck – now what?

Alright, so you find yourself in one of those rather unpleasant circumstances where you’ve asked all the right questions, dug into your resourceful bag of tricks, and find that you’ve exhausted all your technical knowledge and ability to track down the source of the problem. What do you do now? The first step is DON’T PANIC . Effective problem solving is, more often than not, substantially reduced when the IT professional is stressed out and under pressure (although in some rare cases, people tend to flourish under these “trial by fire” scenarios). Keeping panic at bay will help a person to remain calm, focused, and continue to allow them to logically walk through the problem solving process.

This is however, easier said than done, when there are countless emails and phone calls coming in demanding an update as to when the source of the problem will be fixed (and let’s not forget, potentially angry bosses that might be clueless as to why the problem is taking more than 10 minutes to resolve!).

External help can shorten your problem solving process

The second step is just that, call in the cavalry! Let’s face it, there will always be instances where even the most seasoned IT professional needs assistance from peers, vendors or other resources . None of us are capable of knowing absolutely everything. When you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for help! What does that mean?

  • Open a case with, for example, Cisco TAC support
  • Open a case with, for example, Microsoft PSS support
  • Involve a co-worker, professional colleague, or peer
  • Partner with a local and trusted IT vendor
  • Google can be your friend (be careful of “quick-fix” solutions you find)
  • Look into vendor specific forums (most large-vendors have them)

Problem solving process - lightbulb

The problem solving process in summary

Be sure to give yourself the absolute best chance to combat those dreaded technical support issues. The next time someone contacts you and yells in a panic, “Email is broken!” understand that you can more quickly deduct what is actually going on and help minimize the amount of time necessary to resolve the problem by simply asking the right questions :

  • What is the Actual Problem?
  • Who is Experiencing the Problem?
  • When did the Problem Start?
  • Is the Problem Intermittent or Constant?
  • What Recently Changed?
  • Can the Problem be Recreated?
  • Are Benchmarks and Logs Available?
  • I’m Officially Stuck – Now What?

Keep in mind, however, that not only do you need answers to those questions, but you need answers that are accurate .

As stated earlier, this means the IT professional may need to take the necessary time to validate the answers being provided to them. Inaccurate answers and misinformed facts will send you down the wrong troubleshooting path and unnecessarily prolong the amount of time necessary to resolve complex technical support issues. So get your facts straight!

Having the answers to these questions will allow you to immediately narrow down the scope of the problem and the potential areas at fault, conduct tests, formulate conclusions, and resolve problems even faster than you may have anticipated.

You should also read:

5 practical steps to avoid a cyber attack

Understanding the e-rate process [download primer].

Jesse Rink

Jesse is the owner of Source One Technology and has been providing IT consulting services to Enterprises , SMBs , schools , and nonprofits in Waukesha , Milwaukee , Dane , Washington , Jefferson , Ozaukee , Kenosha , Racine counties and across Wisconsin for over 18 years.

Is application virtualization now a necessity?

Microsoft deployment toolkit and windows deployment services, 2 thoughts on “an effective problem solving process for it professionals”.

Found your article very interesting. I can definitely identify with all of the points you made, especially troubleshooting. Either you can or cant troubleshoot and think logically through an issue or problem. You are right in mentioning that its something you really cannot teach. One other thing that helps with a logically stepping through the process is documentation. There should always be a repository where network diagrams, server builds, OS versions etc., are kept. I understand that a lot of times these documents cannot be relied upon due to being out of date and it seems most people scoff at the idea of keeping good documentation. But I believe it to be important to help with any troubleshooting. You also mentioned the question, Did anything change? or What changed? A big issue when attempting to troubleshoot. Every place I have worked at, always used a change management process that documented every single change, no matter how small. Of course these places had to by law (SOX audits) because they were publicly traded companies. Just wanted to say, good article!

That is a great article with some excellent questions. Working with students and teachers, I’d throw in a few extra suggestions.

1. What is a reasonable timeline for solving the problem? Often times a lack of communication to this question leads to frustration and long term mistrust regarding the reliability of technology. Asking what needs to be done from the end user’s perspective, and knowing their timeline for completion is helpful. Giving them a reasonable amount of time in which they can expect the issue to be resolved sets everybody up for success around reasonable expectations.

2. Suggest potential work-arounds when necessary — Standing in front of a group of adults and attempting to present when the technology is not working is overwhelming and frustrating. The same tech failure when you are working with a group of students and you start to lose their attention — it’s a nightmare! Knowing what tools your district provides for staff and their general purpose may allow you to offer some potential work-around ideas until the problem is resolved. There is not a fix for everything, but when you can suggest a reasonable alternative in the moment, you offer more than just tech support — you offer customer service.

Comments are closed.

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The Basics of Structured Problem-Solving Methodologies: DMAIC & 8D

Topics: Minitab Engage

When it comes to solving a problem, organizations want to get to the root cause of the problem, as quickly as possible. They also want to ensure that they find the most effective solution to that problem, make sure the solution is implemented fully, and is sustained into the future so that the problem no longer occurs. The best way to do this is by implementing structured problem-solving. In this blog post, we’ll briefly cover structured problem-solving and the best improvement methodologies to achieve operational excellence. Before we dive into ways Minitab can help, let’s first cover the basics of problem-solving.

WHAT IS STRUCTURED PROBLEM-SOLVING?

Structured problem-solving is a disciplined approach that breaks down the problem-solving process into discrete steps with clear objectives. This method enables you to tackle complex problems, while ensuring you’re resolving the right ones. It also ensures that you fully understand those problems, you've considered the reasonable solutions, and are effectively implementing and sustaining them.

WHAT IS A STRUCTURED PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODOLOGY?

A structured problem-solving methodology is a technique that consists of a series of phases that a project must pass through before it gets completed. The goal of a methodology is to highlight the intention behind solving a particular problem and offers a strategic way to resolve it. WHAT ARE THE BEST PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODOLOGIES?

That depends on the problem you’re trying to solve for your improvement initiative. The structure and discipline of completing all the steps in each methodology is more important than the specific methodology chosen. To help you easily visualize these methodologies, we’ve created the Periodic Table of Problem-Solving Methodologies. Now let’s cover two important methodologies for successful process improvement and problem prevention: DMAIC and 8D .

DMAIC Methodology

8D is known as the Eight Disciplines of problem-solving. It consists of eight steps to solve difficult, recurring, or critical problems. The methodology consists of problem-solving tools to help you identify, correct, and eliminate the source of problems within your organization. If the problem you’re trying to solve is complex and needs to be resolved quickly, 8D might be the right methodology to implement for your organization. Each methodology could be supported with a project template, where its roadmap corresponds to the set of phases in that methodology. It is a best practice to complete each step of a given methodology, before moving on to the next one.

MINITAB ENGAGE, YOUR SOLUTION TO EFFECTIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING

Minitab Engage TM was built to help organizations drive innovation and improvement initiatives. What makes our solution unique is that it combines structured problem-solving methodologies with tools and dashboards to help you plan, execute, and measure your innovation initiatives! There are many problem-solving methodologies and tools to help you get started. We have the ultimate end-to-end improvement solution to help you reach innovation success.

Ready to explore structured problem-solving?

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  • IT methodologies
  • Introduction to IT methodologies

Agile. Lean. DevOps. These methodologies, once rooted in software development, have now entered the general lexicon in most workplaces. Product, support, and even marketing teams rely on tenets of these methodologies to iterate faster and deliver better customer experiences .

As a member of an IT team , you may find that your organization relies on different methodologies for distinct types of work. Some of these methods are hotly debated — but each has its place depending on the organization you are part of or the type of project you are working on.

At a basic level, methodologies help you structure your work. You are able to take a unified approach so everyone knows what the expectations are for planning new projects and completing tasks. When you are aligned around a consistent set of practices, you can focus on solving the technical problems rather than managing workflow chaos.

The methodology that you use is typically selected by a chief technology officer (CTO) or another company executive. Depending on your role, you may be able to influence key phases within a given method — such as the testing, deployment, or maintenance phases. When you understand the core principles of the methods, you can better evaluate when one may be more suitable than the next.

Common IT methodologies

Some methodologies are unique to a functional area in IT, while others are used across the IT department. This table includes some of the most common methodologies used by development, IT operations, and project-based teams.

If you are part of an enterprise architecture team, you may be familiar with another set of methodologies. These are the four most common enterprise architecture frameworks:

Your workflows and processes will be impacted by other factors as well, such as suppliers, expectations for uptime and usability, and governing bodies. You need to select a methodology that allows you to build and support the technologies that deliver a great customer experience.

Keeping operations running smoothly is critical as well. Most companies need to purchase supplies and services from outside vendors. So you need a framework in place for measuring and reporting on inventory.

IT teams help employees do their jobs — by providing tools, automating manual tasks, and supporting the infrastructure employees depend on. The methodology that you choose for internal projects should improve employee productivity and help keep people happy at work.

Finally, compliance requirements set by the government, client contracts, and other third parties can also impact how IT teams work. You want to provide adequate checks and balances — saving you time and effort and reducing potential errors.

Which IT methodology is appropriate for your organization?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for IT teams — the best methodology for your organization will depend on company structure, maturity, goals, project type, timelines, and skillsets.

Think of the methodology you choose as a framework for how a specific type of work can be completed — with a set of proven techniques that can help you stay in lockstep with your teammates. The right methodology will help you solve problems and support customers.

Best practices are best supported with the right tools. IT roadmapping software can help you manage projects, releases, and changes. Get started with Aha! Roadmaps — free for 30 days.

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problem solving definition

Problem Solving Skills for the Digital Age

Lucid Content

Reading time: about 6 min

Let’s face it: Things don’t always go according to plan. Systems fail, wires get crossed, projects fall apart.

Problems are an inevitable part of life and work. They’re also an opportunity to think critically and find solutions. But knowing how to get to the root of unexpected situations or challenges can mean the difference between moving forward and spinning your wheels.

Here, we’ll break down the key elements of problem solving, some effective problem solving approaches, and a few effective tools to help you arrive at solutions more quickly.

So, what is problem solving?

Broadly defined, problem solving is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. But you already knew that. Understanding problem solving frameworks, however, requires a deeper dive.

Think about a recent problem you faced. Maybe it was an interpersonal issue. Or it could have been a major creative challenge you needed to solve for a client at work. How did you feel as you approached the issue? Stressed? Confused? Optimistic? Most importantly, which problem solving techniques did you use to tackle the situation head-on? How did you organize thoughts to arrive at the best possible solution?

Solve your problem-solving problem  

Here’s the good news: Good problem solving skills can be learned. By its nature, problem solving doesn’t adhere to a clear set of do’s and don’ts—it requires flexibility, communication, and adaptation. However, most problems you face, at work or in life, can be tackled using four basic steps.

First, you must define the problem . This step sounds obvious, but often, you can notice that something is amiss in a project or process without really knowing where the core problem lies. The most challenging part of the problem solving process is uncovering where the problem originated.

Second, you work to generate alternatives to address the problem directly. This should be a collaborative process to ensure you’re considering every angle of the issue.

Third, you evaluate and test potential solutions to your problem. This step helps you fully understand the complexity of the issue and arrive at the best possible solution.

Finally, fourth, you select and implement the solution that best addresses the problem.

Following this basic four-step process will help you approach every problem you encounter with the same rigorous critical and strategic thinking process, recognize commonalities in new problems, and avoid repeating past mistakes.

In addition to these basic problem solving skills, there are several best practices that you should incorporate. These problem solving approaches can help you think more critically and creatively about any problem:

You may not feel like you have the right expertise to resolve a specific problem. Don’t let that stop you from tackling it. The best problem solvers become students of the problem at hand. Even if you don’t have particular expertise on a topic, your unique experience and perspective can lend itself to creative solutions.

Challenge the status quo

Standard problem solving methodologies and problem solving frameworks are a good starting point. But don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and push boundaries. Good problem solvers find ways to apply existing best practices into innovative problem solving approaches.

Think broadly about and visualize the issue

Sometimes it’s hard to see a problem, even if it’s right in front of you. Clear answers could be buried in rows of spreadsheet data or lost in miscommunication. Use visualization as a problem solving tool to break down problems to their core elements. Visuals can help you see bottlenecks in the context of the whole process and more clearly organize your thoughts as you define the problem.  

Hypothesize, test, and try again

It might be cliche, but there’s truth in the old adage that 99% of inspiration is perspiration. The best problem solvers ask why, test, fail, and ask why again. Whether it takes one or 1,000 iterations to solve a problem, the important part—and the part that everyone remembers—is the solution.

Consider other viewpoints

Today’s problems are more complex, more difficult to solve, and they often involve multiple disciplines. They require group expertise and knowledge. Being open to others’ expertise increases your ability to be a great problem solver. Great solutions come from integrating your ideas with those of others to find a better solution. Excellent problem solvers build networks and know how to collaborate with other people and teams. They are skilled in bringing people together and sharing knowledge and information.

4 effective problem solving tools

As you work through the problem solving steps, try these tools to better define the issue and find the appropriate solution.

Root cause analysis

Similar to pulling weeds from your garden, if you don’t get to the root of the problem, it’s bound to come back. A root cause analysis helps you figure out the root cause behind any disruption or problem, so you can take steps to correct the problem from recurring. The root cause analysis process involves defining the problem, collecting data, and identifying causal factors to pinpoint root causes and arrive at a solution.

root cause analysis example table

Less structured than other more traditional problem solving methods, the 5 Whys is simply what it sounds like: asking why over and over to get to the root of an obstacle or setback. This technique encourages an open dialogue that can trigger new ideas about a problem, whether done individually or with a group. Each why piggybacks off the answer to the previous why. Get started with the template below—both flowcharts and fishbone diagrams can also help you track your answers to the 5 Whys.

5 Whys analysis

Brainstorming

A meeting of the minds, a brain dump, a mind meld, a jam session. Whatever you call it, collaborative brainstorming can help surface previously unseen issues, root causes, and alternative solutions. Create and share a mind map with your team members to fuel your brainstorming session.

Gap analysis

Sometimes you don’t know where the problem is until you determine where it isn’t. Gap filling helps you analyze inadequacies that are preventing you from reaching an optimized state or end goal. For example, a content gap analysis can help a content marketer determine where holes exist in messaging or the customer experience. Gap analysis is especially helpful when it comes to problem solving because it requires you to find workable solutions. A SWOT analysis chart that looks at a problem through the lens of strengths, opportunities, opportunities, and threats can be a helpful problem solving framework as you start your analysis.

SWOT analysis

A better way to problem solve

Beyond these practical tips and tools, there are myriad methodical and creative approaches to move a project forward or resolve a conflict. The right approach will depend on the scope of the issue and your desired outcome.

Depending on the problem, Lucidchart offers several templates and diagrams that could help you identify the cause of the issue and map out a plan to resolve it.  Learn more about how Lucidchart can help you take control of your problem solving process .

About Lucidchart

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidchart.com.

Related articles

How you can use creative problem solving at work.

Sometimes you're faced with challenges that traditional problem solving can't fix. Creative problem solving encourages you to find new, creative ways of thinking that can help you overcome the issue at hand more quickly.

Solve issues faster with the root cause analysis process

Root cause analysis refers to any problem-solving method used to trace an issue back to its origin. Learn how to complete a root cause analysis—we've even included templates to get you started.

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7 Steps for Effective Problem Management in IT

ProjectManager

Information technology (IT) is a broad field that encompasses anything related to computer technology. That can include networking, hardware, software, the internet and the people that work with these things. Teams that work in IT are there to support these technologies and the people who use them. However, teams that work in IT management are not waiting around for systems to go down before they respond.

IT project management teams are tasked with preventing problems from occurring—and certainly from regularly occurring. This is called problem management, which has been detailed into best practices within the services management framework ITIL, or the information technology infrastructure library.

What Is Problem Management?

Problem management is the methodology related to responding to IT problems, especially those that are recurring, to make sure that they are resolved and don’t return.

ProjectManager's kanban board

This involves the quick detection of an issue and then providing a viable solution, or at least some workaround to reduce the impact on the organization and stop the problem from reappearing.

ITIL & Problem Management

One of the aspects of problem management is pinpointing the issue in the IT infrastructure that is the root cause of the problem, which is where the ITIL comes in. ITIL was first started in 2000 and is presently the most popular IT service management framework for best practices. It is used as a protocol when aligning IT services with business needs.

ITIL follows a process that starts with identifying the problem, which has caused one or more incidents but is not known why at the time. This becomes defined as an error when it’s identified as a design flaw or malfunction. It becomes a known error as a root cause if found and a workaround is documented. The root cause is the underlying reason for the incident.

Types of Problem Management & Related Processes

Problem management can be broken down into two distinct groups. There is reactive problem management, which is reacting to a problem when it occurs. The other is proactive problem management. This is the act of identifying and solving an issue before it results in an incident or problem in the IT system.

Problem management falls under the larger umbrella of ITIL processes. ITIL service operation processes include problem management, incident management, request fulfillment, event management and access management.

Incident Management vs. Problem Management

“Incident” and “problem” might seem like similar words, but in the realm of problem management, they have different meanings. According to ITIL, an incident refers to “an unplanned interruption to a service, or the failure of a component of a service that hasn’t yet impacted service.”

A problem, on the other hand, is made up of more than one related incident, or those that have common issues. Therefore, a problem is more severe than an incident. It requires more follow-up. A problem is not an incident, but an incident can create a problem if it’s recurring.

Managing an incident means fixing it and restoring the system as fast as possible. A problem is resolved by discovering its root cause to make sure that new incidents don’t occur.

Therefore, incident management is getting the system back in order quickly. Problem management is working to find and resolve the underlying cause of the error that has resulted in several incidents.

Problem Management Team

There are roles and responsibilities in problem management to make sure that the process, which is outlined below, is carried out properly. There is a problem manager, who is the owner of the problem management process and is a liaison for all team members, manages the known error database, closes problems and coordinates review.

The problem-solving team can be an internal technical support team or a group of external suppliers or vendors. Sometimes, if the problem demands special attention, the problem manager will assemble a special team , with the expertise needed to solve the problem, dedicated to that specific problem and its resolution.

The Problem Management Process

Now that we know what problem management is, how does it work as a successful process? First of all, it’s not just about problem-solving. At the highest level, yes, problem management resolves problems. But it’s more about the entire life cycle of that problem.

The process for problem management then is a structured way to manage problems in IT projects after they are first reported by users or service desk technicians. The problem management process can be broken down into these seven steps.

1. Detection

To resolve a problem, first, you have to identify it. This can be done in several ways. One is that there’s a problem that is reported or one that has undergone an ongoing analysis. There are also event management tools that can automatically detect a problem, or you might get a notification from a supplier.

A problem can be defined as when the cause of the problem report remains uncertain. For example, an incident can occur and get resolved but then reoccur. The underlying cause for this recurrence is unclear. Sometimes a problem is a known problem, one that has occurred before and is part of an existing record.

In the last example, when a problem is already recorded once and has happened again, this historical data is known because it had been logged. This is a crucial step in any problem management life cycle process. The log must have all pertinent details, such as the date and time of the problem, any user information, equipment details and a description.

Once the problem has been logged, then it must be categorized to better assign and monitor, as well as given a priority. This helps to determine how important the problem is and when it should be addressed by the team.

3. Diagnosis

Once the problem is identified and logged, then comes the search for its root cause. This can be done by investigating the known error database to find other problems that match the one you’re trying to diagnose and see if there are any recorded resolutions.

4. Workaround

If it’s possible to temporarily fix the problem with a workaround, then this might be the best and fastest course of action. It is not a permanent change and should not be used in exchange for resolving the issue, but it can set the technological ship back on course and reduce downtime and disruption until a permanent change resolution is available. Just be careful not to accrue too much technical debt .

5. Known Error Record

After you’ve identified, logged and diagnosed the problem, it’s important to collect that information in a known error record. This is where you can go back and look up problems when others arise in your IT and see if it’s one you’ve already handled.

This makes resolving the problems faster and easier, resulting in less downtime and disruption.

6. Resolution

When you have a resolution for the problem, implement it with standard change procedure and test the resolution to make sure it in fact is working. Sometimes this process is carried out through a request for change document, which then must be approved before being implemented.

Once resolved and tested, the problem can be closed. The final bit of paperwork is usually completed by the service desk technician, who makes sure that the details are accurate for future reference.

Why Is Problem Management Important?

Successful problem management results in less downtime and fewer disruptions in the business. It also improves service availability and quality. Problem management helps companies to reduce the time they spend having to resolve problems and also the number of problems that occur.

This all leads to an increase in productivity and reduces costs. The final step in the problem management journey is that it leads to improved customer satisfaction.

Technology is changing all the time, faster and faster with each passing quarter, and problem management is one way to mitigate the chaos often associated with these changes. Problem management keeps services running and increases quality.

ProjectManager Helps Problem Management

Problems need solutions and solutions come from people with the right tools. ProjectManager is an online project management software that organizes projects, including when those projects are dealing with IT problems.

Log Problems & Build Projects

When a problem has been identified by the help desk or a user, it becomes more than just an IT problem. It is now a project to resolve it. One way ProjectManager helps is by structuring its resolution in a kanban board .

By logging the identified problem in ProjectManager you can now archive the work to resolve it. This now becomes a piece of historical data to reference if and when the problem shows up again. Once the problem has been diagnosed, it can go on a kanban card and move through the kanban as it is being worked on and completed. Adding tabs can list them as bugs, so they’re easy to find. You can even prioritize them.

ProjectManager's list view with a task overlay

Track Progress

Managers are going to want to progress reports. Kanban boards are transparent, so they can see the work getting done, but for more details project reports are fast and thorough. The real-time dashboard can even give managers a high-level overview.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Next time your IT department is struggling with resolving a problem, give them ProjectManager. It has the tools IT professionals want.

ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that can be used as a problem management tool. Our software can collect and categorize your problem as a project, so the problem management process can be controlled. You can track the resolution of your problem in real time, assign team members to resolve the problem and give them a platform to collaborate and work more effectively. Solve your problems by trying ProjectManager free with this 30-day trial offer.

Click here to browse ProjectManager's free templates

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Status.net

What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)
  • Soft skills
  • What is a credential?
  • Why do a credential?
  • How do credentials work?
  • Selecting your level
  • How will I be assessed?
  • Benefits for professionals
  • Benefits for organisations
  • Benefits for postgraduates

Problem solving techniques: Steps and methods

problem solving methodology information technology

Posted on May 29, 2019

Constant disruption has become a hallmark of the modern workforce and organisations want problem solving skills to combat this. Employers need people who can respond to change – be that evolving technology, new competitors, different models for doing business, or any of the other transformations that have taken place in recent years.

In addition, problem solving techniques encompass many of the other top skills employers seek . For example, LinkedIn’s list of the most in-demand soft skills of 2019 includes creativity, collaboration and adaptability, all of which fall under the problem-solving umbrella.

Despite its importance, many employees misunderstand what the problem solving method really involves.

What constitutes effective problem solving?

Effective problem solving doesn’t mean going away and coming up with an answer immediately. In fact, this isn’t good problem solving at all, because you’ll be running with the first solution that comes into your mind, which often isn’t the best.

Instead, you should look at problem solving more as a process with several steps involved that will help you reach the best outcome. Those steps are:

  • Define the problem
  • List all the possible solutions
  • Evaluate the options
  • Select the best solution
  • Create an implementation plan
  • Communicate your solution

Let’s look at each step in a little more detail.

It's important you take the time to brainstorm and consider all your options when solving problems.

1. Define the problem

The first step to solving a problem is defining what the problem actually is – sounds simple, right? Well no. An effective problem solver will take the thoughts of everyone involved into account, but different people might have different ideas on what the root cause of the issue really is. It’s up to you to actively listen to everyone without bringing any of your own preconceived notions to the conversation. Learning to differentiate facts from opinion is an essential part of this process.

An effective problem solver will take the opinions of everyone involved into account

The same can be said of data. Depending on what the problem is, there will be varying amounts of information available that will help you work out what’s gone wrong. There should be at least some data involved in any problem, and it’s up to you to gather as much as possible and analyse it objectively.

2. List all the possible solutions

Once you’ve identified what the real issue is, it’s time to think of solutions. Brainstorming as many solutions as possible will help you arrive at the best answer because you’ll be considering all potential options and scenarios. You should take everyone’s thoughts into account when you’re brainstorming these ideas, as well as all the insights you’ve gleaned from your data analysis. It also helps to seek input from others at this stage, as they may come up with solutions you haven’t thought of.

Depending on the type of problem, it can be useful to think of both short-term and long-term solutions, as some of your options may take a while to implement.

One of the best problem solving techniques is brainstorming a number of different solutions and involving affected parties in this process.

3. Evaluate the options

Each option will have pros and cons, and it’s important you list all of these, as well as how each solution could impact key stakeholders. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to three or four, it’s often a good idea to go to other employees for feedback just in case you’ve missed something. You should also work out how each option ties in with the broader goals of the business.

There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.

4. Select an option

Only now should you choose which solution you’re going to go with. What you decide should be whatever solves the problem most effectively while also taking the interests of everyone involved into account. There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.

5. Create an implementation plan

At this point you might be thinking it’s time to sit back and relax – problem solved, right? There are actually two more steps involved if you want your problem solving method to be truly effective. The first is to create an implementation plan. After all, if you don’t carry out your solution effectively, you’re not really solving the problem at all. 

Create an implementation plan on how you will put your solution into practice. One problem solving technique that many use here is to introduce a testing and feedback phase just to make sure the option you’ve selected really is the most viable. You’ll also want to include any changes to your solution that may occur in your implementation plan, as well as how you’ll monitor compliance and success.

6. Communicate your solution

There’s one last step to consider as part of the problem solving methodology, and that’s communicating your solution . Without this crucial part of the process, how is anyone going to know what you’ve decided? Make sure you communicate your decision to all the people who might be impacted by it. Not everyone is going to be 100 per cent happy with it, so when you communicate you must give them context. Explain exactly why you’ve made that decision and how the pros mean it’s better than any of the other options you came up with.

Prove your problem solving skills with Deakin

Employers are increasingly seeking soft skills, but unfortunately, while you can show that you’ve got a degree in a subject, it’s much harder to prove you’ve got proficiency in things like problem solving skills. But this is changing thanks to Deakin’s micro-credentials. These are university-level micro-credentials that provide an authoritative and third-party assessment of your capabilities in a range of areas, including problem solving. Reach out today for more information .

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Critical thinking and problem solving with technology.

Brief Summary: Critical thinking and problem solving is a crucial skill in a technical world that can immediately be applied to academics and careers. A highly skilled individual in this competency can choose the appropriate tool to accomplish a task, easily switch between tools, has a basic understanding of different file types, and can troubleshoot technology when it’s not working properly. They can also differentiate between true information and falsified information online and has basic proficiency in data gathering, processing and interpretation. 

Learners with proficient skills in critical thinking and problem solving should be able to: 

  • Troubleshoot computers and mobile devices when issues arise, like restarting the device and checking if it requires a software or operating system update 
  • Move across tools to complete a task (for example, adding PowerPoint slides into a note taking app for annotation) 
  • Differentiate between legitimate and falsified information online 
  • Understand basic file types and know when to use them (for example, the difference between .doc and .pdf files) 

Market/Employer Trends: Employers indicate value in employee ability to problem solve using technology, particularly related to drawing information from data to identify and solve challenges. Further, knowing how to leverage technology tools to see a problem, break it down into manageable pieces, and work toward solving is of important value. Employers expect new employees to be able to navigate across common toolsets, making decisions to use the right tool for the right task.  

Self-Evaluation: 

Key questions for reflection: 

  • How comfortable are you when technology doesn’t work the way you expect?  
  • Do you know basic troubleshooting skills to solve tech issues?  
  • Do you know the key indicators of whether information you read online is reliable? 

Strong digital skills in this area could appear as: 

  • Updating your computer after encountering a problem and resolving the issue 
  • Discerning legitimate news sources from illegitimate ones to successfully meet goals 
  • Converting a PowerPoint presentation into a PDF for easy access for peers who can’t use PowerPoint 
  • Taking notes on a phone and seamlessly completing them on a computer

Ways to Upskill: 

Ready to grow your strength in this competency? Try: 

  • Reviewing University Libraries’ resources on research and information literacy  
  • Read about troubleshooting in college in the Learner Technology Handbook 
  • Registering for ESEPSY 1359: Critical Thinking and Collaboration in Online Learning  

Educator Tips to Support Digital Skills: 

  • Create an assignment in Carmen prompting students to find legitimate peer-reviewed research  
  • Provide links to information literacy resources on research-related assignments or projects for student review 
  • Develop assignments that require using more than one tech tool to accomplish a single task 

Smart. Open. Grounded. Inventive. Read our Ideas Made to Matter.

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Ideas Made to Matter

Design thinking, explained

Rebecca Linke

Sep 14, 2017

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an innovative problem-solving process rooted in a set of skills.The approach has been around for decades, but it only started gaining traction outside of the design community after the 2008 Harvard Business Review article [subscription required] titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, CEO and president of design company IDEO.

Since then, the design thinking process has been applied to developing new products and services, and to a whole range of problems, from creating a business model for selling solar panels in Africa to the operation of Airbnb .

At a high level, the steps involved in the design thinking process are simple: first, fully understand the problem; second, explore a wide range of possible solutions; third, iterate extensively through prototyping and testing; and finally, implement through the customary deployment mechanisms. 

The skills associated with these steps help people apply creativity to effectively solve real-world problems better than they otherwise would. They can be readily learned, but take effort. For instance, when trying to understand a problem, setting aside your own preconceptions is vital, but it’s hard.

Creative brainstorming is necessary for developing possible solutions, but many people don’t do it particularly well. And throughout the process it is critical to engage in modeling, analysis, prototyping, and testing, and to really learn from these many iterations.

Once you master the skills central to the design thinking approach, they can be applied to solve problems in daily life and any industry.

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Infographic of the design thinking process

Understand the problem 

The first step in design thinking is to understand the problem you are trying to solve before searching for solutions. Sometimes, the problem you need to address is not the one you originally set out to tackle.

“Most people don’t make much of an effort to explore the problem space before exploring the solution space,” said MIT Sloan professor Steve Eppinger. The mistake they make is to try and empathize, connecting the stated problem only to their own experiences. This falsely leads to the belief that you completely understand the situation. But the actual problem is always broader, more nuanced, or different than people originally assume.

Take the example of a meal delivery service in Holstebro, Denmark. When a team first began looking at the problem of poor nutrition and malnourishment among the elderly in the city, many of whom received meals from the service, it thought that simply updating the menu options would be a sufficient solution. But after closer observation, the team realized the scope of the problem was much larger , and that they would need to redesign the entire experience, not only for those receiving the meals, but for those preparing the meals as well. While the company changed almost everything about itself, including rebranding as The Good Kitchen, the most important change the company made when rethinking its business model was shifting how employees viewed themselves and their work. That, in turn, helped them create better meals (which were also drastically changed), yielding happier, better nourished customers.

Involve users

Imagine you are designing a new walker for rehabilitation patients and the elderly, but you have never used one. Could you fully understand what customers need? Certainly not, if you haven’t extensively observed and spoken with real customers. There is a reason that design thinking is often referred to as human-centered design.

“You have to immerse yourself in the problem,” Eppinger said.

How do you start to understand how to build a better walker? When a team from MIT’s Integrated Design and Management program together with the design firm Altitude took on that task, they met with walker users to interview them, observe them, and understand their experiences.  

“We center the design process on human beings by understanding their needs at the beginning, and then include them throughout the development and testing process,” Eppinger said.

Central to the design thinking process is prototyping and testing (more on that later) which allows designers to try, to fail, and to learn what works. Testing also involves customers, and that continued involvement provides essential user feedback on potential designs and use cases. If the MIT-Altitude team studying walkers had ended user involvement after its initial interviews, it would likely have ended up with a walker that didn’t work very well for customers. 

It is also important to interview and understand other stakeholders, like people selling the product, or those who are supporting the users throughout the product life cycle.

The second phase of design thinking is developing solutions to the problem (which you now fully understand). This begins with what most people know as brainstorming.

Hold nothing back during brainstorming sessions — except criticism. Infeasible ideas can generate useful solutions, but you’d never get there if you shoot down every impractical idea from the start.

“One of the key principles of brainstorming is to suspend judgment,” Eppinger said. “When we're exploring the solution space, we first broaden the search and generate lots of possibilities, including the wild and crazy ideas. Of course, the only way we're going to build on the wild and crazy ideas is if we consider them in the first place.”

That doesn’t mean you never judge the ideas, Eppinger said. That part comes later, in downselection. “But if we want 100 ideas to choose from, we can’t be very critical.”

In the case of The Good Kitchen, the kitchen employees were given new uniforms. Why? Uniforms don’t directly affect the competence of the cooks or the taste of the food.

But during interviews conducted with kitchen employees, designers realized that morale was low, in part because employees were bored preparing the same dishes over and over again, in part because they felt that others had a poor perception of them. The new, chef-style uniforms gave the cooks a greater sense of pride. It was only part of the solution, but if the idea had been rejected outright, or perhaps not even suggested, the company would have missed an important aspect of the solution.

Prototype and test. Repeat.

You’ve defined the problem. You’ve spoken to customers. You’ve brainstormed, come up with all sorts of ideas, and worked with your team to boil those ideas down to the ones you think may actually solve the problem you’ve defined.

“We don’t develop a good solution just by thinking about a list of ideas, bullet points and rough sketches,” Eppinger said. “We explore potential solutions through modeling and prototyping. We design, we build, we test, and repeat — this design iteration process is absolutely critical to effective design thinking.”

Repeating this loop of prototyping, testing, and gathering user feedback is crucial for making sure the design is right — that is, it works for customers, you can build it, and you can support it.

“After several iterations, we might get something that works, we validate it with real customers, and we often find that what we thought was a great solution is actually only just OK. But then we can make it a lot better through even just a few more iterations,” Eppinger said.

Implementation

The goal of all the steps that come before this is to have the best possible solution before you move into implementing the design. Your team will spend most of its time, its money, and its energy on this stage.

“Implementation involves detailed design, training, tooling, and ramping up. It is a huge amount of effort, so get it right before you expend that effort,” said Eppinger.

Design thinking isn’t just for “things.” If you are only applying the approach to physical products, you aren’t getting the most out of it. Design thinking can be applied to any problem that needs a creative solution. When Eppinger ran into a primary school educator who told him design thinking was big in his school, Eppinger thought he meant that they were teaching students the tenets of design thinking.

“It turns out they meant they were using design thinking in running their operations and improving the school programs. It’s being applied everywhere these days,” Eppinger said.

In another example from the education field, Peruvian entrepreneur Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor hired design consulting firm IDEO to redesign every aspect of the learning experience in a network of schools in Peru. The ultimate goal? To elevate Peru’s middle class.

As you’d expect, many large corporations have also adopted design thinking. IBM has adopted it at a company-wide level, training many of its nearly 400,000 employees in design thinking principles .

What can design thinking do for your business?

The impact of all the buzz around design thinking today is that people are realizing that “anybody who has a challenge that needs creative problem solving could benefit from this approach,” Eppinger said. That means that managers can use it, not only to design a new product or service, “but anytime they’ve got a challenge, a problem to solve.”

Applying design thinking techniques to business problems can help executives across industries rethink their product offerings, grow their markets, offer greater value to customers, or innovate and stay relevant. “I don’t know industries that can’t use design thinking,” said Eppinger.

Ready to go deeper?

Read “ The Designful Company ” by Marty Neumeier, a book that focuses on how businesses can benefit from design thinking, and “ Product Design and Development ,” co-authored by Eppinger, to better understand the detailed methods.

Register for an MIT Sloan Executive Education course:

Systematic Innovation of Products, Processes, and Services , a five-day course taught by Eppinger and other MIT professors.

  • Leadership by Design: Innovation Process and Culture , a two-day course taught by MIT Integrated Design and Management director Matthew Kressy.
  • Managing Complex Technical Projects , a two-day course taught by Eppinger.
  • Apply for M astering Design Thinking , a 3-month online certificate course taught by Eppinger and MIT Sloan senior lecturers Renée Richardson Gosline and David Robertson.

Steve Eppinger is a professor of management science and innovation at MIT Sloan. He holds the General Motors Leaders for Global Operations Chair and has a PhD from MIT in engineering. He is the faculty co-director of MIT's System Design and Management program and Integrated Design and Management program, both master’s degrees joint between the MIT Sloan and Engineering schools. His research focuses on product development and technical project management, and has been applied to improving complex engineering processes in many industries.

Read next: 10 agile ideas worth sharing

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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."

problem solving methodology information technology

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

problem solving methodology information technology

  • 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.

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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."

Teaching structured troubleshooting: integrating a standard methodology into an information technology program

  • DEVELOPMENT ARTICLE
  • Published: 19 June 2007
  • Volume 57 , pages 251–265, ( 2009 )

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Troubleshooting skills are integral for the Information Technology professional. In order to address faculty concerns that students were not effectively learning required troubleshooting skills, a standardized troubleshooting methodology (the DECSAR Method) was created and integrated into the standard curriculum of a college information technology program. Components of troubleshooting were measured using a pre-/post-testing approach with the Social Problem Solving Inventory—Revised. Testing indicated improvement in several areas of troubleshooting reinforced by DECSAR. The context in which the troubleshooting methodology was applied was associated with post-test change.

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10 of the highest-paying IT jobs right now

Blond female programmer coding over computer.

If you’re looking for a well-paying, in-demand job that rewards problem-solving skills, a career in information technology might be a good fit for you. The field of IT encompasses computer systems, programming languages, software, data, information processing, and storage to create, secure, and exchange electronic data. 

Even with recent layoffs in the tech sector, Gaurav Jetley, assistant professor of computer information systems in Colorado State University ’s College of Business, says not to worry.

The University of Texas at Austin logo

Embark on an AI revolution with UT Austin. Two course start dates per year. Accessible $10,000 tuition.

“IT jobs are still in demand,” Jetley says. “We will see more jobs open up later this year, hopefully.”

And it appears to be true: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 377,500 job openings are projected each year, with a median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations of $104,420 in May 2023.

For those who are interested in pursuing IT jobs, here are 10 of the field’s top-paying roles.

10. Principal Software Engineer  

Top-paying companies: Microsoft, USAA, MITRE

Description: Principal Software Engineers lead teams of engineers to create high-quality, scalable software to achieve an organization’s goals. This role develops and tests software; they are also responsible for reviewing code written by other engineers, identifying the right technology to meet an organization’s needs, and creating architecture for complex software systems.

Average base salary: $111,822, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: New York, N.Y. ($165,480), Atlanta, Ga. ($157,432), Chicago, Ill. ($147,257), according to Indeed .

9. Information Security and Cybersecurity Engineers and Architects  

Top-paying companies: Capital One, MITRE, Honeywell

Description: Information Security and Cybersecurity Engineers and Architects are IT professionals who work alongside developers to make sure that software, systems, applications, and networks are secure. 

These roles may also respond to security risks faced by organizations, such as cyberattacks, security incidents, and data breaches. While architects are responsible for designing cybersecurity systems, engineers focus on building and maintaining cybersecurity infrastructure.

“These are folks who are at the forefront of technology,” Jetley says. “They have to be proactive. They have to be updated on what’s happening, what kind of new threats are emerging, and to take steps to mitigate these things.”

Average base salary: $112,619, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: Charlotte, N.C. ($162,158), Raleigh, N.C. ($146,450), Washington, D.C. ($122,770), according to Indeed .

8. DevOps Engineer  

Top-paying companies: Capital One, Boeing, Northrop Grumman

Description: DevOps Engineers manage an organization’s IT infrastructure. This role updates and maintains software processes with the aim of fixing bugs and improving user experience. DevOps engineers have a strong focus on automation and coordinate all teams involved with a product’s development.

“These are very technically savvy folks that basically manage the entire IT infrastructure,” Jetley says. 

Average base salary: $125,152, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: Palo Alto, Calif. ($157,688), San Francisco, Calif. ($153,008), Herndon, Va. ($148,683), according to Indeed .

7. Chief Information Officer  

Top-paying companies: Cisco, Walt Disney Company, Adobe

Description: Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are responsible for managing and implementing an organization’s information and computer technology systems. This executive position figures out which technologies will benefit an organization, improve business processes, and integrate systems that help an organization achieve their goals.

“This position is not about the nitty gritty but looking at the overall strategy for the entire company,” Jetley says. “They also take care of the implementation of systems.”

Average base s alary: $128,101, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: New York, N.Y. ($211,773), Austin, Texas ($180,626), Washington, D.C. ($163,990), according to Indeed .

6. Solutions Architect  

Top-paying companies: Cisco, IBM, Amazon.com

Description: Solutions Architects develop, build, and implement an organization’s systems architecture to meet customer and business needs. This role evaluates an organization’s existing system architecture and figures out solutions to change, improve, and modernize. 

“You usually have a solutions architect in companies that are employing a cloud solution. They design these solutions,” Jetley says. “These days we’re seeing an uptick in cloud solutions architects because of AI. Most AI is running in the cloud these days.”

Average base salary: $128,106, according to Payscale .

Top-paying locations: San Francisco, Calif. ($148,014), New York, N.Y. ($135,266), Chicago, Ill. ($132,515), according to Payscale .

5. Director of Information Technology  

Top-paying companies: Oracle, Bristol Myers Squibb, USAA

Description: IT Directors manage the information technology and computer systems of an organization under the CIO. This position makes sure that an organization’s tech solutions adequately manage the security, accessibility, and functionality of their IT framework. They also ensure proper communication between chief executives and the IT department.

Average base salary: $130,896, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: San Jose, Calif. ($193,636), St. Louis, Mo. ($176,150), New York, N.Y. ($159,317), according to Indeed .

4. Data Architect  

Top-paying companies: Amazon.com, Accenture, IBM

Description: Data Architects design, deploy, and manage the data infrastructure of an organization. This role formulates an organization’s entire data strategy, including analyzing existing databases, planning future ones, and implementing data storage and management solutions. As practically every company employs data, this role is useful in every industry.

“They define how the data will be stored in the company, how it will be consumed,” Jetley explains.

Average base salary: $132,442, according to Payscale .

Top-paying locations: Washington, D.C. ($153,480), New York, N.Y. ($149,160), Minneapolis, Minn. ($122,717), according to Payscale .

3. Application Architect  

Description: Application Architects manage the development and troubleshooting of applications. Whether overseeing a team of developers or working with clients to plan and design applications, this role addresses programming and coding issues to improve products. This position requires someone to be both a master developer and an experienced leader.

Average base salary: $138,429, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: San Jose, Calif. ($173,364), San Francisco, Calif. ($161,567), Washington, D.C. ($153,720), according to Indeed .

2. Vice President of Information Technology

Top-paying companies: Oracle, Centene, USAA

Description: Vice Presidents (VPs) of Information Technology are tasked with overseeing the IT operations of an organization, including its infrastructure, security, data management, and software applications. VPs of IT direct and manage schedules, IT plans, programs, and policies related to an organization’s management of information systems, computer services, data processing, network communications, and business operations.

Average base salary: $167,619, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: Arlington Heights, Ill. ($228,699), San Diego, Calif. ($213,387), Dallas, Texas ($211,544), according to Indeed .

1. Chief Technology Officer  

Top-paying companies: Capital One, Bloomberg, AFL-CIO

Description: Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) manage an organization’s technological needs and oversee its research and development efforts. CTOs consider the needs of an organization and make investments to help them reach their goals. They also use technology to improve products that serve customers.

Average base salary: $186,703, according to Indeed .

Top-paying locations: San Diego, Calif. ($298,291), Seattle, Wash. ($255,930), New York, N.Y. ($224,111), according to Indeed .

The takeaway  

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, the field of IT is a rewarding one for continuous learners who love to problem solve. For those who are just getting started, it’s a good idea to pursue certifications or a bachelor’s degree related to IT. Jetley recommends concentrating on a specialty.

“Have a general understanding of many specialties, but digging deep into one specialty is key,” Jetley says. “For that, you have to spend a considerable amount of time learning these systems.”

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Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

At michigan state university, international research team uses wavefunction matching to solve quantum many-body problems, new approach makes calculations with realistic interactions possible.

FRIB researchers are part of an international research team solving challenging computational problems in quantum physics using a new method called wavefunction matching. The new approach has applications to fields such as nuclear physics, where it is enabling theoretical calculations of atomic nuclei that were previously not possible. The details are published in Nature (“Wavefunction matching for solving quantum many-body problems”) .

Ab initio methods and their computational challenges

An ab initio method describes a complex system by starting from a description of its elementary components and their interactions. For the case of nuclear physics, the elementary components are protons and neutrons. Some key questions that ab initio calculations can help address are the binding energies and properties of atomic nuclei not yet observed and linking nuclear structure to the underlying interactions among protons and neutrons.

Yet, some ab initio methods struggle to produce reliable calculations for systems with complex interactions. One such method is quantum Monte Carlo simulations. In quantum Monte Carlo simulations, quantities are computed using random or stochastic processes. While quantum Monte Carlo simulations can be efficient and powerful, they have a significant weakness: the sign problem. The sign problem develops when positive and negative weight contributions cancel each other out. This cancellation results in inaccurate final predictions. It is often the case that quantum Monte Carlo simulations can be performed for an approximate or simplified interaction, but the corresponding simulations for realistic interactions produce severe sign problems and are therefore not possible.

Using ‘plastic surgery’ to make calculations possible

The new wavefunction-matching approach is designed to solve such computational problems. The research team—from Gaziantep Islam Science and Technology University in Turkey; University of Bonn, Ruhr University Bochum, and Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany; Institute for Basic Science in South Korea; South China Normal University, Sun Yat-Sen University, and Graduate School of China Academy of Engineering Physics in China; Tbilisi State University in Georgia; CEA Paris-Saclay and Université Paris-Saclay in France; and Mississippi State University and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University (MSU)—includes  Dean Lee , professor of physics at FRIB and in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and head of the Theoretical Nuclear Science department at FRIB, and  Yuan-Zhuo Ma , postdoctoral research associate at FRIB.

“We are often faced with the situation that we can perform calculations using a simple approximate interaction, but realistic high-fidelity interactions cause severe computational problems,” said Lee. “Wavefunction matching solves this problem by doing plastic surgery. It removes the short-distance part of the high-fidelity interaction, and replaces it with the short-distance part of an easily computable interaction.”

This transformation is done in a way that preserves all of the important properties of the original realistic interaction. Since the new wavefunctions look similar to that of the easily computable interaction, researchers can now perform calculations using the easily computable interaction and apply a standard procedure for handling small corrections called perturbation theory.  A team effort

The research team applied this new method to lattice quantum Monte Carlo simulations for light nuclei, medium-mass nuclei, neutron matter, and nuclear matter. Using precise ab initio calculations, the results closely matched real-world data on nuclear properties such as size, structure, and binding energies. Calculations that were once impossible due to the sign problem can now be performed using wavefunction matching.

“It is a fantastic project and an excellent opportunity to work with the brightest nuclear scientist s in FRIB and around the globe,” said Ma. “As a theorist , I'm also very excited about programming and conducting research on the world's most powerful exascale supercomputers, such as Frontier , which allows us to implement wavefunction matching to explore the mysteries of nuclear physics.”

While the research team focused solely on quantum Monte Carlo simulations, wavefunction matching should be useful for many different ab initio approaches, including both classical and  quantum computing calculations. The researchers at FRIB worked with collaborators at institutions in China, France, Germany, South Korea, Turkey, and United States.

“The work is the culmination of effort over many years to handle the computational problems associated with realistic high-fidelity nuclear interactions,” said Lee. “It is very satisfying to see that the computational problems are cleanly resolved with this new approach. We are grateful to all of the collaboration members who contributed to this project, in particular, the lead author, Serdar Elhatisari.”

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences President’s International Fellowship Initiative, Volkswagen Stiftung, the European Research Council, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Security Academic Fund, the Rare Isotope Science Project of the Institute for Basic Science, the National Research Foundation of Korea, the Institute for Basic Science, and the Espace de Structure et de réactions Nucléaires Théorique.

Michigan State University operates the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) as a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics. Hosting what is designed to be the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of today’s most pressing challenges. For more information, visit energy.gov/science.

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