How to build a fishbone diagram and get the most out of it

system problem solving chart

No business operates without problems along the way. But to solve them in time, you’ll need to be able to determine the cause quickly. That’s where using a fishbone diagram comes in.

A fishbone diagram , also known as the Ishikawa diagram or cause-and-effect diagram, is a tool you can use to visualize all of a problem’s potential causes, allowing you to discover the root causes and identify the best possible solution.

We put this guide together to show you how to make a fishbone diagram based on a fictional problem we’ll be investigating: why a software company’s customer churn is so high.

Let’s get started.

fishbone diagram template

Step 1 – Define the problem

The first step to solving any problem – and the key to learning how to make a fishbone diagram – is correctly defining it. A clearly defined problem makes it easier to identify causes. It also encourages us to determine whether there’s even a problem to begin with.

In this case, the problem we’ve identified is that 40% of users cancel their subscriptions after the first month — which keeps us from reaching our goal of keeping cancellations below 20%. Now that we’ve identified our main problem, we can go ahead and add that to the fishbone diagram.

Fishbone diagram example

Problem definition tips:

  • If you’re using the fishbone diagram to design a process or increase productivity, it’s just as important to correctly define your output. Your goals should be objective and achievable.
  • Place the problem (the fish head) on one side of the diagram, and build the rest of the diagram (the fish bones) out to its left or right. The idea is that the “fish bones” indicate the impact of the causes.
  • Place the causes with the biggest impact closer to the fish head and the causes with the smaller impact further away.

Step 2 – Decide on key categories of causes

Next, decide what areas of the problem are key to determining the actual cause. Going back to our example of investigating a high churn rate, here are three areas worth looking into:

  • Subscription system

Once you start considering potential causes, you might find that most of them fall within one of these three categories. But you can always add more categories if needed. For example, If you think marketing impacted your retention figures, you could add that as a fourth area.

You can have as many areas as you need to. But to keep things simple, we recommend limiting yourself to no more than 10 — especially since we’re only learning how to make a fishbone diagram with this example.

Fishbone diagram example

Step 3 – Determine the actual causes of the problem

Now that you’ve defined the key areas to look into, let’s go through each one to determine all the individual influences that can affect our output. Look at each category and list every possible cause you can think of.

Looking at the subscription system, some possible causes include:

  • We aren’t offering enough payment options
  • The payment and registration systems are difficult to navigate
  • Credit cards expire, voiding renewal
  • The system doesn’t send out reminders for renewals.

When considering the user, potential causes include:

  • Users don’t understand the full benefit of the software
  • Users don’t know how to use all the functions
  • Users experience delays when contacting support
  • Users don’t use the software continuously, only requiring it for a few days at a time
  • Users forget about the product.

When it comes to the software itself, potential causes may be:

  • The software is unstable and crashes regularly
  • The software is difficult to use
  • Software installation requires multiple plugins to function well
  • Key functionality requires additional subscriptions
  • The software is insecure.

These are just a few potential causes. You should fill your fishbone diagram with as many different causes as you can come up with. Note that not every area of your diagram needs to have causes. Some might even have more causes than others.

Regardless, you now have a starting point to determine root causes. To keep going, investigate each cause to establish its actual effect on your output.

Fishbone diagram example

Tips to determine the actual cause:

  • Run a brainstorming session or lay out a process map to generate better causes for your fishbone diagram
  • Invite other team members in the process to make sure you’ve identified all the potential causes
  • Some causes may have multiple sub-causes. Expand your fishbone diagram as needed to encompass all possible causes.

Step 4 – Using tools to plan the way forward

Remember, a fishbone diagram helps identify a problem’s causes. It doesn’t lead to solutions on its own. In fact, part of learning how to make a fishbone diagram is knowing what other tools you can use to identify causes more effectively.

Here are a few more tools to help you take your fishbone diagram to the next level:

Process Map

A process map is a flowchart of a specific system, showing all its inputs and outputs. It works best in areas like the manufacturing industry, where each product has a clearly defined process with multiple steps.

Process mapping involves looking at each step of the process one by one and listing all the potential influences. In an actual manufacturing environment, this may include being present on the production line and viewing the system, taking notes as you go through the process.

A process map is very effective at making sure you consider all the steps and influences involved in a system. In other words, it helps you clearly identify potential causes and add them to your fishbone diagram.


Brainstorming is a fairly common tool in modern businesses. Instead of considering all the factors of a fishbone diagram by yourself, include others in the process. When working alone, it’s easy to overlook certain areas and completely miss others.

That’s why it’s worth making sure your  brainstorming session  takes the shape of a clearly-defined meeting. Have someone lead the session, taking note of any ideas team members offer up and leaving room for discussion. The goal is to end the brainstorming session with a list of causes to add to your fishbone diagram.

Once you’ve filled out your fishbone diagram, make sure everyone’s on the same page about how to follow up — whether it’s about delegating tasks or setting clear deadlines.

Tips for planning next steps:

  • Not sure what causes to investigate? Collaborate with your team members on developing a cause-and-effect matrix. This way, you’ll get to rank causes by priority based on your team’s experience.
  • Want to address a problem’s root cause and not just its symptom? Use our 5 Whys Template to take a closer look.
  • How to make a fishbone diagram in a remote team

A fishbone diagram is more effective when multiple people get involved in creating it. But if your team works in remote and hybrid settings, you’ll need a tool designed to facilitate seamless collaboration.

Miro’s visual workspace is built for collaboration, making it easy to make a fishbone diagram together in real time — even if you aren’t in the same room. Seamlessly build diagrams using our intuitive, automated diagramming tools and our drag-and-drop, infinite canvas.

Not sure how to make a fishbone diagram from scratch? Save time using our free Fishbone Diagram Template . It’s fully customizable, allowing your team to add as much detail as you want and adjust its look and feel.

Tips for collaborating on a fishbone diagram in Miro:

  • Invite your team to edit your board with you in real-time
  • Invite stakeholders to view and comment on your Miro board for instant feedback
  • Differentiate ideas by color-coding them
  • Use frames to present your fishbone diagram and easily export it as a PDF or image
  • Use sticky notes to add important context when building your fishbone diagram

Above all, avoid trying to build your fishbone diagram too quickly. Take the time to understand all the contributing factors, and make sure that anything you add to the fishbone diagram adds value.

  • When to use a fishbone diagram?

Though fishbone diagrams were originally meant for problem-solving, they’re far more versatile — helping you break down any process or system into its contributing factors.

Here are a few use cases where knowing how to make a fishbone diagram comes in handy:

  • To analyze a problem statement
  • To brainstorm the causes of the problem (root cause analysis)
  • To analyze a new design
  • Process improvement
  • Quality improvement

When in doubt, talk to your team to clarify the problem you’re investigating and how a fishbone diagram would help.

Miro is your team's visual platform to connect, collaborate, and create — together.

Join millions of users that collaborate from all over the planet using Miro.

  • Step 1 – Define the problem
  • Step 2 – Decide on key categories of causes
  • Step 3 – Determine the actual causes of the problem
  • Step 4 – Using tools to plan the way forward

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MindManager Blog

Nine essential problem solving tools: The ultimate guide to finding a solution

October 26, 2023 by MindManager Blog

Problem solving may unfold differently depending on the industry, or even the department you work in. However, most agree that before you can fix any issue, you need to be clear on what it is, why it’s happening, and what your ideal long-term solution will achieve.

Understanding both the nature and the cause of a problem is the only way to figure out which actions will help you resolve it.

Given that most problem-solving processes are part inspiration and part perspiration, you’ll be more successful if you can reach for a problem solving tool that facilitates collaboration, encourages creative thinking, and makes it easier to implement the fix you devise.

The problem solving tools include three unique categories: problem solving diagrams, problem solving mind maps, and problem solving software solutions.

They include:

  • Fishbone diagrams
  • Strategy maps
  • Mental maps
  • Concept maps
  • Layered process audit software
  • Charting software
  • MindManager

In this article, we’ve put together a roundup of versatile problem solving tools and software to help you and your team map out and repair workplace issues as efficiently as possible.

Let’s get started!

Problem solving diagrams

Mapping your way out of a problem is the simplest way to see where you are, and where you need to end up.

Not only do visual problem maps let you plot the most efficient route from Point A (dysfunctional situation) to Point B (flawless process), problem mapping diagrams make it easier to see:

  • The root cause of a dilemma.
  • The steps, resources, and personnel associated with each possible solution.
  • The least time-consuming, most cost-effective options.

A visual problem solving process help to solidify understanding. Furthermore, it’s a great way for you and your team to transform abstract ideas into a practical, reconstructive plan.

Here are three examples of common problem mapping diagrams you can try with your team:

1. Fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagrams are a common problem solving tool so-named because, once complete, they resemble the skeleton of a fish.

With the possible root causes of an issue (the ribs) branching off from either side of a spine line attached to the head (the problem), dynamic fishbone diagrams let you:

  • Lay out a related set of possible reasons for an existing problem
  • Investigate each possibility by breaking it out into sub-causes
  • See how contributing factors relate to one another

MindManager Fishbone Diagram 1

Fishbone diagrams are also known as cause and effect or Ishikawa diagrams.

2. Flowcharts

A flowchart is an easy-to-understand diagram with a variety of applications. But you can use it to outline and examine how the steps of a flawed process connect.

Flowchart | MindManager

Made up of a few simple symbols linked with arrows indicating workflow direction, flowcharts clearly illustrate what happens at each stage of a process – and how each event impacts other events and decisions.

3. Strategy maps

Frequently used as a strategic planning tool, strategy maps also work well as problem mapping diagrams. Based on a hierarchal system, thoughts and ideas can be arranged on a single page to flesh out a potential resolution.

Strategy Toolkit MindManager 2018

Once you’ve got a few tactics you feel are worth exploring as possible ways to overcome a challenge, a strategy map will help you establish the best route to your problem-solving goal.

Problem solving mind maps

Problem solving mind maps are especially valuable in visualization. Because they facilitate the brainstorming process that plays a key role in both root cause analysis and the identification of potential solutions, they help make problems more solvable.

Mind maps are diagrams that represent your thinking. Since many people struggle taking or working with hand-written or typed notes, mind maps were designed to let you lay out and structure your thoughts visually so you can play with ideas, concepts, and solutions the same way your brain does.

By starting with a single notion that branches out into greater detail, problem solving mind maps make it easy to:

  • Explain unfamiliar problems or processes in less time
  • Share and elaborate on novel ideas
  • Achieve better group comprehension that can lead to more effective solutions

Mind maps are a valuable problem solving tool because they’re geared toward bringing out the flexible thinking that creative solutions require. Here are three types of problem solving mind maps you can use to facilitate the brainstorming process.

4. Mental maps

A mental map helps you get your thoughts about what might be causing a workplace issue out of your head and onto a shared digital space.

Mental Map | MindManager Blog

Because mental maps mirror the way our brains take in and analyze new information, using them to describe your theories visually will help you and your team work through and test those thought models.

5. Idea maps

Mental Map | MindManager Blog

Idea maps let you take advantage of a wide assortment of colors and images to lay down and organize your scattered thought process. Idea maps are ideal brainstorming tools because they allow you to present and explore ideas about the best way to solve a problem collaboratively, and with a shared sense of enthusiasm for outside-the-box thinking.

6. Concept maps

Concept maps are one of the best ways to shape your thoughts around a potential solution because they let you create interlinked, visual representations of intricate concepts.

Concept Map | MindManager Blog

By laying out your suggested problem-solving process digitally – and using lines to form and define relationship connections – your group will be able to see how each piece of the solution puzzle connects with another.

Problem solving software solutions

Problem solving software is the best way to take advantage of multiple problem solving tools in one platform. While some software programs are geared toward specific industries or processes – like manufacturing or customer relationship management, for example – others, like MindManager , are purpose-built to work across multiple trades, departments, and teams.

Here are three problem-solving software examples.

7. Layered process audit software

Layered process audits (LPAs) help companies oversee production processes and keep an eye on the cost and quality of the goods they create. Dedicated LPA software makes problem solving easier for manufacturers because it helps them see where costly leaks are occurring and allows all levels of management to get involved in repairing those leaks.

8. Charting software

Charting software comes in all shapes and sizes to fit a variety of business sectors. Pareto charts, for example, combine bar charts with line graphs so companies can compare different problems or contributing factors to determine their frequency, cost, and significance. Charting software is often used in marketing, where a variety of bar charts and X-Y axis diagrams make it possible to display and examine competitor profiles, customer segmentation, and sales trends.

9. MindManager

No matter where you work, or what your problem-solving role looks like, MindManager is a problem solving software that will make your team more productive in figuring out why a process, plan, or project isn’t working the way it should.

Once you know why an obstruction, shortfall, or difficulty exists, you can use MindManager’s wide range of brainstorming and problem mapping diagrams to:

  • Find the most promising way to correct the situation
  • Activate your chosen solution, and
  • Conduct regular checks to make sure your repair work is sustainable

MindManager is the ultimate problem solving software.

Not only is it versatile enough to use as your go-to system for puzzling out all types of workplace problems, MindManager’s built-in forecasting tools, timeline charts, and warning indicators let you plan, implement, and monitor your solutions.

By allowing your group to work together more effectively to break down problems, uncover solutions, and rebuild processes and workflows, MindManager’s versatile collection of problem solving tools will help make everyone on your team a more efficient problem solver.

Download a free trial today to get started!

Ready to take the next step?

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system problem solving chart

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MindManager® helps individuals, teams, and enterprises bring greater clarity and structure to plans, projects, and processes. It provides visual productivity tools and mind mapping software to help take you and your organization to where you want to be.

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System Flowchart - A Complete Guide

A flowchart is often used to manage, analyze, design a process in many different fields. It is a useful tool that everyone should learn to help solve problems easier and more efficiently.

System flowchart is one of the common variations of the flowchart . But what is it exactly? What should you keep in mind when creating one? 

Do not worry! This article will answer all the unanswered questions regarding the system flow chart. Without further delay, let's get into the flowchart tutorial!

What Is System Flowchart

As you may have already known, a flow chart is a graph that shows process flow, decisions, and outcomes. They are common tools of quality control that are utilized in many fields. There are four basic categories of flowcharts:

- Document flowcharts show you the flow of documents from one business unit to another.

- Data flowcharts let you see the overall data flow in a system. 

- Program flowcharts show you a program’s control in a system. They are also one of the essential tools in programming. We have already covered it in an article, so check it out on our website!

- System flowcharts are the diagram type that shows you the flow of data and how decisions can affect the events surrounding it. 

Like other types of flowcharts, system flowcharts consist of start/end terminals, processes, and decisions, all connected by arrows showing the flow and how data moves in the flow.

Flowchart Symbols

Are System Flowchart And Data Flowchart The Same

Some people might think that system flowcharts and data flowcharts are the same. However, the truth is far from it. They might have common symbols, but they are not the same things.

Data flowcharts show how data flows in the system. In other words, data flowcharts show where the data goes, then process all that data and output them. 

However, data flowcharts do not show you the decisions, only the data flow. On the other hand, system flowcharts show you the data flow and its outcomes.

What Are Input And Output

Input is the data that the system receives, while output is the data that the system sends out. To put it in a nutshell, you can think of input as what comes in, while output is what you receive at the end of the program.

In a system, the process usually involves feeding the system with a source of input. Then, that input will be processed and modified in some way to produce the output that you will get in the end.

Imagine a kitchen where the chef receives basic components like eggs, flour, milk (input). He then transforms these components into something different, a cake (output). That is how a system works.

System Flowchart Examples

Example 1: a car's cruise control.

In this example, we will look at a car's cruise control. Cruise control allows the car to stay at the desired speed that the driver set. It works by adding or cutting the fuel according to the car’s speed.

To keep the car at a constant speed, we will have a major component called a speed sensor that records the car's speed. If the car is too slow, we can speed it up by adding more fuel, while if the car is too fast, we can slow it down by cutting some fuel. 

A simple flow chart for this system should be like this:

system flowchart

Example 2: A Library Management System

Back in the day, it was harder for librarians to manage borrowed books before the digital age. Nowadays, a library would have a digital management system that allows people to borrow and return books to the librarian much easier. 

The system starts with the user logging into their account. The system will then verify the user, allowing them to access all the library's services, such as changing passwords, borrowing, and returning if they pass all the verification steps. 

The library management system should have a basic flow chart like this one below:

system flowchart

Example 3: Profit/Loss Calculating System

Profit is one of the important aspects that business runners often care about. It is one of the duties of finance teams. Usually, if the production cost is higher than the income, it is a loss. If the income is higher than the cost, it means you have profit.

The system is simple. It will compare the cost and the income to determine your profit or loss. The detailed flow chart of this system will be like this:

system flowchart

Example 4: Hospital's Medical Services

In a hospital, hundreds of medical cases arrive every day. To manage all those medical cases, they usually have to follow a long procedure to register and process their patients.

Usually, the procedure starts with a patient, or patients, arriving at the hospital. Then they will register the patient into their system, have a doctor record their health conditions, and give prescriptions. If the patient needs a follow-up session, the doctor will arrange an appointment.

The detailed hospital flow chart should be as follows:

system flowchart

System Flowchart Guideline

A flow chart tutorial would not be completed without a guideline. As with other types of flowcharts, for system flowcharts, you should follow the current standard guideline below:

  • Step 1: Start the system.
  • Step 2: Begin Process 1.
  • Step 3: Check conditions and decide (Decision, "yes" or "no" answer)
  • Step 4: Proceed according to the Decision. If it is "yes", proceed to Process 3. If it is "no", proceed to Process 2 and return to Step 2.
  • Step 5: End of the system.

It also helps if you remember the following flowchart tips:

  • Do not add more than one start/stop. Flowcharts should only have one start and one end. 
  • The flow of processes is generally from top to bottom or left to right, not the other way around.
  • It is important not to make the arrows cross each other, as the flowchart is more confusing with crossing lines. 

System flowcharts are one of the most basic tools you should learn to use. With a system flowchart , it might be easier to look at complex processes of your system to figure out bottlenecks and problems, thus saving you from a lot of headaches when trying to find and solve them.

Related Guides

Flowchart guides, brought to you by, zen flowchart.

How to create a problem-solving flow chart

Problem-solving is one of those topics that we’ve often discussed on this site (check out our Problem Solving guide ). We think it’s one of  THE  vital skills of business. Why? Because you’ll come across problems every day, and you need to arm yourself with the right tools to solve them.

A problem-solving flowchart is one of those tools. It’ll help you take a problem statement, break the problem down into likely causes helping you get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong.

In this post, we’ll cover

  • What is a Problem Solving Flow Chart
  • How to create a Problem Solving flow chart
  • Example 1 of Problem Solving flow chart
  • Example 2 of Problem Solving Flow chart
  • What flow chart shapes to use
  • When should you use a flow chart
  • 7 tips on creating your Problem Solving chart

Key Benefits & Likely issues with the tool

Let’s get started!

What is a Problem Solving Flowchart

A Problem Solving flow chart is a diagram that uses shapes, arrows, and text to show a moving sequence of actions and/or activities that help solve a problem.  

How to create a Problem Solving flowchart

  • Describe your problem.
  • Pose Yes/No Questions that can help identify the cause of the problem
  • Question each stage of the process until it is fully examined
  • Repeat steps 2 & 3 until you have identified a solution
  • Try the solution; if it is successful in addressing the root cause, then you’ve fixed your problem. If not, repeat the process until you have a solution that works.

A problem-solving flowchart attempts to identify a root cause/solution to the trigger that is causing the problem allowing you to change the process and prevent the problem from occurring. 

Let’s now demonstrate the effectiveness of a problem solving flowchart by showing some examples.

Example 1 Problem solving flow chart

In our first example, we’re going to start with something simple to show you the principle of the tool.

We have been given a cup of tea and we don’t like it!  

Let’s use a problem-solving flow chart to find out what’s gone wrong.

We’ve used Excel to capture this flow chart using flowchart shapes (insert –> shapes), you can, of course, use other applications to do this, you don’t’ have to have specialized flow chart software to do this. ( there’s a great flowchart in Excel video here ). Or you can simply use a pen and paper.

Use a rectangle and add your problem statement.

Remember to keep your problem statement unambiguous and straightforward. Here we’ve used “I don’t like my cup of tea.”

system problem solving chart

Now that we’ve got our problem statement, we’re going to start asking questions.

We’re going to examine the variables that go into a cup of tea in an attempt to find out what’s gone wrong.

** TIP** – Work through your process – rather than start from scratch, if you have a documented process, work through that examining each step to ascertain if there are issues. If not, you might find it useful to research and sketch out the process before starting with your flowchart.

We have a process for the cup of tea, which is:

1/ Boil Water

2/ Place Breakfast Tea teabag in the cup

3/ Add Water

4/ Leave to sit for 2 mins

4/ Remove teabag

5/ Add milk

6/ Add sugar

So our problem solving flow chart needs to examine each of those steps to determine where the failure has occurred. 

We’ll add a question shape (diamond), connect out problem statement to it using an arrow to check if we boiled the kettle. Our Diagram will now look like:

system problem solving chart

As a question, we want two possible routes – Yes and No.

Our process asks us to boil the kettle if we did, and the answer is Yes, then we can go to the next process step.

If the answer is No, then we have a problem. Our tea will be cold. 

Here we can do one of two things. We can terminate the flow chart, or we can add an activity to rectify the problem (this might be to remake the drink or to perhaps heat the drink up in the microwave).

Our flow chart now looks like this:

system problem solving chart

Step 2 in our Tea making process was to add a Breakfast-tea tea bag.

So, once again, we’ll ask a question about that step.

“Did we add an English Breakfast teabag.”

As before, we’ll use a question shape, using Yes or No answers. If we performed the process step correctly, we’d move on. If we didn’t, we’ll either end the problem solving (we’ve found the root cause), or we’ll add a corrective action.

Now we’ll repeat this process until we’ve reviewed the whole process.

Our finished flowchart looks like this.

system problem solving chart

However, we’re not finished.

What happens if we follow the flow chart, and we find we didn’t use boiled water. We remake the tea using boiled water, and we still don’t like it?  

We need to ask some further questions.

We need to update our flow chart to validate that we solved the problem and what to do if we didn’t.

So for each step of the process, our problem solving flowchart now looks like this.

Here’s our completed flow chart.

system problem solving chart

As you can see, we’ve identified the problem, and we’ve described a corrective action.

But there’s a problem here. With this flowchart, you can still follow it, validating the process, and still end up with a cup of tea that’s unsatisfactory. 

Why is that?

Well, it’s perfectly possible that we started out with a process that’s incorrect. What happens if the process called for using an incorrect tea bag from the start?

So we’ll simplify things by adding a block at the end that if you’re still not happy at the end of reviewing the steps, a full review of the process will be undertaken. This is a simple answer to this problem, and I would expect that you would expand this section in more detail if you were creating a flowchart yourself.

So what does a more complex process look like, how about we look at a business problem?

Example 2 Problem Solving flow chart

OK, so example 1 may have been a bit simple, and you are maybe looking for something in a business context.

So in Example 2, let’s look at a scenario that’s a little more complex.

Let’s assume that your organization has received a non-conforming part. You have been assigned to work with the Vendor to:

  • Find out what went wrong
  • Prevent recurrence

We’re going to use a problem solving flow chart to help us do that.

As with the first example, we’re going to state the problem.

“The part is non conforming.”

Using the production process from the Vendor, we’ll work through the stages to see if we can spot what’s gone wrong.

The diagram below shows an analysis of the first two steps of the production process using a problem-solving flow chart.

system problem solving chart

The first thing you’ll notice is that on one process step, there may be many questions to ascertain the potential issue.  

Some of these may be complex and require careful thought.

There may be multiple variables (systems, processes, tools, inputs, etc.) that may require attention.

You will need to analyze each process step, in full, to be sure you have caught all the possible causes of the fault.

Which Flow chart shapes should you use.

A problem solving flow chart usually utilizes only a small number of shapes. We show these in the table below.

system problem solving chart

When should you use a Problem Solving flow chart

There are many many problem tools available.

A flow chart lends itself to be used when:

  • You are looking for a tool that is simple to use
  • You are looking to use a tool that does not require complex software
  • You want to validate a  process.
  • You want something that facilitates collaboration
  • You want something that you can use to communicate with others

7 Tips on creating great problem solving flow charts

1/ Use standard shapes!

2/ Make it easy to follow!

3/ Keep things on one page

4/ Don’t overload your boxes with text

5/ Go into enough detail. Don’t try and simplify activities as it might hide problems from being seen.

6/ Collaborate. Where you can utilize a team to help document the problem and the activities do so. The more knowledge of the process, the better chance you’ll have of locating the issue.

7/ Use a consistent direction to flow your process, moving things around the page can confuse people who might look at it.

A flow chart can provide you with a great advantage when looking to solve problems. Some of the key benefits include

  • A visual aide that’s easy to understand
  • Simple to use, does not require hours and hours of training
  • A tool that facilitates collaboration
  • Effective for aiding communication
  • Provides an effective method of analysing a process

However, as with everything, there are some issues to look out for

  • Flowchart fails to capture all process steps and therefore root cause analysis is hit and miss
  • Lack of knowledge of the process by the individual compiling the flowchart results in inaccurate problem solving
  • Inconsistent flow of process makes maps confusing
  • Complex processes may be better suited to other tools (fishbone etc)
  • Inconsistent formatting and/or use of shapes result in flowchart that is difficult to utilise.

There are a great many tools out there for problem-solving, and flow charts can be used either as a stand-alone tool or conjunction with one of these other tools.

Flowcharts can make for a great problem-solving tool.  

They’re simple to use, effective, and facilitate collaboration.

We hope you’ve found our article useful, in particular the example walkthroughs.

If you’re looking to use the tool, we’d love some feedback from you and hearing how you’ve got on. Why not fire us a message on twitter or use the comments section below.

This article is part of our Problem Solving Guide.   

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Flow Charts

Identify and communicate your optimal process.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

How often have you thought about streamlining a process in your organization but not been sure where to start? Or perhaps you've struggled to understand a process when it's described to you in detail.

Flow charts are a useful tool in these situations, as they make a process easy to understand at a glance. Using just a few words and some simple symbols, they show clearly what happens at each stage and how this affects other decisions and actions.

In this article and video, we look at how to create and use flow charts, and explore how they can help you to solve problems in your processes.

What Is a Flow Chart?

Flow charts are easy-to-understand diagrams that show how the steps of a process fit together. American engineer Frank Gilbreth is widely believed to be the first person to document a process flow, having introduced the concept of a "Process Chart" to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1921.

Flow charts tend to consist of four main symbols, linked with arrows that show the direction of flow:

1. Elongated circles, which signify the start or end of a process.

system problem solving chart

2. Rectangles, which show instructions or actions.

system problem solving chart

3. Diamonds, which highlight where you must make a decision.

system problem solving chart

4. Parallelograms, which show input and output. This can include materials, services or people.

system problem solving chart

You can use many other symbols in a flow chart but remember that these diagrams are used for communication . If you use symbols that only a few people understand, you may fail to get your message across. So, be sure to keep things simple !

When to Use a Flow Chart

All manner of organizations use flow charts to:

  • Define a process.
  • Standardize a process.
  • Communicate a process.
  • Identify bottlenecks or waste in a process.
  • Solve a problem .
  • Improve a process.

For example, software developers can use them to work out how the automated and manual parts of a process join up. Inexperienced team members might follow a flow chart to help them to complete activities in the right order. A manufacturer could ensure that it keeps to its values by applying a quality-control flow chart that presents questions and decision points. And an HR department might combine a flow chart with an organogram to show people who to contact about issues and when.

Why Use Flow Charts?

This tool's simplicity makes communicating and documenting a process quick and clear, so that the process will more likely be understood and applied correctly and consistently. It can also help you to estimate the timescale of the process, as you're better able to gauge the time needed for each task along the way. And you'll more likely identify who you should involve and at what stage, such as senior management or a compliance authority.

But you can also benefit from the process of creating a flow chart itself, as you build it step by step. You'll be able to focus on the detail of each individual stage, without feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the process, and then "zoom out" again to see the wider picture.

If your process or project involves several people or teams, you might find it more useful to use a Swim Lane Diagram rather than a flow chart – this helps you to show process flows between people and teams.

How to Create a Flow Chart

Follow these four steps:

Step 1: Identify Tasks

Begin by listing all of the tasks in a process in chronological order. Ask questions such as, "What happens next in the process?" or, "Do you need to make a decision before the next step?" or, "What approvals are required before you move on to the next task?"

Put yourself in the shoes of the person using the process, possibly for the first time. Talk to team members who work with the process directly, and get their opinions on where improvements could be made. Better yet, take a hands-on approach and go through the procedure yourself, and think about the practicalities of each stage. Use Customer Experience Mapping if your flow chart focuses on customer service, so that you can gain a better understanding of the process.

Step 2: Organize and Document Tasks

Next, start your flow chart by drawing the elongated circle shape and labeling it "Start."

Then, work through your whole process, and show the actions and decisions in the order that they happen. Link them with arrows to illustrate the flow of the process.

Where you need to make a decision, draw arrows from the decision diamond to each possible solution, and then label each arrow with the decision made. Remember to show the end of the process by using an elongated circle labeled "Finish."

Step 3: Double-Check the Process

When you've completed your flow chart, go back to the start and try it out to make sure that you haven't overlooked anything. Work through each step, and ask yourself whether you've represented the sequence of actions and the decisions involved correctly. Are there more decisions to be made at certain stages?

Then show your flow chart to other people, especially those who work directly with the process. Ask them to test that it works and to tell you if there are any problems or omissions.

Step 4: Challenge the Flow Chart

Finally, you might want to improve the process rather than just record it. So, see whether any of the steps that you've described are unnecessary or overly complicated. Identify any major bottlenecks , and deal with them to improve performance.

Are there any missing steps, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that you should add? And have you assigned tasks and decisions to the right people or automated them where it's most appropriate? Make any changes and then challenge the chart again.

As you challenge your flow chart, you might also be challenging your team members' tried and tested ways of working. So, take time to win support for your ideas, and don't expect to change people's habits overnight.

You may find that SIPOC diagrams will give you the detailed information that you need to introduce change in a controlled and effective way.

Flow Chart Software

You'll likely start with drawing flow charts by hand, but it's often more convenient to use a diagramming app to save, amend and share your charts.

Such apps vary from the simple and free, such as , creately and Pencil Project , to the more complex and paid-for, such as gliffy™ , Lucidchart , SmartDraw™ , and Visio® .

Flow charts can quickly become long and complicated, so that you can't represent them on a single piece of paper. This is where you can use "connectors" (shown as numbered circles) to link the flow when moving from one page to another. The user can follow the matching numbers to trace the flow of the process.

The image below shows part of a flow chart for how the receptionists in an example company should route incoming phone calls to the correct department:

system problem solving chart

Flow charts are simple diagrams that map out a process, so that you can easily communicate it to other people. You can also use them to define and analyze a process, build a step-by-step picture of it, and then standardize or improve it.

To draw a flow chart, identify the tasks and decisions that you make during a process, and write them down in order.

Then, arrange these steps in the flow chart format, using the appropriate symbols.

Finally, check and challenge your flow chart to make sure that it accurately represents the process, and that it shows the most efficient way of doing the job.

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Visual Problem Solving with Mind Maps and Flowcharts

Updated on: 25 July 2023

Everyone has problems, and we spend most of our working lives solving them. For those who find this quite negative, problems can be also termed as Issues, Challenges or Opportunities.

Some people are especially gifted at problem-solving while others struggle. Some are only good at solving some types of problems, while some other are simply great at finding viable solutions for any problem. Society generally calls the latter, smart.

What if I was to tell you that there’s a simple way to solve any problem you may encounter. In fact, it can be regarded as the smart way to solve problems.

Before we get into it, let’s see how people really fail at solving problems.

Problem-Solving   Fails

You Solve the Wrong Problem

Well, if you don’t know what the problem area is and don’t understand it very well, you’ll probably solve a problem that actually doesn’t exist while the actual problem remains as it is.

You Solve It Half Way

Again, this happens if you don’t know what the full problem is. Identifying and understanding the problem is so important before you start.

You Solve it but New Problems Show Up

This is typical when you don’t know much about the background about the problem area. If you know nothing about computers and you try to fix a broken computer, you probably won’t get very far and will likely make it worse.

You Don’t Know How

Well, obviously if you are trying to solve a problem that you have no clue about, this is going to be hard. When that’s the case, get the help of an expert in the domain the problem you are trying to solve belong to.

How to Solve Any Problem

As it’s quite clear the first step to solving any problem is understanding it thoroughly. Apart from getting a domain expert involved, the best trick I can bring you in is to draw it out. If you are a visual person this is the first thing you should do.

Different kinds of problems require different diagrams, but mind maps and flowcharts are common solutions to most problems.

Thinking Around the Problem

To get a background idea on what the problem and problem area is, mind maps can help greatly. Start with the core idea and branch out as you think about various aspects of the problem.

Mind map for visual problem solving

A mind map is a good place to start visual problem solving ( click on image to create your own mind map )

After thinking about wide aspects of the problem, it’s best to document what the immediate context of the issue is.

To do this, a concept map helps. A concept map is a diagram where you use various shapes to show areas of the problem and how they are connected.

Breaking It Down

Any big problem can be broken into a series of smaller problems. These are usually connected so a flowchart helps . Break the problem into smaller steps with a flowchart.

If you are analyzing an existing solution and trying to optimize it, a flowchart makes perfect sense as it also does the ‘defining’ part of the problem as well.

Flowcharts are also great for visual problem solving

Analyze your problem further with a flowchart

Once you have broken down the problem into smaller easily solvable problems in a flow chart, you can start creating another chart for the solution as well.

Getting Help

You should always get help if it’s available when you are solving any problem. A second opinion or a second pair of eyes can help a lot in getting the optimal solution.

Tools to Aid Visual Problem Solving

While there is a myriad of tools to help you draw things, Creately is definitely one of the easiest ways to visualize your problem.

We support mind maps, flowcharts, concept maps and 50+ other diagram types which you can use for visual problem-solving.

Our professionally designed templates and productivity features  help you just focus on the drawing as it’s really easy to draw a beautiful diagram in it.

It also comes with built-in real-time collaboration so it helps when you want to get someone else to collaborate on your problem.

Other choices for drawing diagrams to solve problems include Dia, Google Draw or even Microsoft office packages.

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

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Blog Data Visualization How to Use Fishbone Diagrams to Solve Complex Problems

How to Use Fishbone Diagrams to Solve Complex Problems

Written by: Lydia Hooper Sep 10, 2021

fishbone diagram

Oftentimes, diagrams are used for visualizing and explaining complex topics, patterns and systems to others. But they are often also useful for helping us explore and better understand these things ourselves.

Fishbone diagrams (or cause and effect diagrams) are specifically used to help us solve complex problems.

Let’s say your team is looking to better understand why a certain product is not as successful as you’d like it to be. By creating a fishbone diagram, you can investigate the causes of certain outcomes, thereby identify how to improve them moving forward:

fishbone diagram


Let’s go through what a fishbone diagram is, when you should and should not use it, how to create a fishbone diagram and how to conduct fishbone analysis. You can then create your own fishbone diagram using Venngage’s Diagram Maker —no design experience required.

Table of contents:

What is a fishbone diagram, when to use a fishbone diagram, when not to use a fishbone diagram, how businesses can use fishbone diagrams.

  • How to create and use a fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams are also known as Ishikawa diagrams, named after Professor Kaoru Ishikawa who was a pioneer in the field of quality management and who created this unique visualization.

Although they were initially used for quality improvement, today fishbone diagrams can be helpful for all kinds of problem-solving. For example, this one lists different factors that can lead to a healthy lifestyle.

fishbone diagram

Return to Table of Contents

Here’s what fishbone diagrams are best used for.

Addressing complex problems

As you can see, the fishbone diagram example above allows a viewer to see several factors at once, making it a great diagram for sharing a lot of complex information.

The most important thing about these diagrams is that they help teams recognize the reasons behind specific outcomes, or in other words—the root causes that lead to effects. They are ideal for addressing complex problems that have multiple causes, such as climate change:

fishbone diagram

Facilitating reflective analysis

Fishbone diagrams are useful for reflective analysis.

If teams are primarily focused on KPIs, these diagrams can provide context that is otherwise missing, helping folks better understand what’s causing numbers to rise or fall.

Teams can identify where mistakes are being made, revenue is being lost, as well as what activities are leading to the best results.

Planning for desired outcomes

Fishbone diagrams are also helpful for future planning. By referencing a fishbone diagram, teams can better identify the best methods for reaching desired outcomes and plan actions accordingly.

You can customize this fishbone diagram template to develop concrete plans for improving customer satisfaction:

fishbone diagram

There are a few situations where you should use a different form of data visualization instead of fishbone diagrams.

When there’s one cause of multiple problems

While fishbone diagrams are ideal for scenarios in which there are multiple causes for a single problem, it’s not ideal for the reverse: when there is a common cause for several separate problems. If you are seeking to show this, a mind map might be a better fit.

mind map


When the order of causes and effects maters

If you want to show specific sequences of causes and effects, a flowchart is the better option:



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

When you’re looking at correlation, not causation

It’s critical to also remember that correlation and causation are two entirely different things. The quintessential example of this is how ice cream sales and sunscreen sales both rise in summer, but one type of these sales is not leading to the other.

If you are wanting to describe correlation instead of causation, a scatterplot is a common visualization.


Now that you know generally when to use and not to use these diagrams, let’s look at the two major ways businesses use fishbone diagrams to help them solve complex problems.

Analyze how conditions and motivations lead to actions and outcomes

Companies, employees, and customers face problems regularly. Declining leads, cash flow, productivity, satisfaction, retention—all of these problems have causes. Knowing these causes can make all the difference.

Here’s an example of a fishbone diagram that details the many factors that can contribute to missed deadlines:

fishbone diagram

It’s a big deal to be able to do this type of analysis. Not analyzing things like environments, people, and processes can lead to major unintended consequences.

For example:

  • Poor training of employees can lead to inconsistencies in the workplace.
  • Flawed KPIs can lead to disasters as dramatic as legal consequences, as Wells Fargo experienced .
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) if implemented without human leadership can lead to errors, hazards, and institutionalized bias, as Bain consultancy describes.
  • Outsourcing of labor overseas can reduce company loyalty and eliminate jobs domestically and eventually abroad, according to Investopedia .

fishbone diagram

Strategize based on how actions or inactions lead to positive or negative impacts

If you really want to change outcomes and impacts, analysis alone will be insufficient. Fishbone diagrams can also help companies plan improvements in policies, management, systems, etc.

This fishbone diagram example outlines some of the many factors that can lead to low productivity:

fishbone diagram

Once you’ve pinpointed the causes of problems, it’s much easier to take action to solve them.

How to create and use a fishbone diagram

1. select the outcome or effect you want to investigate.

What problem are you solving? What impacts or outcomes do you want to better understand? What do you want to improve?

Once you know this, you can select a Venngage fishbone diagram template and begin easily creating your diagram. Start by specifying as much as possible the key outcome on the right of the diagram, at the head.

fishbone diagram

2. Identify big categories of causes

Some of the more common categories are:

  • Environment
  • Measurement

You can use these categories if they make sense, or you may think of others that are more appropriate. It’s generally smart to use a total of four, six or eight categories.

A simple fishbone diagram would just include only these categories, like in this example:

fishbone diagram

In your design, you can use colors to help people distinguish categories from one another.

3. Generate a comprehensive list of contributing factors

Depending on the topic, you may want to dive deeper. The main categories can inspire you to think more critically about multiple factors that may lie in each of them.

This deeper dive will likely require team dialogues and/or conversations with different employees, customers, and other stakeholders. There may be other research you want to do such as reading case studies, observing behaviors, and/or conducting competitor analysis.

You can consider breaking the diagram into top and bottom halves, if that can add additional meaning, like in this example:

fishbone diagram

The diagram should adapt to your growing list. Add all the branches that are relevant to the right off the main stem extending from the head on the left. Use short phrases that describe the cause precisely and succinctly.

4. Analyze and reflect

Chances are that as you generated the categories and lists of causes, you began to consider all the things that are contributing to the outcome you selected. Even if you haven’t developed a completely exhaustive list, you are now ready to pause, take a step back, and think things through in a different way.

To pivot from thinking about the problem to thinking about the solution takes a shift in mindset. Being able to see everything at once in a fishbone diagram can facilitate this. It can help you expand your thinking and witness more fully the immense possibilities for change.

Visuals can also elicit emotions, and that’s important too. You may need to feel your sadness or anger about missed opportunities and other losses, and you will definitely be buoyed by feelings of curiosity and excitement about what you may be able to change.

Fishbone diagrams are powerful tools for reflection, but make no mistake, it’s the reflection that gets you really ready to change things.

5. Plan and take action

The journey to the root has prepared you to solve the problem at hand. Depending on how many categories and causes you’ve unearthed, and the support and resources you have, you can begin to prioritize which causes you will address first, and what you will work to shift over the long term. You might set new goals, and possibly new measures, accordingly.

The diagram you’ve created can be shared to help educate and motivate stakeholders to take action. You can add your brand colors and design details like icons using Venngage so it’s not only useful but visually engaging as well.

Summary: Use a fishbone diagram for root cause analysis, reflective analysis, future planning and more

Fishbone diagrams are not just attractive visuals for impressing others. They are visual tools that help us do some of the most valuable work there is: solving complex problems.

They can spur us to investigate and name what we can change. And because they are visual, we can continue to reference them as we make these changes, so we can stay on track.

Start creating a fishbone diagram today using Venngage’s drag-and-drop editor and easy-to-edit templates. No design experience required.


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Taking a systems thinking approach to problem solving

systems thinking approach to problem solving

Systems thinking is an approach that considers a situation or problem holistically and as part of an overall system which is more than the sum of its parts. Taking the big picture perspective, and looking more deeply at underpinnings, systems thinking seeks and offers long-term and fundamental solutions rather than quick fixes and surface change.

Whether in environmental science, organizational change management, or geopolitics, some problems are so large, so complicated and so enduring that it’s hard to know where to begin when seeking a solution.

A systems thinking approach might be the ideal way to tackle essentially systemic problems. Our article sets out the basic concepts and ideas.

What is systems thinking?

Systems thinking is an approach that views an issue or problem as part of a wider, dynamic system. It entails accepting the system as an entity in its own right rather than just the sum of its parts, as well as understanding how individual elements of a system influence one another.

When we consider the concepts of a car, or a human being we are using a systems thinking perspective. A car is not just a collection of nuts, bolts, panels and wheels. A human being is not simply an assembly of bones, muscles, organs and blood.

In a systems thinking approach, as well as the specific issue or problem in question, you must also look at its wider place in an overall system, the nature of relationships between that issue and other elements of the system, and the tensions and synergies that arise from the various elements and their interactions.

The history of systems thinking is itself innately complex, with roots in many important disciplines of the 20th century including biology, computing and data science. As a discipline, systems thinking is still evolving today.

How can systems thinking be applied to problem solving?

A systems thinking approach to problem solving recognizes the problem as part of a wider system and addresses the whole system in any solution rather than just the problem area.

A popular way of applying a systems thinking lens is to examine the issue from multiple perspectives, zooming out from single and visible elements to the bigger and broader picture (e.g. via considering individual events, and then the patterns, structures and mental models which give rise to them).

Systems thinking is best applied in fields where problems and solutions are both high in complexity. There are a number of characteristics that can make an issue particularly compatible with a systems thinking approach:

  • The issue has high impact for many people.
  • The issue is long-term or chronic rather than a one-off incident.
  • There is no obvious solution or answer to the issue and previous attempts to solve it have failed.
  • We have a good knowledge of the issue’s environment and history through which we can sensibly place it in a systems context.

If your problem does not have most of these characteristics, systems thinking analysis may not work well in solving it.

Areas where systems thinking is often useful include health, climate change, urban planning, transport or ecology.

What is an example of a systems thinking approach to problem solving?

A tool called the iceberg mode l can be useful in learning to examine issues from a systems thinking perspective. This model frames an issue as an iceberg floating in a wider sea, with one small section above the water and three large sections unseen below.

The very tip of the iceberg, visible above the waterline, shows discrete events or occurrences which are easily seen and understood. For example, successive failures of a political party to win national elections.

Beneath the waterline and invisible, lie deeper and longer-term trends or patterns of behavior. In our example this might be internal fighting in the political party which overshadows and obstructs its public campaigning and weakens its leadership and reputation.

Even deeper under the water we can find underlying causes and supporting structures which underpin the patterns and trends.

For our failing political party, this could mean party rules and processes which encourage internal conflict and division rather than resolving them, and put off the best potential candidates from standing for the party in elections.

The electoral system in the country may also be problematic or unfair, making the party so fearful and defensive against losing its remaining support base, that it has no energy or cash to campaign on a more positive agenda and win new voters.

Mental models

At the very base of the iceberg, deepest under the water, lie the mental models that allow the rest of the iceberg to persist in this shape. These include the assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and motivations which drive the behaviors, patterns and events seen further up in the iceberg.

In this case, this could be the belief amongst senior party figures that they’ve won in the past and can therefore win again someday by repeating old campaigns. Or a widespread attitude amongst activists in all party wings that with the right party leader, all internal problems will melt away and voter preferences will turn overnight.

When is a systems thinking approach not helpful?

If you are looking for a quick answer to a simple question, or an immediate response to a single event, then systems thinking may overcomplicate the process of solving your problem and provide you with more information than is helpful, and in slower time than you need.

For example, if a volcano erupts and the local area needs to be immediately evacuated, applying a thorough systems thinking approach to life in the vicinity of an active volcano is unlikely to result in a more efficient crisis response or save more lives. After the event, systems thinking might be more constructive when considering town rebuilding, local logistics and transport links.

In general, if a problem is short-term, narrow and/or linear, systems thinking may not be the right model of thinking to use.

A final word…

The biggest problems in the real world are rarely simple in nature and expecting a quick and simple solution to something like climate change or cancer would be naive.

If you’d like to know more about applying systems thinking in real life there are many online resources, books and courses you can access, including in specific fields (e.g. FutureLearn’s course on Understanding Systems Thinking in Healthcare ).

Whether you think of it as zooming out to the big picture while retaining a focus on the small, or looking deeper under the water at the full shape of the iceberg, systems thinking can be a powerful tool for finding solutions that recognize the interactions and interdependence of individual elements in the real world.

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  • The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide

Problem Solving - A step by step guide - LearnLeanSigma

  • Learn Lean Sigma
  • Problem Solving

Whether we realise it or not, problem solving skills are an important part of our daily lives. From resolving a minor annoyance at home to tackling complex business challenges at work, our ability to solve problems has a significant impact on our success and happiness. However, not everyone is naturally gifted at problem-solving, and even those who are can always improve their skills. In this blog post, we will go over the art of effective problem-solving step by step.

You will learn how to define a problem, gather information, assess alternatives, and implement a solution, all while honing your critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Whether you’re a seasoned problem solver or just getting started, this guide will arm you with the knowledge and tools you need to face any challenge with confidence. So let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Problem solving methodologies.

Individuals and organisations can use a variety of problem-solving methodologies to address complex challenges. 8D and A3 problem solving techniques are two popular methodologies in the Lean Six Sigma framework.

Methodology of 8D (Eight Discipline) Problem Solving:

The 8D problem solving methodology is a systematic, team-based approach to problem solving. It is a method that guides a team through eight distinct steps to solve a problem in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

The 8D process consists of the following steps:

8D Problem Solving2 - Learnleansigma

  • Form a team: Assemble a group of people who have the necessary expertise to work on the problem.
  • Define the issue: Clearly identify and define the problem, including the root cause and the customer impact.
  • Create a temporary containment plan: Put in place a plan to lessen the impact of the problem until a permanent solution can be found.
  • Identify the root cause: To identify the underlying causes of the problem, use root cause analysis techniques such as Fishbone diagrams and Pareto charts.
  • Create and test long-term corrective actions: Create and test a long-term solution to eliminate the root cause of the problem.
  • Implement and validate the permanent solution: Implement and validate the permanent solution’s effectiveness.
  • Prevent recurrence: Put in place measures to keep the problem from recurring.
  • Recognize and reward the team: Recognize and reward the team for its efforts.

Download the 8D Problem Solving Template

A3 Problem Solving Method:

The A3 problem solving technique is a visual, team-based problem-solving approach that is frequently used in Lean Six Sigma projects. The A3 report is a one-page document that clearly and concisely outlines the problem, root cause analysis, and proposed solution.

The A3 problem-solving procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Determine the issue: Define the issue clearly, including its impact on the customer.
  • Perform root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes of the problem using root cause analysis techniques.
  • Create and implement a solution: Create and implement a solution that addresses the problem’s root cause.
  • Monitor and improve the solution: Keep an eye on the solution’s effectiveness and make any necessary changes.

Subsequently, in the Lean Six Sigma framework, the 8D and A3 problem solving methodologies are two popular approaches to problem solving. Both methodologies provide a structured, team-based problem-solving approach that guides individuals through a comprehensive and systematic process of identifying, analysing, and resolving problems in an effective and efficient manner.

Step 1 – Define the Problem

The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause. To avoid this pitfall, it is critical to thoroughly understand the problem.

To begin, ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What are the problem’s symptoms or consequences?
  • Who or what is impacted by the issue?
  • When and where does the issue arise?

Answering these questions will assist you in determining the scope of the problem. However, simply describing the problem is not always sufficient; you must also identify the root cause. The root cause is the underlying cause of the problem and is usually the key to resolving it permanently.

Try asking “why” questions to find the root cause:

  • What causes the problem?
  • Why does it continue?
  • Why does it have the effects that it does?

By repeatedly asking “ why ,” you’ll eventually get to the bottom of the problem. This is an important step in the problem-solving process because it ensures that you’re dealing with the root cause rather than just the symptoms.

Once you have a firm grasp on the issue, it is time to divide it into smaller, more manageable chunks. This makes tackling the problem easier and reduces the risk of becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you’re attempting to solve a complex business problem, you might divide it into smaller components like market research, product development, and sales strategies.

To summarise step 1, defining the problem is an important first step in effective problem-solving. You will be able to identify the root cause and break it down into manageable parts if you take the time to thoroughly understand the problem. This will prepare you for the next step in the problem-solving process, which is gathering information and brainstorming ideas.

Step 2 – Gather Information and Brainstorm Ideas

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Gathering information and brainstorming ideas is the next step in effective problem solving. This entails researching the problem and relevant information, collaborating with others, and coming up with a variety of potential solutions. This increases your chances of finding the best solution to the problem.

Begin by researching the problem and relevant information. This could include reading articles, conducting surveys, or consulting with experts. The goal is to collect as much information as possible in order to better understand the problem and possible solutions.

Next, work with others to gather a variety of perspectives. Brainstorming with others can be an excellent way to come up with new and creative ideas. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas when working in a group, and make an effort to actively listen to what others have to say. Be open to new and unconventional ideas and resist the urge to dismiss them too quickly.

Finally, use brainstorming to generate a wide range of potential solutions. This is the place where you can let your imagination run wild. At this stage, don’t worry about the feasibility or practicality of the solutions; instead, focus on generating as many ideas as possible. Write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous or unusual it may appear. This can be done individually or in groups.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the next step in the problem-solving process, which we’ll go over in greater detail in the following section.

Step 3 – Evaluate Options and Choose the Best Solution

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the third step in effective problem solving, and it entails weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, considering their feasibility and practicability, and selecting the solution that is most likely to solve the problem effectively.

To begin, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This will assist you in determining the potential outcomes of each solution and deciding which is the best option. For example, a quick and easy solution may not be the most effective in the long run, whereas a more complex and time-consuming solution may be more effective in solving the problem in the long run.

Consider each solution’s feasibility and practicability. Consider the following:

  • Can the solution be implemented within the available resources, time, and budget?
  • What are the possible barriers to implementing the solution?
  • Is the solution feasible in today’s political, economic, and social environment?

You’ll be able to tell which solutions are likely to succeed and which aren’t by assessing their feasibility and practicability.

Finally, choose the solution that is most likely to effectively solve the problem. This solution should be based on the criteria you’ve established, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and your overall goals.

It is critical to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problems. What is effective for one person or situation may not be effective for another. This is why it is critical to consider a wide range of solutions and evaluate each one based on its ability to effectively solve the problem.

Step 4 – Implement and Monitor the Solution

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When you’ve decided on the best solution, it’s time to put it into action. The fourth and final step in effective problem solving is to put the solution into action, monitor its progress, and make any necessary adjustments.

To begin, implement the solution. This may entail delegating tasks, developing a strategy, and allocating resources. Ascertain that everyone involved understands their role and responsibilities in the solution’s implementation.

Next, keep an eye on the solution’s progress. This may entail scheduling regular check-ins, tracking metrics, and soliciting feedback from others. You will be able to identify any potential roadblocks and make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner if you monitor the progress of the solution.

Finally, make any necessary modifications to the solution. This could entail changing the solution, altering the plan of action, or delegating different tasks. Be willing to make changes if they will improve the solution or help it solve the problem more effectively.

It’s important to remember that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to start from scratch. This is especially true if the initial solution does not effectively solve the problem. In these situations, it’s critical to be adaptable and flexible and to keep trying new solutions until you find the one that works best.

To summarise, effective problem solving is a critical skill that can assist individuals and organisations in overcoming challenges and achieving their objectives. Effective problem solving consists of four key steps: defining the problem, generating potential solutions, evaluating alternatives and selecting the best solution, and implementing the solution.

You can increase your chances of success in problem solving by following these steps and considering factors such as the pros and cons of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and making any necessary adjustments. Furthermore, keep in mind that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to go back to the beginning and restart. Maintain your adaptability and try new solutions until you find the one that works best for you.

  • Novick, L.R. and Bassok, M., 2005.  Problem Solving . Cambridge University Press.

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The Six Systems Thinking Steps to Solve Complex Problems

A quick overview of common problem solving techniques indicates that most of these methods focus on the problem rather than the whole eco-system where the problem exists. Along with the challenges of global economy , problems turn out to be more complicated and sometimes awakening problems. Climate change, traffic problems, and organizational problems that have developed through the years are all complex problems that we shouldn’t look at the same way as simple or linear problems. Part of the problem of thinking about a complex problem is the way we approach it, which may contribute to making the problem even more complex. As stated by Albert Einstein, “The problems cannot be solved using the same level of thinking that created them.” Systems thinking tends to focus on the broader ecosystem rather than the problem itself.

Systems thinking was developed by Jay Forrester and members of the Society for Organizational Learning at MIT. The idea is described in his book, The Fifth Discipline , as follows: “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots.’” A common example of the systems thinking method is the life around us where multiple systems interact with each other and are affected by each other. This wide perspective of systems thinking promotes it to solve complex problems that are dependent on external factors. Below are some of the stations that system thinking may contribute to solve.

  • Complex problems that involve different factors, which require understanding the big picture in order to be efficiently solved
  • Situations that are affecting, are being affected by, or affect the surrounding systems
  • Problems that have turned more complicated by previous attempts to solve them

Concepts of Systems Thinking

In order to understand systems thinking, a number of concepts should be highlighted in order to define the relation between the problem and the other elements in the system and how to observe this relation in order to reach an effective solution. These principles include the following.

  • All systems are composed of interconnected parts, and changing one part affects the entire system, including other parts.
  • The structure of a system determines its behavior, which means that the system depends on the connection between parts rather that the part themselves.
  • System behavior is an emergent phenomenon. System behavior is hard to predict due its continuously changing, non-linear relations and its time delay. It can’t be predicted by simply inspecting its elements or structure.
  • Feedback loops control a system’s major dynamic behavior. The feedback loop is a number of connections causing an output from one part to eventually influence input to that same part. The number of feedback loops are larger than the system parts, which contributes to increasing system complicity.
  • Complex social systems exhibit counterintuitive behavior. Solving complex problems can’t be achieved through everyday problem solving methods. They can be solved only through analytical methods and tools. Solving complex problems can be achieved through systems thinking, a process that fits the problem, and system dynamics , which is an approach to model systems by emphasizing their feedback loops.

Systems Thinking in Six Steps

In their paper Six Steps to Thinking Systemically , Michael Goodman and Richard Karash introduced six steps to apply systems thinking principles while solving complex problems. These steps were part of their case study to Bijou Bottling company’s problem of getting their orders shipped on time.

Set 1: Tell the Story

The first step in solving the problem is to understand it, and this can be achieved through looking deeply at the whole system rather than individual parts. This step requires meeting with the stakeholders to share their vision about the situation. One of the common tools to build this understanding is to utilize Concept Maps, which are graphical tools used to represent the organization or a structure of knowledge. Concept Maps visually present the system’s elements, concept links, proposition statements, cross-links, and examples.

concept maps

Step 2: Draw Behavior Over Time (BOT) Graphs

When thinking about a problem, we are influenced with the current situation that is reflected in our analysis, yet the problem follows a time dimension, which means that it should be tracked through the time. The Behavior Over Time graph draws a curve that presents a specific behavior (Y) through the time (X). This graph helps us to understanding whether or not the current solution is effective.

behavior over time

Step 3: Create a Focusing Statement

At this point, there should be a clear vision about the problem solving process, which is defined in the from of a statement that indicates the team’s target and why the problem occurs.

Step 4: Identify the Structure

After having clear vision about the problem through the proposed statement, the system structure should be described, including the behavior patterns. Building these patterns helps in understanding more about the problem, and it can be formed as a system archetype.

Step 5: Going Deeper into the Issues

After defining the problem and the system structure, this step tends to understand the underlying problems through clarifying four items: the purpose of the system (what we want), the mental models, the large system, and personal role in the situation.

Set 6: Plan an Intervention

The previously collected information is used to start the intervention phase, where modifications to the current problem relate parts to connections. This intervention attempts to reach the desirable behavior.

concept maps

Practice Example of Systems Thinking

One of the direct examples of adopting the systems thinking method was presented by Daniel Aronson highlighting insects who caused damage crops. Traditional thinking to solve crop damage is to apply more pesticides to reduce the number of insects and subsequently reduce the crop damage. However, this solution solves the problem for a short term. In the long run, the problem isn’t truly solved, as the original insect eating the crops are controlling the population of another species of insect in the environment either by preying on it or competing with it. Subsequently, the crop damage increases again due to the increasing numbers of other insect species.

systems thinking

Observing the ecosystem that includes both the insects and the crops, systems thinking suggests exploring a solution that ensures reducing the crop damage in the long run without affecting the environmental balance, such as deploying the Integrated Pest Management that has proven success based on MIT and the National Academy of Science. This solution tends to control the number of an insect species by introducing its predators in the area.

Unlike everyday problems, complex problems can’t be solved using traditional problem solving methods due to the nature of the problems and their complexity. One of the theories that attempts to understand complex problems is systems thinking, which is defined by a number of characters. Six steps are to be used to explore and solve complex problems under the umbrella of systems thinking, which help us to observe and think in a whole eco-system rather than individual parts. Systems thinking can be deployed in multiple domains to solve organization problem, or global problems such as energy, pollution, and poverty.

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As an academic and author, I've had the privilege of shaping the design landscape. I teach design at the University of Leeds and am the Programme Leader for the MA Design, focusing on design thinking, design for health, and behavioural design. I've developed and taught several innovative programmes at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Northumbria University, and The American University in Cairo. I'm also a published book author and the proud founder of, a platform that has been instrumental in fostering design innovation. My expertise in design has been recognised by prestigious organizations. I'm a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Design Research Society (FDRS), and an Adobe Education Leader. Over the course of 20 years, I've had the privilege of working with esteemed clients such as the UN, World Bank, Adobe, and Schneider, contributing to their design strategies. For more than 12 years, I collaborated closely with the Adobe team, playing a key role in the development of many Adobe applications.

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3 thoughts on “ the six systems thinking steps to solve complex problems ”.

system problem solving chart

“Systems thinking was developed by Jay Forrester and members of the Society for Organizational Learning at MIT. The idea is described in his book, The Fifth Discipline, as follows:” Peter Senge is the author of The Fifth Discipline

system problem solving chart

Thank you so much Misi for the helpful information.

system problem solving chart

Thank you for the valuable information. I believe that systems thinking can be applied to every aspect of our lives. When you teach yourself to spot patterns, cycles, and loops instead of individuals elements. You see behind the scenes. Understand what actually needs addressing to move forward and make progress faster with less damage.

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Learn Creative Problem Solving Techniques to Stimulate Innovation in Your Organization

By Kate Eby | October 20, 2017 (updated August 27, 2021)

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In today’s competitive business landscape, organizations need processes in place to make strong, well-informed, and innovative decisions. Problem solving - in particular creative problem solving (CPS) - is a key skill in learning how to accurately identify problems and their causes, generate potential solutions, and evaluate all the possibilities to arrive at a strong corrective course of action. Every team in any organization, regardless of department or industry, needs to be effective, creative, and quick when solving problems. 

In this article, we’ll discuss traditional and creative problem solving, and define the steps, best practices, and common barriers associated. After that, we’ll provide helpful methods and tools to identify the cause(s) of problematic situations, so you can get to the root of the issue and start to generate solutions. Then, we offer nearly 20 creative problem solving techniques to implement at your organization, or even in your personal life. Along the way, experts weigh in on the importance of problem solving, and offer tips and tricks. 

What Is Problem Solving and Decision Making?

Problem solving is the process of working through every aspect of an issue or challenge to reach a solution. Decision making is choosing one of multiple proposed solutions  — therefore, this process also includes defining and evaluating all potential options. Decision making is often one step of the problem solving process, but the two concepts are distinct. 

Collective problem solving is problem solving that includes many different parties and bridges the knowledge of different groups. Collective problem solving is common in business problem solving because workplace decisions typically affect more than one person. 

Problem solving, especially in business, is a complicated science. Not only are business conflicts multifaceted, but they often involve different personalities, levels of authority, and group dynamics. In recent years, however, there has been a rise in psychology-driven problem solving techniques, especially for the workplace. In fact, the psychology of how people solve problems is now studied formally in academic disciplines such as psychology and cognitive science.

Joe Carella

Joe Carella is the Assistant Dean for Executive Education at the University of Arizona . Joe has over 20 years of experience in helping executives and corporations in managing change and developing successful business strategies. His doctoral research and executive education engagements have seen him focus on corporate strategy, decision making and business performance with a variety of corporate clients including Hershey’s, Chevron, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, Intel, DP World, Essilor, BBVA Compass Bank.

He explains some of the basic psychology behind problem solving: “When our brain is engaged in the process of solving problems, it is engaged in a series of steps where it processes and organizes the information it receives while developing new knowledge it uses in future steps. Creativity is embedded in this process by incorporating diverse inputs and/or new ways of organizing the information received.”

Laura MacLeod

Laura MacLeod is a Professor of Social Group Work at City University of New York, and the creator of From The Inside Out Project® , a program that coaches managers in team leadership for a variety of workplaces. She has a background in social work and over two decades of experience as a union worker, and currently leads talks on conflict resolution, problem solving, and listening skills at conferences across the country. 

MacLeod thinks of problem solving as an integral practice of successful organizations. “Problem solving is a collaborative process — all voices are heard and connected, and resolution is reached by the group,” she says. “Problems and conflicts occur in all groups and teams in the workplace, but if leaders involve everyone in working through, they will foster cohesion, engagement, and buy in. Everybody wins.”

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What Is the First Step in Solving a Problem?

Although problem solving techniques vary procedurally, experts agree that the first step in solving a problem is defining the problem. Without a clear articulation of the problem at stake, it is impossible to analyze all the key factors and actors, generate possible solutions, and then evaluate them to pick the best option. 

Elliott Jaffa

Dr. Elliott Jaffa is a behavioral and management psychologist with over 25 years of problem solving training and management experience. “Start with defining the problem you want to solve,” he says, “And then define where you want to be, what you want to come away with.” He emphasizes these are the first steps in creating an actionable, clear solution. 

Bryan Mattimore

Bryan Mattimore is Co-Founder of Growth Engine, an 18-year old innovation agency based in Norwalk, CT. Bryan has facilitated over 1,000 ideation sessions and managed over 200 successful innovation projects leading to over $3 billion in new sales. His newest book is 21 Days to a Big Idea . When asked about the first critical component to successful problem solving, Mattimore says, “Defining the challenge correctly, or ‘solving the right problem’ … The three creative techniques we use to help our clients ‘identify the right problem to be solved’ are questioning assumptions, 20 questions, and problem redefinition. A good example of this was a new product challenge from a client to help them ‘invent a new iron. We got them to redefine the challenge as first: a) inventing new anti-wrinkle devices, and then b) inventing new garment care devices.”

What Are Problem Solving Skills?

To understand the necessary skills in problem solving, you should first understand the types of thinking often associated with strong decision making. Most problem solving techniques look for a balance between the following binaries:

  • Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking: Convergent thinking is bringing together disparate information or ideas to determine a single best answer or solution. This thinking style values logic, speed, and accuracy, and leaves no chance for ambiguity. Divergent thinking is focused on generating new ideas to identify and evaluate multiple possible solutions, often uniting ideas in unexpected combinations. Divergent thinking is characterized by creativity, complexity, curiosity, flexibility, originality, and risk-taking.
  • Pragmatics vs. Semantics: Pragmatics refer to the logic of the problem at hand, and semantics is how you interpret the problem to solve it. Both are important to yield the best possible solution.
  • Mathematical vs. Personal Problem Solving: Mathematical problem solving involves logic (usually leading to a single correct answer), and is useful for problems that involve numbers or require an objective, clear-cut solution. However, many workplace problems also require personal problem solving, which includes interpersonal, collaborative, and emotional intuition and skills. 

The following basic methods are fundamental problem solving concepts. Implement them to help balance the above thinking models.

  • Reproductive Thinking: Reproductive thinking uses past experience to solve a problem. However, be careful not to rely too heavily on past solutions, and to evaluate current problems individually, with their own factors and parameters. 
  • Idea Generation: The process of generating many possible courses of action to identify a solution. This is most commonly a team exercise because putting everyone’s ideas on the table will yield the greatest number of potential solutions. 

However, many of the most critical problem solving skills are “soft” skills: personal and interpersonal understanding, intuitiveness, and strong listening. 

Mattimore expands on this idea: “The seven key skills to be an effective creative problem solver that I detail in my book Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs are: 1) curiosity 2) openness 3) a willingness to embrace ambiguity 4) the ability to identify and transfer principles across categories and disciplines 5) the desire to search for integrity in ideas, 6) the ability to trust and exercise “knowingness” and 7) the ability to envision new worlds (think Dr. Seuss, Star Wars, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.).”

“As an individual contributor to problem solving it is important to exercise our curiosity, questioning, and visioning abilities,” advises Carella. “As a facilitator it is essential to allow for diverse ideas to emerge, be able to synthesize and ‘translate’ other people’s thinking, and build an extensive network of available resources.”

MacLeod says the following interpersonal skills are necessary to effectively facilitate group problem solving: “The abilities to invite participation (hear all voices, encourage silent members), not take sides, manage dynamics between the monopolizer, the scapegoat, and the bully, and deal with conflict (not avoiding it or shutting down).” 

Furthermore, Jaffa explains that the skills of a strong problem solver aren’t measurable. The best way to become a creative problem solver, he says, is to do regular creative exercises that keep you sharp and force you to think outside the box. Carella echoes this sentiment: “Neuroscience tells us that creativity comes from creating novel neural paths. Allow a few minutes each day to exercise your brain with novel techniques and brain ‘tricks’ – read something new, drive to work via a different route, count backwards, smell a new fragrance, etc.”

What Is Creative Problem Solving? History, Evolution, and Core Principles

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a method of problem solving in which you approach a problem or challenge in an imaginative, innovative way. The goal of CPS is to come up with innovative solutions, make a decision, and take action quickly. Sidney Parnes and Alex Osborn are credited with developing the creative problem solving process in the 1950s. The concept was further studied and developed at SUNY Buffalo State and the Creative Education Foundation. 

The core principles of CPS include the following:

  • Balance divergent and convergent thinking
  • Ask problems as questions
  • Defer or suspend judgement
  • Focus on “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but…”

According to Carella, “Creative problem solving is the mental process used for generating innovative and imaginative ideas as a solution to a problem or a challenge. Creative problem solving techniques can be pursued by individuals or groups.”

When asked to define CPS, Jaffa explains that it is, by nature, difficult to create boundaries for. “Creative problem solving is not cut and dry,” he says, “If you ask 100 different people the definition of creative problem solving, you’ll get 100 different responses - it’s a non-entity.”

Business presents a unique need for creative problem solving. Especially in today’s competitive landscape, organizations need to iterate quickly, innovate with intention, and constantly be at the cutting-edge of creativity and new ideas to succeed. Developing CPS skills among your workforce not only enables you to make faster, stronger in-the-moment decisions, but also inspires a culture of collaborative work and knowledge sharing. When people work together to generate multiple novel ideas and evaluate solutions, they are also more likely to arrive at an effective decision, which will improve business processes and reduce waste over time. In fact, CPS is so important that some companies now list creative problem solving skills as a job criteria.

MacLeod reiterates the vitality of creative problem solving in the workplace. “Problem solving is crucial for all groups and teams,” she says. “Leaders need to know how to guide the process, hear all voices and involve all members - it’s not easy.”

“This mental process [of CPS] is especially helpful in work environments where individuals and teams continuously struggle with new problems and challenges posed by their continuously changing environment,” adds Carella. 

Problem Solving Best Practices

By nature, creative problem solving does not have a clear-cut set of do’s and don’ts. Rather, creating a culture of strong creative problem solvers requires flexibility, adaptation, and interpersonal skills. However, there are a several best practices that you should incorporate:

  • Use a Systematic Approach: Regardless of the technique you use, choose a systematic method that satisfies your workplace conditions and constraints (time, resources, budget, etc.). Although you want to preserve creativity and openness to new ideas, maintaining a structured approach to the process will help you stay organized and focused. 
  • View Problems as Opportunities: Rather than focusing on the negatives or giving up when you encounter barriers, treat problems as opportunities to enact positive change on the situation. In fact, some experts even recommend defining problems as opportunities, to remain proactive and positive.
  • Change Perspective: Remember that there are multiple ways to solve any problem. If you feel stuck, changing perspective can help generate fresh ideas. A perspective change might entail seeking advice of a mentor or expert, understanding the context of a situation, or taking a break and returning to the problem later. “A sterile or familiar environment can stifle new thinking and new perspectives,” says Carella. “Make sure you get out to draw inspiration from spaces and people out of your usual reach.”
  • Break Down Silos: To invite the greatest possible number of perspectives to any problem, encourage teams to work cross-departmentally. This not only combines diverse expertise, but also creates a more trusting and collaborative environment, which is essential to effective CPS. According to Carella, “Big challenges are always best tackled by a group of people rather than left to a single individual. Make sure you create a space where the team can concentrate and convene.”
  • Employ Strong Leadership or a Facilitator: Some companies choose to hire an external facilitator that teaches problem solving techniques, best practices, and practicums to stimulate creative problem solving. But, internal managers and staff can also oversee these activities. Regardless of whether the facilitator is internal or external, choose a strong leader who will value others’ ideas and make space for creative solutions.  Mattimore has specific advice regarding the role of a facilitator: “When facilitating, get the group to name a promising idea (it will crystalize the idea and make it more memorable), and facilitate deeper rather than broader. Push for not only ideas, but how an idea might specifically work, some of its possible benefits, who and when would be interested in an idea, etc. This fleshing-out process with a group will generate fewer ideas, but at the end of the day will yield more useful concepts that might be profitably pursued.” Additionally, Carella says that “Executives and managers don’t necessarily have to be creative problem solvers, but need to make sure that their teams are equipped with the right tools and resources to make this happen. Also they need to be able to foster an environment where failing fast is accepted and celebrated.”
  • Evaluate Your Current Processes: This practice can help you unlock bottlenecks, and also identify gaps in your data and information management, both of which are common roots of business problems.

MacLeod offers the following additional advice, “Always get the facts. Don’t jump too quickly to a solution – working through [problems] takes time and patience.”

Mattimore also stresses that how you introduce creative problem solving is important. “Do not start by introducing a new company-wide innovation process,” he says. “Instead, encourage smaller teams to pursue specific creative projects, and then build a process from the ground up by emulating these smaller teams’ successful approaches. We say: ‘You don’t innovate by changing the culture, you change the culture by innovating.’”

Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

Learning how to effectively solve problems is difficult and takes time and continual adaptation. There are several common barriers to successful CPS, including:

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person’s existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
  • Mental Set: People’s inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve problems in the past. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy (see Analogical Thinking in a later section), it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become “stuck” thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
  • Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues. To avoid doing this, maintain a structured, level-headed approach to evaluating causes, effects, and potential solutions.
  • Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can actually stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
  • Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team’s ability to find direct, targeted solutions.
  • Paradigm Blindness: This is found in people who are unwilling to adapt or change their worldview, outlook on a particular problem, or typical way of processing information. This can erode the effectiveness of problem solving techniques because they are not aware of the narrowness of their thinking, and therefore cannot think or act outside of their comfort zone.

According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. “The most common things people say are, ‘We’ve never done it before,’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” While these feelings are natural, Jaffa explains that this rigid thinking actually precludes teams from identifying creative, inventive solutions that result in the greatest benefit.

“The biggest barrier to creative problem solving is a lack of awareness – and commitment to – training employees in state-of-the-art creative problem-solving techniques,” Mattimore explains. “We teach our clients how to use ideation techniques (as many as two-dozen different creative thinking techniques) to help them generate more and better ideas. Ideation techniques use specific and customized stimuli, or ‘thought triggers’ to inspire new thinking and new ideas.” 

MacLeod adds that ineffective or rushed leadership is another common culprit. “We're always in a rush to fix quickly,” she says. “Sometimes leaders just solve problems themselves, making unilateral decisions to save time. But the investment is well worth it — leaders will have less on their plates if they can teach and eventually trust the team to resolve. Teams feel empowered and engagement and investment increases.”

Strategies for Problem Cause Identification

As discussed, most experts agree that the first and most crucial step in problem solving is defining the problem. Once you’ve done this, however, it may not be appropriate to move straight to the solution phase. Rather, it is often helpful to identify the cause(s) of the problem: This will better inform your solution planning and execution, and help ensure that you don’t fall victim to the same challenges in the future. 

Below are some of the most common strategies for identifying the cause of a problem:

  • Root Cause Analysis: This method helps identify the most critical cause of a problem. A factor is considered a root cause if removing it prevents the problem from recurring. Performing a root cause analysis is a 12 step process that includes: define the problem, gather data on the factors contributing to the problem, group the factors based on shared characteristics, and create a cause-and-effect timeline to determine the root cause. After that, you identify and evaluate corrective actions to eliminate the root cause.

Fishbone Diagram Template

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Interrelationship Diagrams

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Problem Solving Techniques and Strategies

In this section, we’ll explain several traditional and creative problem solving methods that you can use to identify challenges, create actionable goals, and resolve problems as they arise. Although there is often procedural and objective crossover among techniques, they are grouped by theme so you can identify which method works best for your organization.

Divergent Creative Problem Solving Techniques

Brainstorming: One of the most common methods of divergent thinking, brainstorming works best in an open group setting where everyone is encouraged to share their creative ideas. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible – you analyze, critique, and evaluate the ideas only after the brainstorming session is complete. To learn more specific brainstorming techniques, read this article . 

Mind Mapping: This is a visual thinking tool where you graphically depict concepts and their relation to one another. You can use mind mapping to structure the information you have, analyze and synthesize it, and generate solutions and new ideas from there. The goal of a mind map is to simplify complicated problems so you can more clearly identify solutions.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI): The basic assumption of AI is that “an organization is a mystery to be embraced.” Using this principle, AI takes a positive, inquisitive approach to identifying the problem, analyzing the causes, and presenting possible solutions. The five principles of AI emphasize dialogue, deliberate language and outlook, and social bonding. 

Lateral Thinking: This is an indirect problem solving approach centered on the momentum of idea generation. As opposed to critical thinking, where people value ideas based on their truth and the absence of errors, lateral thinking values the “movement value” of new ideas: This means that you reward team members for producing a large volume of new ideas rapidly. With this approach, you’ll generate many new ideas before approving or rejecting any.

Problem Solving Techniques to Change Perspective

Constructive Controversy: This is a structured approach to group decision making to preserve critical thinking and disagreement while maintaining order. After defining the problem and presenting multiple courses of action, the group divides into small advocacy teams who research, analyze, and refute a particular option. Once each advocacy team has presented its best-case scenario, the group has a discussion (advocacy teams still defend their presented idea). Arguing and playing devil’s advocate is encouraged to reach an understanding of the pros and cons of each option. Next, advocacy teams abandon their cause and evaluate the options openly until they reach a consensus. All team members formally commit to the decision, regardless of whether they advocated for it at the beginning. You can learn more about the goals and steps in constructive controversy here . 

Carella is a fan of this approach. “Create constructive controversy by having two teams argue the pros and cons of a certain idea,” he says. “It forces unconscious biases to surface and gives space for new ideas to formulate.”

Abstraction: In this method, you apply the problem to a fictional model of the current situation. Mapping an issue to an abstract situation can shed extraneous or irrelevant factors, and reveal places where you are overlooking obvious solutions or becoming bogged down by circumstances. 

Analogical Thinking: Also called analogical reasoning , this method relies on an analogy: using information from one problem to solve another problem (these separate problems are called domains). It can be difficult for teams to create analogies among unrelated problems, but it is a strong technique to help you identify repeated issues, zoom out and change perspective, and prevent the problems from occurring in the future. .

CATWOE: This framework ensures that you evaluate the perspectives of those whom your decision will impact. The factors and questions to consider include (which combine to make the acronym CATWOE):

  • Customers: Who is on the receiving end of your decisions? What problem do they currently have, and how will they react to your proposed solution?
  • Actors: Who is acting to bring your solution to fruition? How will they respond and be affected by your decision?
  • Transformation Process: What processes will you employ to transform your current situation and meet your goals? What are the inputs and outputs?
  • World View: What is the larger context of your proposed solution? What is the larger, big-picture problem you are addressing?
  • Owner: Who actually owns the process? How might they influence your proposed solution (positively or negatively), and how can you influence them to help you?
  • Environmental Constraints: What are the limits (environmental, resource- and budget-wise, ethical, legal, etc.) on your ideas? How will you revise or work around these constraints?

Complex Problem Solving

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM): For extremely complex problems, SSM can help you identify how factors interact, and determine the best course of action. SSM was borne out of organizational process modeling and general systems theory, which hold that everything is part of a greater, interconnected system: This idea works well for “hard” problems (where logic and a single correct answer are prioritized), and less so for “soft” problems (i.e., human problems where factors such as personality, emotions, and hierarchy come into play). Therefore, SSM defines a seven step process for problem solving: 

  • Begin with the problem or problematic situation 
  • Express the problem or situation and build a rich picture of the themes of the problem 
  • Identify the root causes of the problem (most commonly with CATWOE)
  • Build conceptual models of human activity surrounding the problem or situation
  • Compare models with real-world happenings
  • Identify changes to the situation that are both feasible and desirable
  • Take action to implement changes and improve the problematic situation

SSM can be used for any complex soft problem, and is also a useful tool in change management . 

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): This method helps teams anticipate potential problems and take steps to mitigate them. Use FMEA when you are designing (redesigning) a complex function, process, product, or service. First, identify the failure modes, which are the possible ways that a project could fail. Then, perform an effects analysis to understand the consequences of each of the potential downfalls. This exercise is useful for internalizing the severity of each potential failure and its effects so you can make adjustments or safeties in your plan. 

FMEA Template

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Problem Solving Based on Data or Logic (Heuristic Methods)

TRIZ: A Russian-developed problem solving technique that values logic, analysis, and forecasting over intuition or soft reasoning. TRIZ (translated to “theory of inventive problem solving” or TIPS in English) is a systematic approach to defining and identifying an inventive solution to difficult problems. The method offers several strategies for arriving at an inventive solution, including a contradictions matrix to assess trade-offs among solutions, a Su-Field analysis which uses formulas to describe a system by its structure, and ARIZ (algorithm of inventive problem solving) which uses algorithms to find inventive solutions. 

Inductive Reasoning: A logical method that uses evidence to conclude that a certain answer is probable (this is opposed to deductive reasoning, where the answer is assumed to be true). Inductive reasoning uses a limited number of observations to make useful, logical conclusions (for example, the Scientific Method is an extreme example of inductive reasoning). However, this method doesn’t always map well to human problems in the workplace — in these instances, managers should employ intuitive inductive reasoning , which allows for more automatic, implicit conclusions so that work can progress. This, of course, retains the principle that these intuitive conclusions are not necessarily the one and only correct answer. 

Process-Oriented Problem Solving Methods

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA): This is an iterative management technique used to ensure continual improvement of products or processes. First, teams plan (establish objectives to meet desired end results), then do (implement the plan, new processes, or produce the output), then check (compare expected with actual results), and finally act (define how the organization will act in the future, based on the performance and knowledge gained in the previous three steps). 

Means-End Analysis (MEA): The MEA strategy is to reduce the difference between the current (problematic) state and the goal state. To do so, teams compile information on the multiple factors that contribute to the disparity between the current and goal states. Then they try to change or eliminate the factors one by one, beginning with the factor responsible for the greatest difference in current and goal state. By systematically tackling the multiple factors that cause disparity between the problem and desired outcome, teams can better focus energy and control each step of the process. 

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model: This technique was developed by Tim Hurson, and is detailed in his 2007 book Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking . The model outlines six steps that are meant to give structure while maintaining creativity and critical thinking: 1) Ask “What is going on?” 2) Ask “What is success?” 3) Ask “What is the question?” 4) Generate answers 5) Forge the solution 6) Align resources. 

Control Influence Accept (CIA): The basic premise of CIA is that how you respond to problems determines how successful you will be in overcoming them. Therefore, this model is both a problem solving technique and stress-management tool that ensures you aren’t responding to problems in a reactive and unproductive way. The steps in CIA include:

  • Control: Identify the aspects of the problem that are within your control.
  • Influence: Identify the aspects of the problem that you cannot control, but that you can influence.
  • Accept: Identify the aspects of the problem that you can neither control nor influence, and react based on this composite information. 

GROW Model: This is a straightforward problem solving method for goal setting that clearly defines your goals and current situation, and then asks you to define the potential solutions and be realistic about your chosen course of action. The steps break down as follows:

  • Goal: What do you want?
  • Reality: Where are you now?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Will: What will you do?

OODA Loop: This acronym stands for observe, orient, decide, and act. This approach is a decision-making cycle that values agility and flexibility over raw human force. It is framed as a loop because of the understanding that any team will continually encounter problems or opponents to success and have to overcome them.

There are also many un-named creative problem solving techniques that follow a sequenced series of steps. While the exact steps vary slightly, they all follow a similar trajectory and aim to accomplish similar goals of problem, cause, and goal identification, idea generation, and active solution implementation.

MacLeod offers her own problem solving procedure, which echoes the above steps:

“1. Recognize the Problem: State what you see. Sometimes the problem is covert. 2. Identify: Get the facts — What exactly happened? What is the issue? 3. and 4. Explore and Connect: Dig deeper and encourage group members to relate their similar experiences. Now you're getting more into the feelings and background [of the situation], not just the facts.  5. Possible Solutions: Consider and brainstorm ideas for resolution. 6. Implement: Choose a solution and try it out — this could be role play and/or a discussion of how the solution would be put in place.  7. Evaluate: Revisit to see if the solution was successful or not.”

Many of these problem solving techniques can be used in concert with one another, or multiple can be appropriate for any given problem. It’s less about facilitating a perfect CPS session, and more about encouraging team members to continually think outside the box and push beyond personal boundaries that inhibit their innovative thinking. So, try out several methods, find those that resonate best with your team, and continue adopting new techniques and adapting your processes along the way. 

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Problem management process flow

This problem management process flow template can help you:

  • Find and fix the causes of events and incidents.
  • Set up new activities to find and prevent future problems and incidents.
  • Create a known error record for more efficient diagnosis in the future.

Open this template to view a detailed example of a problem management process flow that you can customize to your use case.

Problem management process flow example

Streamline problem management with problem management process flow

Technology is a great convenience that enables us to accomplish many tasks, but these advantages are irrelevant when our technology has problems. Fortunately, when your IT team has a deliberately planned problem management process flow, technology issues can be fixed quickly.

With Lucidchart, you can use a process flow template to help you visualize and better describe your IT problem management process. Define and delegate user roles, such as problem manager, problem coordinator, and problem analyst. Plus, identify and fix issues with your current process while creating activities to prevent future problems.

The problem management process flow template can help you better collaborate with your team. Whether you work remotely or in the same office, you can get feedback and fine-tune your problem management process together in real time. You can also easily share it with relevant stakeholders to keep everyone aligned.

Use the problem management process flow template in Lucidchart

Once you’ve added the template to your Lucidchart workspace, you can edit it to fit your current process for problem management. You can:

  • Add and format custom shapes
  • Add and format lines
  • Add or change text
  • Import data

Map out your problem management process flow or collaborate with your team. You can easily share the template through handy integrations with Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Collaborators and other stakeholders can then leave comments or questions with sticky notes, comments, or the chat feature.

Perfecting a problem management process can be tricky, but with the help of this template, you’ll have a useful and versatile tool that will help you do just that.

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35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

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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!

system problem solving chart

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!

system problem solving chart

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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Effective online tools are a necessity for smooth and engaging virtual workshops and meetings. But how do you choose the right ones? Do you sometimes feel that the good old pen and paper or MS Office toolkit and email leaves you struggling to stay on top of managing and delivering your workshop? Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools to make your life easier when you need to facilitate a meeting and lead workshops. In this post, we’ll share our favorite online tools you can use to make your job as a facilitator easier. In fact, there are plenty of free online workshop tools and meeting facilitation software you can…

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The Sunday Read: ‘Why Did This Guy Put a Song About Me on Spotify?’

The answer involves a remarkable — and lucrative, and ridiculous — scheme to game the way we find music today..

By Brett Martin

Read by Eric Jason Martin

Produced by Adrienne Hurst and Aaron Esposito

Narration produced by Tanya Pérez and Krish Seenivasan

Edited by John Woo

Original music by Aaron Esposito

Engineered by Sophia Lanman and Devin Murphy

Listen and follow The Daily Apple Podcasts | Spotify

Have you heard the song “Brett Martin, You a Nice Man, Yes”?

Probably not. On Spotify, “Brett Martin, You a Nice Man, Yes” has not yet accumulated enough streams to even register a tally. Even Brett Martin, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the titular Nice Man, didn’t hear the 1 minute 14 second song until last summer, a full 11 years after it was uploaded by an artist credited as Papa Razzi and the Photogs.

When Martin stumbled on “Brett Martin, You a Nice Man, Yes,” he naturally assumed it was about a different, more famous Brett Martin: perhaps Brett Martin, the left-handed reliever who until recently played for the Texas Rangers; or Brett Martin, the legendary Australian squash player; or even Clara Brett Martin, the Canadian who in 1897 became the British Empire’s first female lawyer. Only when the singer began referencing details of stories that he made for public radio’s “This American Life” almost 20 years ago did he realize the song was actually about him. The song ended, “I really like you/Will you be my friend?/Will you call me on the phone?” Then it gave a phone number, with a New Hampshire area code.

So, he called.

There are a lot of ways to listen to ‘The Daily.’ Here’s how.

We want to hear from you. Tune in, and tell us what you think. Email us at [email protected] . Follow Michael Barbaro on X: @mikiebarb . And if you’re interested in advertising with The Daily, write to us at [email protected] .

Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Isabella Anderson, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Elena Hecht, Emma Kehlbeck, Tanya Pérez, Frannie Carr Toth and Krish Seenivasan.



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  1. Problem-Solving Flowchart: A Visual Method to Find Perfect ...

    To perform a cause-and-effect analysis, follow these steps. 1. Start with a problem statement. The problem statement is usually placed in a box or another shape at the far right of your page. Draw a horizontal line, called a "spine" or "backbone," along the center of the page pointing to your problem statement. 2.

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

    Problem-Solving Flowcharts is a graphical representation used to break down problem or process into smaller, manageable parts, identify the root causes and outline a step-by-step solution. It helps in visually organizing information and showing the relationships between various parts of the problem. This type of flowcharts consists of different ...

  3. How to Make a Fishbone Diagram

    Step 1 - Define the problem. The first step to solving any problem - and the key to learning how to make a fishbone diagram - is correctly defining it. A clearly defined problem makes it easier to identify causes. It also encourages us to determine whether there's even a problem to begin with. In this case, the problem we've ...

  4. What Is a Fishbone Diagram?

    A fishbone diagram is a problem-solving approach that uses a fish-shaped diagram to model possible root causes of problems and troubleshoot possible solutions. It is also called an Ishikawa diagram, after its creator, Kaoru Ishikawa, as well as a herringbone diagram or cause-and-effect diagram. Fishbone diagrams are often used in root cause ...

  5. 9 essential problem solving tools: the ultimate guide

    Flowcharts. Strategy maps. Mental maps. Idea maps. Concept maps. Layered process audit software. Charting software. MindManager. In this article, we've put together a roundup of versatile problem solving tools and software to help you and your team map out and repair workplace issues as efficiently as possible.

  6. System Flowchart

    As with other types of flowcharts, for system flowcharts, you should follow the current standard guideline below: Step 1: Start the system. Step 2: Begin Process 1. Step 3: Check conditions and decide (Decision, "yes" or "no" answer) Step 4: Proceed according to the Decision. If it is "yes", proceed to Process 3.

  7. How to create a problem-solving flow chart

    4/ Leave to sit for 2 mins. 4/ Remove teabag. 5/ Add milk. 6/ Add sugar. 7/ Stir. So our problem solving flow chart needs to examine each of those steps to determine where the failure has occurred. We'll add a question shape (diamond), connect out problem statement to it using an arrow to check if we boiled the kettle.

  8. Ultimate Flowchart Tutorial

    Organize the flow. Determine the order of the steps in the process and the different paths that can be taken. This will help you organize the flow of the flowchart. Use Creately's Plus Create to add the next shape and the connector in a single click. 4.

  9. Flow Charts

    When to Use a Flow Chart. All manner of organizations use flow charts to: Define a process. Standardize a process. Communicate a process. Identify bottlenecks or waste in a process. Solve a problem. Improve a process. For example, software developers can use them to work out how the automated and manual parts of a process join up.

  10. Visual Problem Solving with Mind Maps and Flowcharts

    Tools to Aid Visual Problem Solving. While there is a myriad of tools to help you draw things, Creately is definitely one of the easiest ways to visualize your problem. We support mind maps, flowcharts, concept maps and 50+ other diagram types which you can use for visual problem-solving. Our professionally designed templates and productivity ...

  11. Using Fishbone Diagrams for Complex Problems

    Fishbone diagrams (or cause and effect diagrams) are specifically used to help us solve complex problems. Let's say your team is looking to better understand why a certain product is not as successful as you'd like it to be. By creating a fishbone diagram, you can investigate the causes of certain outcomes, thereby identify how to improve ...

  12. A Step-by-Step Guide to A3 Problem Solving Methodology

    The following are the key principles of A3 Problem Solving: Define the problem clearly and concisely. Gather and analyze data to gain a deep understanding of the problem. Identify the root causes of the problem. Develop and implement effective solutions.

  13. How to Create the Systems Thinking Diagrams

    1- Today's problems come from yesterday's solutions. So, before adopting any new solutions, it is very important to understand the history of the existing problem. 2- The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back in a phenomenon known as "compensative feedback.". 3- Behavior grows better before it grows worse.

  14. Taking a systems thinking approach to problem solving

    A systems thinking approach to problem solving recognizes the problem as part of a wider system and addresses the whole system in any solution rather than just the problem area. A popular way of applying a systems thinking lens is to examine the issue from multiple perspectives, zooming out from single and visible elements to the bigger and ...

  15. Problem-solution

    Benefits of using the problem-solution chart template. Using this template, you'll organize components of the problem and test possible solutions. Because you're working through this in a structured way, you'll have an easier time catching all the details, brainstorming possible ideas, and deciding on the best action to find a solution ...

  16. What is a Fishbone Diagram? Ishikawa Cause & Effect Diagram

    Also called: cause-and-effect diagram, Ishikawa diagram. This cause analysis tool is considered one of the seven basic quality tools. The fishbone diagram identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem. It can be used to structure a brainstorming session. It immediately sorts ideas into useful categories.

  17. The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Step 1 - Define the Problem. The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause.

  18. The Six Systems Thinking Steps to Solve Complex Problems

    Step 5: Going Deeper into the Issues. After defining the problem and the system structure, this step tends to understand the underlying problems through clarifying four items: the purpose of the system (what we want), the mental models, the large system, and personal role in the situation. Set 6: Plan an Intervention.

  19. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. Step. Characteristics. 1. Define the problem. Differentiate fact from opinion. Specify underlying causes. Consult each faction involved for information. State the problem specifically.

  20. Definitive Guide to Problem Solving Techniques

    Balance divergent and convergent thinking. Ask problems as questions. Defer or suspend judgement. Focus on "Yes, and…" rather than "No, but…". According to Carella, "Creative problem solving is the mental process used for generating innovative and imaginative ideas as a solution to a problem or a challenge.

  21. Problem management process flow

    Use the problem management process flow template in Lucidchart. Once you've added the template to your Lucidchart workspace, you can edit it to fit your current process for problem management. You can: Map out your problem management process flow or collaborate with your team. You can easily share the template through handy integrations with ...

  22. 6 Simple diagrams to help understand complexity in problem solving

    One good chart will eliminate 100 meetings and drive decisions quickly. ... "Bulletproof Problem Solving" by Charles Conn and Robert McLean. ... This could be using a new system, travelling on ...

  23. 35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

    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.

  24. The Sunday Read: 'Why Did This Guy Put a Song About Me on Spotify?'

    Even Brett Martin, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the titular Nice Man, didn't hear the 1 minute 14 second song until last summer, a full 11 years after it was ...