The Lazy Leader's Guide to Problem-Solving

May 14, 2021 5 min read
The Lazy Leader's Guide to Problem-Solving

In this guide, I show you how to solve problems and introduce a simple 5-step approach to problem-solving that will help solve complicated business problems.

It is a proven and practical approach to problem-solving that works equally well for large or small problems and simple or complex situations.

A 5-Step Process to Solving Problems

Problem-solving is all about finding solutions and is a creative process that usually starts with a perceived need or operational problem.

Whether we are faced with a problem in our area of responsibility or we are asked to solve a problem for someone else, we must adopt a systematic and logical approach. What is more, we must recognize that most business problems are open-ended. That is, they will undoubtedly have more than one correct solution.

Therefore, be creative and start generating ideas!

Ideation noun The process of forming ideas or images.

Thus, the problem solver is responsible for presenting the customer with multiple solutions before fixing on the preferred option. What follows is my take on problem-solving. I use a basic 5-step process.

  1. DESCRIBE: Define the problem
  2. DISCOVER: Collect pertinent information
  3. DESIGN: Generate alternative solutions
  4. DECIDE: Choose the best solution
  5. DELIVER: Test and implement the solution

Define the problem

Successful problem-solving starts with a clear, unambiguous definition of the problem. This is not always straightforward. It may take time to develop a complete understanding of the problem because the natural tendency in business is for people to articulate their need for a specific solution.

For instance, senior managers may say “We need a new IT system” or “Let’s restructure” or “You need to go on a team building exercise.” These are examples of potential solutions, not problems. Defining the problem is not the same as recognizing a need. So start by separating the problem from the solution.

Defining the problem is not the same as recognizing a need.

Why? Well first, the most obvious problem may not be the right one to solve!

For example, a project team may experience more than its fair share of interpersonal conflict, with deadlines missed and blame rife. Senior management notice the constant bickering and finger pointing. Their solution is to arrange a team building exercise. However, this fails to change behaviour.

In the illustration, the problem wasn’t a lack of buy-in or skill. Rather, it was the absence of a proper processes and well-defined roles that gave rise to a dysfunctional team. Focusing on a solution concealed the real need.

Therefore, it is important to spend time identifying the true needs of the business and prepare a solution-neutral problem statement. This is a beneficial exercise that considers the different ideas and opinions of stakeholders. Moreover, the problem statement can later be used to evaluate design choices and prepare test cases.

Collect pertinent information

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