Problem Solving Tools and Techniques


Get Results: problem solving
Get Results: Problem solving

We encounter numerous problems throughout our lives, and in all areas of our lives. The people that insist on putting a positive perspective on life have renamed problems, “challenges”, but for the purpose of this post we are going to stick with tradition.

Although problems can be simple or complex, we can go through a step-by-step process to try to solve the problem and provide a solution to it. Tackling problems is often a better solution than burying-our-head in the sand and hoping it goes away, although “doing nothing” can be a valid solution in itself. Burying our heads relies mainly on luck to solve the problem and takes the power away from us. Confronting the problem empowers us and in itself can be life changing.

One of the skills required for solving problems is decision making which is a topic in its own right, and is a crucial life skill that should be studied, and improved..

Stripping the problem solving strategy down to its basic components leaves us with 5 stages to go through.

1.Identify the problem and understand how it impacts your desired goal. I like to use the following equation to simplify this stage.

Get Results: problem solving equation
Get Results: Problem solving equation


  • Example = (EP) Enough traffic to site to earn living – (RP) not enough traffic to site = (P) need more traffic to site
  • More specific example = (EP) 1000 visits per day to site – (RP) 50 visits per day to site = (P) -950 visitors a day to site
  1. Break the problem down – Evaluate the components of the problem and their relationship to one another so that you understand the problem from all angles. You must define it clearly. so that you can understand it.

  2. Find possible solutions – Research the possible solutions and expected outcomes of those solutions. Weigh the pros and cons of each. Use your creative thought process for this. You are not guaranteed the outcomes will be as you expect, but you can only judge on the knowledge you possess at the time. Research the models, systems, habits and relationships of others that have overcome the problem(s) you are trying to overcome, where possible.

  3. Decision makingTake action to resolve the problem. Evaluate the options and prioritise, moving on those solutions that you believe will solve the problem.

5.Review. Check that the problem has been solved. If not then go back to step one and re-evaluate, adding the information learned to the mix and begin the process again. Each failure to solve the problem takes an option off the table, and moves you a step closer to finding the right solution.

There are a number of tools and techniques available to help you solve different types of problems. Some have been designed to tackle particular types of problems, ,many of which can be modified to fit your needs. Here is a list below:

Pareto Analysis (80/20 Rule)

Pareto Analysis is a statistical technique in decision-making used for the selection of a limited number of tasks that produce significant overall effect. It uses the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) the idea that by doing 20% of the work you can generate 80% of the benefit of doing the entire job.

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Get Results: Pareto Analysis


Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis is a method for listing, discussing, and assessing the various forces for and against a proposed change. It helps you look at the big picture by analysing all of the forces impacting on the change and weighing up the pros and cons.

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Get Results: force field analysis


Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats

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Get Results: Six Thinking Hats



Starbursting is a form of brainstorming that focuses on generating questions about an idea.

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Get Results: Starburst


Ishikawa Diagram (Cause and Effect Analysis)

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.

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Get Results: Ishikawa diagram (cause and effect analysis)


Process Flow Chart

A flowchart is a picture of the separate steps of a process in sequential order.

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Get Results: Process flow diagram


Paired Comparison Analysis

Paired Comparison Analysis helps you to work out the importance of a number of options relative to each other. It is particularly useful where you do not have objective data to base this on.

The Stepladder Technique

The Stepladder Technique is a simple tool that manages how members enter the decision-making group. It encourages all members to contribute on an individual level BEFORE being influenced by anyone else. This results in a wider variety of ideas, it prevents people from “hiding” within the group, and it helps people avoid being “stepped on” or overpowered by stronger, louder group members.

Venn Diagram

A Venn diagram is a diagram representing mathematical or logical sets pictorially as circles or closed curves within an enclosing rectangle (the universal set), common elements of the sets being represented by intersections of the circles.

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Get Results: Venn diagram

Grid Analysis (otherwise known as Decision Matrix)

Decision Matrix Analysis works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors you need consider as columns. You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option. Check out more about the Decision Matrix/Grid Analysis on my Decision Making post.

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Get Results: Decision Matrix

Cost/Benefit analysis

The cost/benefit analysis is designed to summarize the overall value for money of a project or proposal. It looks at the benefits of a project or proposal, expressed in monetary terms, relative to its costs, also expressed in monetary terms.

Risk/Reward ratio

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Get Results: Risk Reward analysis

The Risk/Rewards ratio is a ratio used to compare the expected returns of an investment against the amount of risk undertaken to capture these returns.

More tools

  • PMI
  • Decision trees
  • Critical thinking
  • Impact analysis
  • The ladder of inference
  • Blindspot analysis
  • The kepner-tregoe matrix
  • Nominal group technique
  • The delphi technique
  • 5 whys
  • Brainstorming
  • Check sheets
  • Concentration diagram
  • Activity sampling
  • Ranking and rating
  • Solution effect diagram

I’m sure there will be many other tools and techniques available, if and when I come across a new one I will add it to this list. I will in the course of time add some posts specifically about each of these tools, and link from this post to them, so keep this post bookmarked.

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