35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

problem solving method is

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!

problem solving method is

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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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

problem solving method is

Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

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  • Application
  • Improvement

From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

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Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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What Is Problem Solving?

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving method is

We all spend a lot of our time solving problems, both at work and in our personal lives.

Some problems are small, and we can quickly sort them out ourselves. But others are complex challenges that take collaboration, creativity, and a considerable amount of effort to solve.

At work, the types of problems we face depend largely on the organizations we're in and the jobs we do. A manager in a cleaning company, for example, might spend their day untangling staffing issues, resolving client complaints, and sorting out problems with equipment and supplies. An aircraft designer, on the other hand, might be grappling with a problem about aerodynamics, or trying to work out why a new safety feature isn't working. Meanwhile, a politician might be exploring solutions to racial injustice or climate change.

But whatever issues we face, there are some common ways to tackle them effectively. And we can all boost our confidence and ability to succeed by building a strong set of problem-solving skills.

Mind Tools offers a large collection of resources to help you do just that!

How Well Do You Solve Problems?

Start by taking an honest look at your existing skills. What's your current approach to solving problems, and how well is it working? Our quiz, How Good Is Your Problem Solving? lets you analyze your abilities, and signposts ways to address any areas of weakness.

Define Every Problem

The first step in solving a problem is understanding what that problem actually is. You need to be sure that you're dealing with the real problem – not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think that the problem lies with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real issue might be a general lack of training, or an unreasonable workload across the team.

Tools like 5 Whys , Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis get you asking the right questions, and help you to work through the layers of a problem to uncover what's really going on.

However, defining a problem doesn't mean deciding how to solve it straightaway. It's important to look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a short-sighted solution. The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, keeping you open to a variety of possible solutions.

Understanding Complexity

As you define your problem, you'll often discover just how complicated it is. There are likely several interrelated issues involved. That's why it's important to have ways to visualize, simplify and make sense of this tangled mess!

Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for understanding the relationships between them.

Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram . To generate viable solutions, you need a solid understanding of what's causing the problem.

When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart , Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you to see how various activities and inputs fit together. This may well highlight a missing element or bottleneck that's causing your problem.

Quite often, what seems to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. The Drill Down technique prompts you to split your problem into smaller, more manageable parts.

General Problem-Solving Tools

When you understand the problem in front of you, you’re ready to start solving it. With your definition to guide you, you can generate several possible solutions, choose the best one, then put it into action. That's the four-step approach at the heart of good problem solving.

There are various problem-solving styles to use. For example:

  • Constructive Controversy is a way of widening perspectives and energizing discussions.
  • Inductive Reasoning makes the most of people’s experiences and know-how, and can speed up solution finding.
  • Means-End Analysis can bring extra clarity to your thinking, and kick-start the process of implementing solutions.

Specific Problem-Solving Systems

Some particularly complicated or important problems call for a more comprehensive process. Again, Mind Tools has a range of approaches to try, including:

  • Simplex , which involves an eight-stage process: problem finding, fact finding, defining the problem, idea finding, selecting and evaluating, planning, selling the idea, and acting. These steps build upon the basic, four-step process described above, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization.
  • Appreciative Inquiry , which is a uniquely positive way of solving problems by examining what's working well in the areas surrounding them.
  • Soft Systems Methodology , which takes you through four stages to uncover more details about what's creating your problem, and then define actions that will improve the situation.

Further Problem-Solving Strategies

Good problem solving requires a number of other skills – all of which are covered by Mind Tools.

For example, we have a large section of resources to improve your Creativity , so that you come up with a range of possible solutions.

By strengthening your Decision Making , you'll be better at evaluating the options, selecting the best ones, then choosing how to implement them.

And our Project Management collection has valuable advice for strengthening the whole problem-solving process. The resources there will help you to make effective changes – and then keep them working long term.

Problems are an inescapable part of life, both in and out of work. So we can all benefit from having strong problem-solving skills.

It's important to understand your current approach to problem solving, and to know where and how to improve.

Define every problem you encounter – and understand its complexity, rather than trying to solve it too soon.

There's a range of general problem-solving approaches, helping you to generate possible answers, choose the best ones, and then implement your solution.

Some complicated or serious problems require more specific problem-solving systems, especially when they relate to business processes.

By boosting your creativity, decision-making and project-management skills, you’ll become even better at solving all the problems you face.

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Creative Problem Solving

Finding Innovative Solutions to Challenges

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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.

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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. 

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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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Status.net

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

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

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

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

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

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

Defining the Problem

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

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

Generating Solutions

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

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

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

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

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

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

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

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

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

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

Problem-Solving Techniques

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

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

Brainstorming

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

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

When brainstorming, remember to:

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

Root Cause Analysis

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

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

SWOT Analysis

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

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

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

Mind Mapping

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

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

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

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

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

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

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

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

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

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
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Adopting the right problem-solving approach

May 4, 2023 You’ve defined your problem, ensured stakeholders are aligned, and are ready to bring the right problem-solving approach and focus to the situation to find an optimal solution. But what is the right problem-solving approach? And what if there is no single ideal course of action? In our 2013 classic  from the Quarterly , senior partner Olivier Leclerc  highlights the value of taking a number of different approaches simultaneously to solve difficult problems. Read on to discover the five flexons, or problem-solving languages, that can be applied to the same problem to generate richer insights and more innovative solutions. Then check out more insights on problem-solving approaches, and dive into examples of pressing challenges organizations are contending with now.

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Table of Contents

The problem-solving process, how to solve problems: 5 steps, train to solve problems with lean today, what is problem solving steps, techniques, & best practices explained.

What Is Problem Solving? Steps, Techniques, and Best Practices Explained

Problem solving is the art of identifying problems and implementing the best possible solutions. Revisiting your problem-solving skills may be the missing piece to leveraging the performance of your business, achieving Lean success, or unlocking your professional potential. 

Ask any colleague if they’re an effective problem-solver and their likely answer will be, “Of course! I solve problems every day.” 

Problem solving is part of most job descriptions, sure. But not everyone can do it consistently. 

Problem solving is the process of defining a problem, identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.

There’s no one-size-fits-all problem-solving process. Often, it’s a unique methodology that aligns your short- and long-term objectives with the resources at your disposal. Nonetheless, many paradigms center problem solving as a pathway for achieving one’s goals faster and smarter. 

One example is the Six Sigma framework , which emphasizes eliminating errors and refining the customer experience, thereby improving business outcomes. Developed originally by Motorola, the Six Sigma process identifies problems from the perspective of customer satisfaction and improving product delivery. 

Lean management, a similar method, is about streamlining company processes over time so they become “leaner” while producing better outcomes. 

Trendy business management lingo aside, both of these frameworks teach us that investing in your problem solving process for personal and professional arenas will bring better productivity.

1. Precisely Identify Problems

As obvious as it seems, identifying the problem is the first step in the problem-solving process. Pinpointing a problem at the beginning of the process will guide your research, collaboration, and solutions in the right direction. 

At this stage, your task is to identify the scope and substance of the problem. Ask yourself a series of questions: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How many subsets of issues are underneath this problem? 
  • What subject areas, departments of work, or functions of business can best define this problem? 

Although some problems are naturally large in scope, precision is key. Write out the problems as statements in planning sheets . Should information or feedback during a later step alter the scope of your problem, revise the statements. 

Framing the problem at this stage will help you stay focused if distractions come up in later stages. Furthermore, how you frame a problem will aid your search for a solution. A strategy of building Lean success, for instance, will emphasize identifying and improving upon inefficient systems. 

2. Collect Information and Plan 

The second step is to collect information and plan the brainstorming process. This is another foundational step to road mapping your problem-solving process. Data, after all, is useful in identifying the scope and substance of your problems. 

Collecting information on the exact details of the problem, however, is done to narrow the brainstorming portion to help you evaluate the outcomes later. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary information — use the problem statements that you identified in step one as a north star in your research process. 

This stage should also include some planning. Ask yourself:

  • What parties will ultimately decide a solution? 
  • Whose voices and ideas should be heard in the brainstorming process? 
  • What resources are at your disposal for implementing a solution? 

Establish a plan and timeline for steps 3-5. 

3. Brainstorm Solutions

Brainstorming solutions is the bread and butter of the problem-solving process. At this stage, focus on generating creative ideas. As long as the solution directly addresses the problem statements and achieves your goals, don’t immediately rule it out. 

Moreover, solutions are rarely a one-step answer and are more like a roadmap with a set of actions. As you brainstorm ideas, map out these solutions visually and include any relevant factors such as costs involved, action steps, and involved parties. 

With Lean success in mind, stay focused on solutions that minimize waste and improve the flow of business ecosystems. 

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4. Decide and Implement

The most critical stage is selecting a solution. Easier said than done. Consider the criteria that has arisen in previous steps as you decide on a solution that meets your needs. 

Once you select a course of action, implement it. 

Practicing due diligence in earlier stages of the process will ensure that your chosen course of action has been evaluated from all angles. Often, efficient implementation requires us to act correctly and successfully the first time, rather than being hurried and sloppy. Further compilations will create more problems, bringing you back to step 1. 

5. Evaluate

Exercise humility and evaluate your solution honestly. Did you achieve the results you hoped for? What would you do differently next time? 

As some experts note, formulating feedback channels into your evaluation helps solidify future success. A framework like Lean success, for example, will use certain key performance indicators (KPIs) like quality, delivery success, reducing errors, and more. Establish metrics aligned with company goals to assess your solutions.

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

  • 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

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

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.

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

Boost your productivity

Maximize your time and productivity with strategies from our expert coaches.

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview, what are metacognitive skills examples in everyday life, what is lateral thinking 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas, 31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, learn what process mapping is and how to create one (+ examples), leadership activities that encourage employee engagement, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, how much do distractions cost 8 effects of lack of focus, similar articles, the pareto principle: how the 80/20 rule can help you do more with less, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, experimentation brings innovation: create an experimental workplace, effective problem statements have these 5 components, contingency planning: 4 steps to prepare for the unexpected, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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How to Solve Problems

  • Laura Amico

problem solving method is

To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.

Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.

  • Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

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Problem solving techniques: Steps and methods

problem solving method is

Posted on May 29, 2019

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

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

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

What constitutes effective problem solving?

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

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

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

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

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

1. Define the problem

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

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

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

2. List all the possible solutions

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

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

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

3. Evaluate the options

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

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

4. Select an option

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

5. Create an implementation plan

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

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

6. Communicate your solution

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

Prove your problem solving skills with Deakin

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

University Human Resources

8-step problem solving process, organizational effectiveness.

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Step 1: Define the Problem

  • What is the problem?
  • How did you discover the problem?
  • When did the problem start and how long has this problem been going on?
  • Is there enough data available to contain the problem and prevent it from getting passed to the next process step? If yes, contain the problem.

Step 2: Clarify the Problem

  • What data is available or needed to help clarify, or fully understand the problem?
  • Is it a top priority to resolve the problem at this point in time?
  • Are additional resources required to clarify the problem? If yes, elevate the problem to your leader to help locate the right resources and form a team. 
  •  Consider a Lean Event (Do-it, Burst, RPI, Project).
  • ∙Ensure the problem is contained and does not get passed to the next process step.

Step 3: Define the Goals

  • What is your end goal or desired future state?
  • What will you accomplish if you fix this problem?
  • What is the desired timeline for solving this problem?

Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem

  • Identify possible causes of the problem.
  • Prioritize possible root causes of the problem.
  • What information or data is there to validate the root cause?

Step 5: Develop Action Plan

  • Generate a list of actions required to address the root cause and prevent problem from getting to others.
  • Assign an owner and timeline to each action.
  • Status actions to ensure completion.

Step 6: Execute Action Plan

  • Implement action plan to address the root cause.
  • Verify actions are completed.

Step 7: Evaluate the Results

  • Monitor and Collect Data.
  • Did you meet your goals defined in step 3? If not, repeat the 8-Step Process. 
  • Were there any unforeseen consequences?
  • If problem is resolved, remove activities that were added previously to contain the problem.

Step 8: Continuously Improve

  • Look for additional opportunities to implement solution.
  • Ensure problem will not come back and communicate lessons learned.
  • If needed, repeat the 8-Step Problem Solving Process to drive further improvements.

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20 Effective Math Strategies To Approach Problem-Solving 

Katie Keeton

Math strategies for problem-solving help students use a range of approaches to solve many different types of problems. It involves identifying the problem and carrying out a plan of action to find the answer to mathematical problems.  

Problem-solving skills are essential to math in the general classroom and real-life. They require logical reasoning and critical thinking skills.  students must be equipped with strategies to help them find solutions to problems.

This article explores mathematical problem solving strategies, logical reasoning and critical thinking skills to help learners with solving math word problems independently in real-life situations. 

What are problem-solving strategies?

Problem-solving strategies in math are methods students can use to figure out solutions to math problems. Some problem-solving strategies: 

  • Draw a model
  • Use different approaches
  • Check the inverse to make sure the answer is correct

Students need to have a toolkit of math problem-solving strategies at their disposal to provide different ways to approach math problems. This makes it easier to find solutions and understand math better. 

Strategies can help guide students to the solution when it is difficult ot know when to start.

The ultimate guide to problem solving techniques

The ultimate guide to problem solving techniques

Download these ready-to-go problem solving techniques that every student should know. Includes printable tasks for students including challenges, short explanations for teachers with questioning prompts.

20 Math Strategies For Problem-Solving

Different problem-solving math strategies are required for different parts of the problem. It is unlikely that students will use the same strategy to understand and solve the problem. 

Here are 20 strategies to help students develop their problem-solving skills. 

Strategies to understand the problem

Strategies that help students understand the problem before solving it helps ensure they understand: 

  • The context
  • What the key information is
  • How to form a plan to solve it

Following these steps leads students to the correct solution and makes the math word problem easier .

Here are five strategies to help students understand the content of the problem and identify key information. 

1. Read the problem aloud

Read a word problem aloud to help understand it. Hearing the words engages auditory processing. This can make it easier to process and comprehend the context of the situation.

2. Highlight keywords 

When keywords are highlighted in a word problem, it helps the student focus on the essential information needed to solve it. Some important keywords help determine which operation is needed.  For example, if the word problem asks how many are left, the problem likely requires subtraction.  Ensure students highlight the keywords carefully and do not highlight every number or keyword. There is likely irrelevant information in the word problem.

3. Summarize the information

Read the problem aloud, highlight the key information and then summarize the information. Students can do this in their heads or write down a quick summary.  Summaries should include only the important information and be in simple terms that help contextualize the problem.

4. Determine the unknown

A common problem that students have when solving a word problem is misunderstanding what they are solving. Determine what the unknown information is before finding the answer.  Often, a word problem contains a question where you can find the unknown information you need to solve. For example, in the question ‘How many apples are left?’ students need to find the number of apples left over.

5. Make a plan

Once students understand the context of the word problem, have dentified the important information and determined the unknown, they can make a plan to solve it.  The plan will depend on the type of problem. Some problems involve more than one step to solve them as some require more than one answer.  Encourage students to make a list of each step they need to take to solve the problem before getting started.

Strategies for solving the problem 

1. draw a model or diagram.

Students may find it useful to draw a model, picture, diagram, or other visual aid to help with the problem solving process.  It can help to visualize the problem to understand the relationships between the numbers in the problem. In turn, this helps students see the solution.

math problem that needs a problem solving strategy

Similarly, you could draw a model to represent the objects in the problem:

math problem requiring problem solving

2. Act it out

This particular strategy is applicable at any grade level but is especially helpful in math investigation in elementary school . It involves a physical demonstration or students acting out the problem using movements, concrete resources and math manipulatives .  When students act out a problem, they can visualize and contectualize the word problem in another way and secure an understanding of the math concepts.  The examples below show how 1st-grade students could “act out” an addition and subtraction problem:

3. Work backwards

Working backwards is a popular problem-solving strategy. It involves starting with a possible solution and deciding what steps to take to arrive at that solution.  This strategy can be particularly helpful when students solve math word problems involving multiple steps. They can start at the end and think carefully about each step taken as opposed to jumping to the end of the problem and missing steps in between.

For example,

problem solving math question 1

To solve this problem working backwards, start with the final condition, which is Sam’s grandmother’s age (71) and work backwards to find Sam’s age. Subtract 20 from the grandmother’s age, which is 71.  Then, divide the result by 3 to get Sam’s age. 71 – 20 = 51 51 ÷ 3 = 17 Sam is 17 years old.

4. Write a number sentence

When faced with a word problem, encourage students to write a number sentence based on the information. This helps translate the information in the word problem into a math equation or expression, which is more easily solved.  It is important to fully understand the context of the word problem and what students need to solve before writing an equation to represent it.

5. Use a formula

Specific formulas help solve many math problems. For example, if a problem asks students to find the area of a rug, they would use the area formula (area = length × width) to solve.   Make sure students know the important mathematical formulas they will need in tests and real-life. It can help to display these around the classroom or, for those who need more support, on students’ desks.

Strategies for checking the solution 

Once the problem is solved using an appropriate strategy, it is equally important to check the solution to ensure it is correct and makes sense. 

There are many strategies to check the solution. The strategy for a specific problem is dependent on the problem type and math content involved.

Here are five strategies to help students check their solutions. 

1. Use the Inverse Operation

For simpler problems, a quick and easy problem solving strategy is to use the inverse operation. For example, if the operation to solve a word problem is 56 ÷ 8 = 7 students can check the answer is correct by multiplying 8 × 7. As good practice, encourage students to use the inverse operation routinely to check their work. 

2. Estimate to check for reasonableness

Once students reach an answer, they can use estimation or rounding to see if the answer is reasonable.  Round each number in the equation to a number that’s close and easy to work with, usually a multiple of ten.  For example, if the question was 216 ÷ 18 and the quotient was 12, students might round 216 to 200 and round 18 to 20. Then use mental math to solve 200 ÷ 20, which is 10.  When the estimate is clear the two numbers are close. This means your answer is reasonable. 

3. Plug-In Method

This method is particularly useful for algebraic equations. Specifically when working with variables.  To use the plug-in method, students solve the problem as asked and arrive at an answer. They can then plug the answer into the original equation to see if it works. If it does, the answer is correct.

Problem solving math problem 2

If students use the equation 20m+80=300 to solve this problem and find that m = 11, they can plug that value back into the equation to see if it is correct. 20m + 80 = 300 20 (11) + 80 = 300 220 + 80 = 300 300 = 300 ✓

4. Peer Review

Peer review is a great tool to use at any grade level as it promotes critical thinking and collaboration between students. The reviewers can look at the problem from a different view as they check to see if the problem was solved correctly.   Problem solvers receive immediate feedback and the opportunity to discuss their thinking with their peers. This strategy is effective with mixed-ability partners or similar-ability partners. In mixed-ability groups, the partner with stronger skills provides guidance and support to the partner with weaker skills, while reinforcing their own understanding of the content and communication skills.  If partners have comparable ability levels and problem-solving skills, they may find that they approach problems differently or have unique insights to offer each other about the problem-solving process.

5. Use a Calculator

A calculator can be introduced at any grade level but may be best for older students who already have a foundational understanding of basic math operations. Provide students with a calculator to allow them to check their solutions independently, accurately, and quickly. Since calculators are so readily available on smartphones and tablets, they allow students to develop practical skills that apply to real-world situations.  

Step-by-step problem-solving processes for your classroom

In his book, How to Solve It , published in 1945, mathematician George Polya introduced a 4-step process to solve problems. 

Polya’s 4 steps include:

  • Understand the problem
  • Devise a plan
  • Carry out the plan

Today, in the style of George Polya, many problem-solving strategies use various acronyms and steps to help students recall. 

Many teachers create posters and anchor charts of their chosen process to display in their classrooms. They can be implemented in any elementary, middle school or high school classroom. 

Here are 5 problem-solving strategies to introduce to students and use in the classroom.

CUBES math strategy for problem solving

How Third Space Learning improves problem-solving 

Resources .

Third Space Learning offers a free resource library is filled with hundreds of high-quality resources. A team of experienced math experts carefully created each resource to develop students mental arithmetic, problem solving and critical thinking. 

Explore the range of problem solving resources for 2nd to 8th grade students. 

One-on-one tutoring 

Third Space Learning offers one-on-one math tutoring to help students improve their math skills. Highly qualified tutors deliver high-quality lessons aligned to state standards. 

Former teachers and math experts write all of Third Space Learning’s tutoring lessons. Expertly designed lessons follow a “my turn, follow me, your turn” pedagogy to help students move from guided instruction and problem-solving to independent practice. 

Throughout each lesson, tutors ask higher-level thinking questions to promote critical thinking and ensure students are developing a deep understanding of the content and problem-solving skills.

problem solving method is

Problem-solving

Educators can use many different strategies to teach problem-solving and help students develop and carry out a plan when solving math problems. Incorporate these math strategies into any math program and use them with a variety of math concepts, from whole numbers and fractions to algebra. 

Teaching students how to choose and implement problem-solving strategies helps them develop mathematical reasoning skills and critical thinking they can apply to real-life problem-solving.

READ MORE : 8 Common Core math examples

There are many different strategies for problem-solving; Here are 5 problem-solving strategies: • draw a model  • act it out  • work backwards  • write a number sentence • use a formula

Here are 10 strategies of problem-solving: • Read the problem aloud • Highlight keywords • Summarize the information • Determine the unknown • Make a plan • Draw a model  • Act it out  • Work backwards  • Write a number sentence • Use a formula

1. Understand the problem 2. Devise a plan 3. Carry out the plan 4. Look back

Some strategies you can use to solve challenging math problems are: breaking the problem into smaller parts, using diagrams or models, applying logical reasoning, and trying different approaches.

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What is Hay System

  • Employee Retention

Hay System 101: The Popular Job Evaluation Method

Sagrika Mehta

  • October 5, 2023

In mid-20th century, Edward N. Hay developed a job evaluation method called “Hay System”. This system was initially developed to provide a structured and data-driven approach for HR leaders to determine the relative worth of different jobs in an organization.

This job evaluation method is known and used widely in the North America and Europe.

While it is quite a relevant approach, things have certainly changed in today’s business landscape. But considering the challenges of the unstable employment market, the Hay System remains relevant and a valuable tool for effective workforce management .

Hay Approach For Compensation

this methodology helps HR leaders in deciding how much to pay people for their work. Using Hay System, a job is evaluated by considering the:

  • Knowledge required to perform the job
  • Type of problem-solving skills needed for common job challenges
  • Assigned responsibilities or accountabilities

Each factor further includes two-to-three sub-factors.

Factors in Hay System

  • Freedom to act
  • Nature of Job’s impact on organizational results
  • Magnitude of impact
  • Practical knowledge,
  • Planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling resources
  • Communication and influencing skills
  • Freedom to think – evaluates how much problem solving is guided and shaped by strategy, policies, historical precedents, established procedures, and regulations
  • Thinking challenge – complexity of the thinking required to arrive at solutions that add value

This is a very simple explanation but for a detailed guide, you can read this ebook by Korn Ferry Group that acquired the Hay Group in 2015.

Though there are numerous benefits of Hay System but it also has its share of disadvantages and limitations such as – complex in implementing and maintaining, very resource-intensive, time-consuming, very expensive and rigid.

Alternatives to Hay Method

  • Point Factor System: similar to Hay system, it assign points to various factors or dimensions of a job and determine the job’s relative value.
  • Market Pricing: This method doesn’t rely on internal factors but assesses job value by comparing it to market data or industry benchmarks
  • Job Ranking: This method ranks the jobs in an order based on their perceived value within the organization
  • Job Classification/Grade System: This method groups jobs into classes and grades based on multiple factors such as skill set required, responsibilities and qualifications and based on grade, it determines a specific salary range.
  • Factor Comparison Method: This method looks at both – internal factors and industry benchmarks. It assigns monetary value to various factors or dimensions such as responsibility, skill, and effort, and then compares these factor values to determine job worth.
  • Market-Based Pay Structures: Completely based on market data or industry benchmarks – mostly used in highly competitive markets.
  • Skill-Based Pay: This method doesn’t consider the nature of job but determines pays based on employees’ skills and competencies.
  • Competency-Based Pay: This method determines the pay based on the competencies or skills shown by employee, regardless of their title or role
  • Pay for Performance: This method determines the pay based on employee’s performance and it is mostly adopted by tech companies globally.

With Peoplebox Platform, You can implement compensation strategy based on competency and performance very easily. More than 500+ companies such as HackerRank, Disney & Postman are using Peoplebox to drive better business impact.

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Improving students' mathematical complex problem solving using the exploration of Bugis typical phinisi boat patterns

  • Nurannisa, Andi
  • Asfar, Andi Muhammad Irfan Taufan
  • Asfar, Andi Muhamad Iqbal Akbar
  • Damayanti, Wiwi

Solving complex problems is crucial for navigating the 21st century's development. The primary measure of academic accomplishment required in both educational and occupational settings and daily life is this competency. However, especially when learning mathematics, students still have relatively limited skills in addressing complex problems. Including students' experiences and knowledge from local wisdom-based learning in the learning process can help students develop their ability to solve complicated problems. This study aims to ascertain how the traditional Bugis phinisi notion might help students who struggle with complex mathematical problems. This research employed quantitative techniques, namely a non-equivalent quasi-experimental control group design. Students in class IX of SMP Negeri 1 Kahu in Bone Regency were the research subjects. They were chosen through purposive sampling. The tool employed incorporates sophisticated problem-solving. Gain score tests, homogeneity tests, hypothesis testing, and normality tests were all used in data analysis. According to the findings, the experimental class applied the phinisi notion 88% more frequently than the control class, which did so only 42% of the time. This demonstrates how the idea of a traditional phinisi typical of the Bugis might enhance students' mathematics ability to solve complex problems.

  • COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

An open-source framework for solving shop scheduling problems in manufacturing environments

  • Original Research
  • Published: 27 April 2024

Cite this article

problem solving method is

  • Carlos R. H. Márquez 1 ,
  • Vanessa Braganholo 1 &
  • Celso C. Ribeiro   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9478-2351 1  

Scheduling problems refer to the decision-making process of allocating tasks to resources, usually scarce and in high demand, to optimize different performance measures. We consider the class of shop scheduling problems arising in the context of manufacturing systems, which are often NP-hard and challenging to solve. Exact methods have limitations in finding optimal solutions in reasonable computation times, even for instances of moderate size. Therefore, in real-life production environments, finding high-quality solutions is often satisfactory, even if they are not optimal. We contribute to the solution of shop scheduling problems with the design and implementation of the SSP-3M framework, oriented by three main guidelines: versatility, extensibility, and independence of the optimization method. These characteristics reduce the gap between scheduling theory and practice in real-life environments and improve the integration of the scheduling framework with other process planning or functions such as Computer-aided Process Planning, Advanced Planning and Scheduling, Integrated Process Planning and Scheduling, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing. The problem and solution representations adopted in our framework design make it possible to handle six shop scheduling problem variants, illustrating its versatility: job shop, flow shop, permutation flow shop, generalized flow shop, flexible flow shop, and flexible job shop. SSP-3M is open-source and can be used by any interested party. Our experimental evaluation shows that it can successfully be integrated with external optimization methods. We claim that SSP-3M is a good choice for companies that need free and quick-to-develop solutions to shop scheduling problems.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from repositories at http://people.brunel.ac.uk/~mastjjb/jeb/orlib/flowshopinfo.html (Beasley, 2023 ), http://people.brunel.ac.uk/~mastjjb/jeb/orlib/jobshopinfo.html (Beasley, 2023 ), and https://people.idsia.ch/~monaldo/fjsp.html (Mastrolilli, 2023 ). Full numerical results are available at the project repository at https://github.com/cherreram2012/jssp-framework/wiki/Benchmark-results (Márquez, 2023 ).

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Acknowledgements

The work of Celso C. Ribeiro was supported by research grants CNPq 309869/2020-0 and FAPERJ E-26/200.926/2021. Vanessa Braganholo was supported by research grant CNPq 305020/2019-6.

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Carlos R. H. Márquez, Vanessa Braganholo & Celso C. Ribeiro

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The open-source, ready-to-use framework SSP-3M coded in C++ is available at the project repository at https://github.com/cherreram2012/jssp-framework (Márquez, 2023 ).

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Appendix A: Greedy randomized G &T algorithm

The greedy randomized G &T algorithm of Giffler and Thompson ( 1960 ) takes as input the set of jobs \(J=\{J_1,\ldots ,J_n\}\) , the set of machines \(M=\{M_1,\ldots ,M_m\}\) , and, for each job \(J_i\) , \(i=1,\ldots ,n\) , the number of operations \(\#op(i)\) to be processed, a list \(L^i = [L^i[1],\ldots ,L^i[\#op(i)]]\) with the sequence of machines where it has to be processed, and the processing times \(p_{i,1},\ldots ,p_{i,\#op(i)}\) of each operation. The algorithm outputs a schedule represented by an operation sequence (possibly with repetitions), with each operation defined by a job, a machine, and the time this job should start to be processed in this machine. The main steps of its pseudo-code appear in Algorithm 1, which is our formalization of the original algorithm textually described in Giffler and Thompson ( 1960 ).

Line 1 initializes the set A that stores the candidate operations, i.e., those that are ready to be scheduled. Each iteration \(i=1,\ldots ,n\) of the loop in lines 2 to 6 places the first operation of job \(J_i\) in the candidate set A in line 3 and sets its starting time to 0 in line 4. Line 5 sets to 1 the position of the first operation of job \(J_i\) ready to be scheduled. Line 7 sets to 0 the counter of scheduled operations. The while loop in lines 8 to 20 runs until all operations are scheduled. Line 9 selects from the candidate set A the operation \(o_{i',k'}\) with the shortest completion time, corresponding to the execution of job \(J_{i'}\) in machine \(M_{k'}\) . Line 10 creates the set \(B \subseteq A\) formed by the candidate operations that guarantee the construction of an active schedule. It contains all operations that use machine \(M_{k'}\) and may start before the shortest completion time determined in line 9. Line 11 randomly selects an operation \(o_{i^*,k^*}\) from B . Line 12 removes the newly selected operation from the candidate set A . Line 13 updates the counter of scheduled operations, and line 14 schedules operation \(o_{i^*,k^*}\) in this position of the operation sequence. Line 15 checks if operation \(o_{i^*,k^*}\) is not the last of job \(J_{i^*}\) . In this case, line 16 updates the position of the subsequent operation of job \(J_{i^*}\) ready to be scheduled. Line 17 adds the next operation of job \(J_i\) to the candidate set A , and its starting time is set to the completion time of operation \(o_{i^*,k^*}\) in line 18. Line 21 returns the schedule represented as an operation sequence.

figure a

G &T algorithm

We remark that other dispatching rules can be used at step 11 instead of a simple random choice, such as shortest processing time (SPT), longest processing time (LPT), start as-early-as-possible (SEP), earliest completion time (ECT), earliest due date (EDD), longest number of successors (LNS), and shortest number of successors (SNS). They all lead to active schedules and different variants of the algorithm (Pfeiffer et al., 2006 ).

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Márquez, C.R.H., Braganholo, V. & Ribeiro, C.C. An open-source framework for solving shop scheduling problems in manufacturing environments. Ann Oper Res (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10479-024-05995-6

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A hybrid particle swarm optimization algorithm for solving engineering problem

  • Jinwei Qiao 1 , 2 ,
  • Guangyuan Wang 1 , 2 ,
  • Zhi Yang 1 , 2 ,
  • Xiaochuan Luo 3 ,
  • Jun Chen 1 , 2 ,
  • Kan Li 4 &
  • Pengbo Liu 1 , 2  

Scientific Reports volume  14 , Article number:  8357 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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To overcome the disadvantages of premature convergence and easy trapping into local optimum solutions, this paper proposes an improved particle swarm optimization algorithm (named NDWPSO algorithm) based on multiple hybrid strategies. Firstly, the elite opposition-based learning method is utilized to initialize the particle position matrix. Secondly, the dynamic inertial weight parameters are given to improve the global search speed in the early iterative phase. Thirdly, a new local optimal jump-out strategy is proposed to overcome the "premature" problem. Finally, the algorithm applies the spiral shrinkage search strategy from the whale optimization algorithm (WOA) and the Differential Evolution (DE) mutation strategy in the later iteration to accelerate the convergence speed. The NDWPSO is further compared with other 8 well-known nature-inspired algorithms (3 PSO variants and 5 other intelligent algorithms) on 23 benchmark test functions and three practical engineering problems. Simulation results prove that the NDWPSO algorithm obtains better results for all 49 sets of data than the other 3 PSO variants. Compared with 5 other intelligent algorithms, the NDWPSO obtains 69.2%, 84.6%, and 84.6% of the best results for the benchmark function ( \({f}_{1}-{f}_{13}\) ) with 3 kinds of dimensional spaces (Dim = 30,50,100) and 80% of the best optimal solutions for 10 fixed-multimodal benchmark functions. Also, the best design solutions are obtained by NDWPSO for all 3 classical practical engineering problems.

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Introduction.

In the ever-changing society, new optimization problems arise every moment, and they are distributed in various fields, such as automation control 1 , statistical physics 2 , security prevention and temperature prediction 3 , artificial intelligence 4 , and telecommunication technology 5 . Faced with a constant stream of practical engineering optimization problems, traditional solution methods gradually lose their efficiency and convenience, making it more and more expensive to solve the problems. Therefore, researchers have developed many metaheuristic algorithms and successfully applied them to the solution of optimization problems. Among them, Particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm 6 is one of the most widely used swarm intelligence algorithms.

However, the basic PSO has a simple operating principle and solves problems with high efficiency and good computational performance, but it suffers from the disadvantages of easily trapping in local optima and premature convergence. To improve the overall performance of the particle swarm algorithm, an improved particle swarm optimization algorithm is proposed by the multiple hybrid strategy in this paper. The improved PSO incorporates the search ideas of other intelligent algorithms (DE, WOA), so the improved algorithm proposed in this paper is named NDWPSO. The main improvement schemes are divided into the following 4 points: Firstly, a strategy of elite opposition-based learning is introduced into the particle population position initialization. A high-quality initialization matrix of population position can improve the convergence speed of the algorithm. Secondly, a dynamic weight methodology is adopted for the acceleration coefficients by combining the iterative map and linearly transformed method. This method utilizes the chaotic nature of the mapping function, the fast convergence capability of the dynamic weighting scheme, and the time-varying property of the acceleration coefficients. Thus, the global search and local search of the algorithm are balanced and the global search speed of the population is improved. Thirdly, a determination mechanism is set up to detect whether the algorithm falls into a local optimum. When the algorithm is “premature”, the population resets 40% of the position information to overcome the local optimum. Finally, the spiral shrinking mechanism combined with the DE/best/2 position mutation is used in the later iteration, which further improves the solution accuracy.

The structure of the paper is given as follows: Sect. “ Particle swarm optimization (PSO) ” describes the principle of the particle swarm algorithm. Section “ Improved particle swarm optimization algorithm ” shows the detailed improvement strategy and a comparison experiment of inertia weight is set up for the proposed NDWPSO. Section “ Experiment and discussion ” includes the experimental and result discussion sections on the performance of the improved algorithm. Section “ Conclusions and future works ” summarizes the main findings of this study.

Literature review

This section reviews some metaheuristic algorithms and other improved PSO algorithms. A simple discussion about recently proposed research studies is given.

Metaheuristic algorithms

A series of metaheuristic algorithms have been proposed in recent years by using various innovative approaches. For instance, Lin et al. 7 proposed a novel artificial bee colony algorithm (ABCLGII) in 2018 and compared ABCLGII with other outstanding ABC variants on 52 frequently used test functions. Abed-alguni et al. 8 proposed an exploratory cuckoo search (ECS) algorithm in 2021 and carried out several experiments to investigate the performance of ECS by 14 benchmark functions. Brajević 9 presented a novel shuffle-based artificial bee colony (SB-ABC) algorithm for solving integer programming and minimax problems in 2021. The experiments are tested on 7 integer programming problems and 10 minimax problems. In 2022, Khan et al. 10 proposed a non-deterministic meta-heuristic algorithm called Non-linear Activated Beetle Antennae Search (NABAS) for a non-convex tax-aware portfolio selection problem. Brajević et al. 11 proposed a hybridization of the sine cosine algorithm (HSCA) in 2022 to solve 15 complex structural and mechanical engineering design optimization problems. Abed-Alguni et al. 12 proposed an improved Salp Swarm Algorithm (ISSA) in 2022 for single-objective continuous optimization problems. A set of 14 standard benchmark functions was used to evaluate the performance of ISSA. In 2023, Nadimi et al. 13 proposed a binary starling murmuration optimization (BSMO) to select the effective features from different important diseases. In the same year, Nadimi et al. 14 systematically reviewed the last 5 years' developments of WOA and made a critical analysis of those WOA variants. In 2024, Fatahi et al. 15 proposed an Improved Binary Quantum-based Avian Navigation Optimizer Algorithm (IBQANA) for the Feature Subset Selection problem in the medical area. Experimental evaluation on 12 medical datasets demonstrates that IBQANA outperforms 7 established algorithms. Abed-alguni et al. 16 proposed an Improved Binary DJaya Algorithm (IBJA) to solve the Feature Selection problem in 2024. The IBJA’s performance was compared against 4 ML classifiers and 10 efficient optimization algorithms.

Improved PSO algorithms

Many researchers have constantly proposed some improved PSO algorithms to solve engineering problems in different fields. For instance, Yeh 17 proposed an improved particle swarm algorithm, which combines a new self-boundary search and a bivariate update mechanism, to solve the reliability redundancy allocation problem (RRAP) problem. Solomon et al. 18 designed a collaborative multi-group particle swarm algorithm with high parallelism that was used to test the adaptability of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) in distributed computing environments. Mukhopadhyay and Banerjee 19 proposed a chaotic multi-group particle swarm optimization (CMS-PSO) to estimate the unknown parameters of an autonomous chaotic laser system. Duan et al. 20 designed an improved particle swarm algorithm with nonlinear adjustment of inertia weights to improve the coupling accuracy between laser diodes and single-mode fibers. Sun et al. 21 proposed a particle swarm optimization algorithm combined with non-Gaussian stochastic distribution for the optimal design of wind turbine blades. Based on a multiple swarm scheme, Liu et al. 22 proposed an improved particle swarm optimization algorithm to predict the temperatures of steel billets for the reheating furnace. In 2022, Gad 23 analyzed the existing 2140 papers on Swarm Intelligence between 2017 and 2019 and pointed out that the PSO algorithm still needs further research. In general, the improved methods can be classified into four categories:

Adjusting the distribution of algorithm parameters. Feng et al. 24 used a nonlinear adaptive method on inertia weights to balance local and global search and introduced asynchronously varying acceleration coefficients.

Changing the updating formula of the particle swarm position. Both papers 25 and 26 used chaotic mapping functions to update the inertia weight parameters and combined them with a dynamic weighting strategy to update the particle swarm positions. This improved approach enables the particle swarm algorithm to be equipped with fast convergence of performance.

The initialization of the swarm. Alsaidy and Abbood proposed 27 a hybrid task scheduling algorithm that replaced the random initialization of the meta-heuristic algorithm with the heuristic algorithms MCT-PSO and LJFP-PSO.

Combining with other intelligent algorithms: Liu et al. 28 introduced the differential evolution (DE) algorithm into PSO to increase the particle swarm as diversity and reduce the probability of the population falling into local optimum.

Particle swarm optimization (PSO)

The particle swarm optimization algorithm is a population intelligence algorithm for solving continuous and discrete optimization problems. It originated from the social behavior of individuals in bird and fish flocks 6 . The core of the PSO algorithm is that an individual particle identifies potential solutions by flight in a defined constraint space adjusts its exploration direction to approach the global optimal solution based on the shared information among the group, and finally solves the optimization problem. Each particle \(i\) includes two attributes: velocity vector \({V}_{i}=\left[{v}_{i1},{v}_{i2},{v}_{i3},{...,v}_{ij},{...,v}_{iD},\right]\) and position vector \({X}_{i}=[{x}_{i1},{x}_{i2},{x}_{i3},...,{x}_{ij},...,{x}_{iD}]\) . The velocity vector is used to modify the motion path of the swarm; the position vector represents a potential solution for the optimization problem. Here, \(j=\mathrm{1,2},\dots ,D\) , \(D\) represents the dimension of the constraint space. The equations for updating the velocity and position of the particle swarm are shown in Eqs. ( 1 ) and ( 2 ).

Here \({Pbest}_{i}^{k}\) represents the previous optimal position of the particle \(i\) , and \({Gbest}\) is the optimal position discovered by the whole population. \(i=\mathrm{1,2},\dots ,n\) , \(n\) denotes the size of the particle swarm. \({c}_{1}\) and \({c}_{2}\) are the acceleration constants, which are used to adjust the search step of the particle 29 . \({r}_{1}\) and \({r}_{2}\) are two random uniform values distributed in the range \([\mathrm{0,1}]\) , which are used to improve the randomness of the particle search. \(\omega\) inertia weight parameter, which is used to adjust the scale of the search range of the particle swarm 30 . The basic PSO sets the inertia weight parameter as a time-varying parameter to balance global exploration and local seeking. The updated equation of the inertia weight parameter is given as follows:

where \({\omega }_{max}\) and \({\omega }_{min}\) represent the upper and lower limits of the range of inertia weight parameter. \(k\) and \(Mk\) are the current iteration and maximum iteration.

Improved particle swarm optimization algorithm

According to the no free lunch theory 31 , it is known that no algorithm can solve every practical problem with high quality and efficiency for increasingly complex and diverse optimization problems. In this section, several improvement strategies are proposed to improve the search efficiency and overcome this shortcoming of the basic PSO algorithm.

Improvement strategies

The optimization strategies of the improved PSO algorithm are shown as follows:

The inertia weight parameter is updated by an improved chaotic variables method instead of a linear decreasing strategy. Chaotic mapping performs the whole search at a higher speed and is more resistant to falling into local optimal than the probability-dependent random search 32 . However, the population may result in that particles can easily fly out of the global optimum boundary. To ensure that the population can converge to the global optimum, an improved Iterative mapping is adopted and shown as follows:

Here \({\omega }_{k}\) is the inertia weight parameter in the iteration \(k\) , \(b\) is the control parameter in the range \([\mathrm{0,1}]\) .

The acceleration coefficients are updated by the linear transformation. \({c}_{1}\) and \({c}_{2}\) represent the influential coefficients of the particles by their own and population information, respectively. To improve the search performance of the population, \({c}_{1}\) and \({c}_{2}\) are changed from fixed values to time-varying parameter parameters, that are updated by linear transformation with the number of iterations:

where \({c}_{max}\) and \({c}_{min}\) are the maximum and minimum values of acceleration coefficients, respectively.

The initialization scheme is determined by elite opposition-based learning . The high-quality initial population will accelerate the solution speed of the algorithm and improve the accuracy of the optimal solution. Thus, the elite backward learning strategy 33 is introduced to generate the position matrix of the initial population. Suppose the elite individual of the population is \({X}=[{x}_{1},{x}_{2},{x}_{3},...,{x}_{j},...,{x}_{D}]\) , and the elite opposition-based solution of \(X\) is \({X}_{o}=[{x}_{{\text{o}}1},{x}_{{\text{o}}2},{x}_{{\text{o}}3},...,{x}_{oj},...,{x}_{oD}]\) . The formula for the elite opposition-based solution is as follows:

where \({k}_{r}\) is the random value in the range \((\mathrm{0,1})\) . \({ux}_{oij}\) and \({lx}_{oij}\) are dynamic boundaries of the elite opposition-based solution in \(j\) dimensional variables. The advantage of dynamic boundary is to reduce the exploration space of particles, which is beneficial to the convergence of the algorithm. When the elite opposition-based solution is out of bounds, the out-of-bounds processing is performed. The equation is given as follows:

After calculating the fitness function values of the elite solution and the elite opposition-based solution, respectively, \(n\) high quality solutions were selected to form a new initial population position matrix.

The position updating Eq. ( 2 ) is modified based on the strategy of dynamic weight. To improve the speed of the global search of the population, the strategy of dynamic weight from the artificial bee colony algorithm 34 is introduced to enhance the computational performance. The new position updating equation is shown as follows:

Here \(\rho\) is the random value in the range \((\mathrm{0,1})\) . \(\psi\) represents the acceleration coefficient and \({\omega }{\prime}\) is the dynamic weight coefficient. The updated equations of the above parameters are as follows:

where \(f(i)\) denotes the fitness function value of individual particle \(i\) and u is the average of the population fitness function values in the current iteration. The Eqs. ( 11 , 12 ) are introduced into the position updating equation. And they can attract the particle towards positions of the best-so-far solution in the search space.

New local optimal jump-out strategy is added for escaping from the local optimal. When the value of the fitness function for the population optimal particles does not change in M iterations, the algorithm determines that the population falls into a local optimal. The scheme in which the population jumps out of the local optimum is to reset the position information of the 40% of individuals within the population, in other words, to randomly generate the position vector in the search space. M is set to 5% of the maximum number of iterations.

New spiral update search strategy is added after the local optimal jump-out strategy. Since the whale optimization algorithm (WOA) was good at exploring the local search space 35 , the spiral update search strategy in the WOA 36 is introduced to update the position of the particles after the swarm jumps out of local optimal. The equation for the spiral update is as follows:

Here \(D=\left|{x}_{i}\left(k\right)-Gbest\right|\) denotes the distance between the particle itself and the global optimal solution so far. \(B\) is the constant that defines the shape of the logarithmic spiral. \(l\) is the random value in \([-\mathrm{1,1}]\) . \(l\) represents the distance between the newly generated particle and the global optimal position, \(l=-1\) means the closest distance, while \(l=1\) means the farthest distance, and the meaning of this parameter can be directly observed by Fig.  1 .

figure 1

Spiral updating position.

The DE/best/2 mutation strategy is introduced to form the mutant particle. 4 individuals in the population are randomly selected that differ from the current particle, then the vector difference between them is rescaled, and the difference vector is combined with the global optimal position to form the mutant particle. The equation for mutation of particle position is shown as follows:

where \({x}^{*}\) is the mutated particle, \(F\) is the scale factor of mutation, \({r}_{1}\) , \({r}_{2}\) , \({r}_{3}\) , \({r}_{4}\) are random integer values in \((0,n]\) and not equal to \(i\) , respectively. Specific particles are selected for mutation with the screening conditions as follows:

where \(Cr\) represents the probability of mutation, \(rand\left(\mathrm{0,1}\right)\) is a random number in \(\left(\mathrm{0,1}\right)\) , and \({i}_{rand}\) is a random integer value in \((0,n]\) .

The improved PSO incorporates the search ideas of other intelligent algorithms (DE, WOA), so the improved algorithm proposed in this paper is named NDWPSO. The pseudo-code for the NDWPSO algorithm is given as follows:

figure a

The main procedure of NDWPSO.

Comparing the distribution of inertia weight parameters

There are several improved PSO algorithms (such as CDWPSO 25 , and SDWPSO 26 ) that adopt the dynamic weighted particle position update strategy as their improvement strategy. The updated equations of the CDWPSO and the SDWPSO algorithm for the inertia weight parameters are given as follows:

where \({\text{A}}\) is a value in \((\mathrm{0,1}]\) . \({r}_{max}\) and \({r}_{min}\) are the upper and lower limits of the fluctuation range of the inertia weight parameters, \(k\) is the current number of algorithm iterations, and \(Mk\) denotes the maximum number of iterations.

Considering that the update method of inertia weight parameters by our proposed NDWPSO is comparable to the CDWPSO, and SDWPSO, a comparison experiment for the distribution of inertia weight parameters is set up in this section. The maximum number of iterations in the experiment is \(Mk=500\) . The distributions of CDWPSO, SDWPSO, and NDWPSO inertia weights are shown sequentially in Fig.  2 .

figure 2

The inertial weight distribution of CDWPSO, SDWPSO, and NDWPSO.

In Fig.  2 , the inertia weight value of CDWPSO is a random value in (0,1]. It may make individual particles fly out of the range in the late iteration of the algorithm. Similarly, the inertia weight value of SDWPSO is a value that tends to zero infinitely, so that the swarm no longer can fly in the search space, making the algorithm extremely easy to fall into the local optimal value. On the other hand, the distribution of the inertia weights of the NDWPSO forms a gentle slope by two curves. Thus, the swarm can faster lock the global optimum range in the early iterations and locate the global optimal more precisely in the late iterations. The reason is that the inertia weight values between two adjacent iterations are inversely proportional to each other. Besides, the time-varying part of the inertial weight within NDWPSO is designed to reduce the chaos characteristic of the parameters. The inertia weight value of NDWPSO avoids the disadvantages of the above two schemes, so its design is more reasonable.

Experiment and discussion

In this section, three experiments are set up to evaluate the performance of NDWPSO: (1) the experiment of 23 classical functions 37 between NDWPSO and three particle swarm algorithms (PSO 6 , CDWPSO 25 , SDWPSO 26 ); (2) the experiment of benchmark test functions between NDWPSO and other intelligent algorithms (Whale Optimization Algorithm (WOA) 36 , Harris Hawk Algorithm (HHO) 38 , Gray Wolf Optimization Algorithm (GWO) 39 , Archimedes Algorithm (AOA) 40 , Equilibrium Optimizer (EO) 41 and Differential Evolution (DE) 42 ); (3) the experiment for solving three real engineering problems (welded beam design 43 , pressure vessel design 44 , and three-bar truss design 38 ). All experiments are run on a computer with Intel i5-11400F GPU, 2.60 GHz, 16 GB RAM, and the code is written with MATLAB R2017b.

The benchmark test functions are 23 classical functions, which consist of indefinite unimodal (F1–F7), indefinite dimensional multimodal functions (F8–F13), and fixed-dimensional multimodal functions (F14–F23). The unimodal benchmark function is used to evaluate the global search performance of different algorithms, while the multimodal benchmark function reflects the ability of the algorithm to escape from the local optimal. The mathematical equations of the benchmark functions are shown and found as Supplementary Tables S1 – S3 online.

Experiments on benchmark functions between NDWPSO, and other PSO variants

The purpose of the experiment is to show the performance advantages of the NDWPSO algorithm. Here, the dimensions and corresponding population sizes of 13 benchmark functions (7 unimodal and 6 multimodal) are set to (30, 40), (50, 70), and (100, 130). The population size of 10 fixed multimodal functions is set to 40. Each algorithm is repeated 30 times independently, and the maximum number of iterations is 200. The performance of the algorithm is measured by the mean and the standard deviation (SD) of the results for different benchmark functions. The parameters of the NDWPSO are set as: \({[{\omega }_{min},\omega }_{max}]=[\mathrm{0.4,0.9}]\) , \(\left[{c}_{max},{c}_{min}\right]=\left[\mathrm{2.5,1.5}\right],{V}_{max}=0.1,b={e}^{-50}, M=0.05\times Mk, B=1,F=0.7, Cr=0.9.\) And, \(A={\omega }_{max}\) for CDWPSO; \({[r}_{max},{r}_{min}]=[\mathrm{4,0}]\) for SDWPSO.

Besides, the experimental data are retained to two decimal places, but some experimental data will increase the number of retained data to pursue more accuracy in comparison. The best results in each group of experiments will be displayed in bold font. The experimental data is set to 0 if the value is below 10 –323 . The experimental parameter settings in this paper are different from the references (PSO 6 , CDWPSO 25 , SDWPSO 26 , so the final experimental data differ from the ones within the reference.

As shown in Tables 1 and 2 , the NDWPSO algorithm obtains better results for all 49 sets of data than other PSO variants, which include not only 13 indefinite-dimensional benchmark functions and 10 fixed-multimodal benchmark functions. Remarkably, the SDWPSO algorithm obtains the same accuracy of calculation as NDWPSO for both unimodal functions f 1 –f 4 and multimodal functions f 9 –f 11 . The solution accuracy of NDWPSO is higher than that of other PSO variants for fixed-multimodal benchmark functions f 14 -f 23 . The conclusion can be drawn that the NDWPSO has excellent global search capability, local search capability, and the capability for escaping the local optimal.

In addition, the convergence curves of the 23 benchmark functions are shown in Figs. 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 and 19 . The NDWPSO algorithm has a faster convergence speed in the early stage of the search for processing functions f1-f6, f8-f14, f16, f17, and finds the global optimal solution with a smaller number of iterations. In the remaining benchmark function experiments, the NDWPSO algorithm shows no outstanding performance for convergence speed in the early iterations. There are two reasons of no outstanding performance in the early iterations. On one hand, the fixed-multimodal benchmark function has many disturbances and local optimal solutions in the whole search space. on the other hand, the initialization scheme based on elite opposition-based learning is still stochastic, which leads to the initial position far from the global optimal solution. The inertia weight based on chaotic mapping and the strategy of spiral updating can significantly improve the convergence speed and computational accuracy of the algorithm in the late search stage. Finally, the NDWPSO algorithm can find better solutions than other algorithms in the middle and late stages of the search.

figure 3

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f1 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 4

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f2 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 5

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f3 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 6

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f4 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 7

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f5 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 8

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f6 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 9

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f7 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 10

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f8 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 11

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f9 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 12

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f10 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 13

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f11(Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 14

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f12 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 15

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f13 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 16

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f14, f15, f16.

figure 17

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f17, f18, f19.

figure 18

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f20, f21, f22.

figure 19

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms for f23.

To evaluate the performance of different PSO algorithms, a statistical test is conducted. Due to the stochastic nature of the meta-heuristics, it is not enough to compare algorithms based on only the mean and standard deviation values. The optimization results cannot be assumed to obey the normal distribution; thus, it is necessary to judge whether the results of the algorithms differ from each other in a statistically significant way. Here, the Wilcoxon non-parametric statistical test 45 is used to obtain a parameter called p -value to verify whether two sets of solutions are different to a statistically significant extent or not. Generally, it is considered that p  ≤ 0.5 can be considered as a statistically significant superiority of the results. The p -values calculated in Wilcoxon’s rank-sum test comparing NDWPSO and other PSO algorithms are listed in Table  3 for all benchmark functions. The p -values in Table  3 additionally present the superiority of the NDWPSO because all of the p -values are much smaller than 0.5.

In general, the NDWPSO has the fastest convergence rate when finding the global optimum from Figs. 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 and 19 , and thus we can conclude that the NDWPSO is superior to the other PSO variants during the process of optimization.

Comparison experiments between NDWPSO and other intelligent algorithms

Experiments are conducted to compare NDWPSO with several other intelligent algorithms (WOA, HHO, GWO, AOA, EO and DE). The experimental object is 23 benchmark functions, and the experimental parameters of the NDWPSO algorithm are set the same as in Experiment 4.1. The maximum number of iterations of the experiment is increased to 2000 to fully demonstrate the performance of each algorithm. Each algorithm is repeated 30 times individually. The parameters of the relevant intelligent algorithms in the experiments are set as shown in Table 4 . To ensure the fairness of the algorithm comparison, all parameters are concerning the original parameters in the relevant algorithm literature. The experimental results are shown in Tables 5 , 6 , 7 and 8 and Figs. 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 and 36 .

figure 20

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f1 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 21

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f2 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 22

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f3(Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 23

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f4 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 24

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f5 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 25

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f6 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 26

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f7 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 27

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f8 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 28

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f9(Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 29

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f10 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 30

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f11 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 31

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f12 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 32

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f13 (Dim = 30,50,100).

figure 33

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f14, f15, f16.

figure 34

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f17, f18, f19.

figure 35

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f20, f21, f22.

figure 36

Evolution curve of NDWPSO and other algorithms for f23.

The experimental data of NDWPSO and other intelligent algorithms for handling 30, 50, and 100-dimensional benchmark functions ( \({f}_{1}-{f}_{13}\) ) are recorded in Tables 8 , 9 and 10 , respectively. The comparison data of fixed-multimodal benchmark tests ( \({f}_{14}-{f}_{23}\) ) are recorded in Table 11 . According to the data in Tables 5 , 6 and 7 , the NDWPSO algorithm obtains 69.2%, 84.6%, and 84.6% of the best results for the benchmark function ( \({f}_{1}-{f}_{13}\) ) in the search space of three dimensions (Dim = 30, 50, 100), respectively. In Table 8 , the NDWPSO algorithm obtains 80% of the optimal solutions in 10 fixed-multimodal benchmark functions.

The convergence curves of each algorithm are shown in Figs. 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 and 36 . The NDWPSO algorithm demonstrates two convergence behaviors when calculating the benchmark functions in 30, 50, and 100-dimensional search spaces. The first behavior is the fast convergence of NDWPSO with a small number of iterations at the beginning of the search. The reason is that the Iterative-mapping strategy and the position update scheme of dynamic weighting are used in the NDWPSO algorithm. This scheme can quickly target the region in the search space where the global optimum is located, and then precisely lock the optimal solution. When NDWPSO processes the functions \({f}_{1}-{f}_{4}\) , and \({f}_{9}-{f}_{11}\) , the behavior can be reflected in the convergence trend of their corresponding curves. The second behavior is that NDWPSO gradually improves the convergence accuracy and rapidly approaches the global optimal in the middle and late stages of the iteration. The NDWPSO algorithm fails to converge quickly in the early iterations, which is possible to prevent the swarm from falling into a local optimal. The behavior can be demonstrated by the convergence trend of the curves when NDWPSO handles the functions \({f}_{6}\) , \({f}_{12}\) , and \({f}_{13}\) , and it also shows that the NDWPSO algorithm has an excellent ability of local search.

Combining the experimental data with the convergence curves, it is concluded that the NDWPSO algorithm has a faster convergence speed, so the effectiveness and global convergence of the NDWPSO algorithm are more outstanding than other intelligent algorithms.

Experiments on classical engineering problems

Three constrained classical engineering design problems (welded beam design, pressure vessel design 43 , and three-bar truss design 38 ) are used to evaluate the NDWPSO algorithm. The experiments are the NDWPSO algorithm and 5 other intelligent algorithms (WOA 36 , HHO, GWO, AOA, EO 41 ). Each algorithm is provided with the maximum number of iterations and population size ( \({\text{Mk}}=500,\mathrm{ n}=40\) ), and then repeats 30 times, independently. The parameters of the algorithms are set the same as in Table 4 . The experimental results of three engineering design problems are recorded in Tables 9 , 10 and 11 in turn. The result data is the average value of the solved data.

Welded beam design

The target of the welded beam design problem is to find the optimal manufacturing cost for the welded beam with the constraints, as shown in Fig.  37 . The constraints are the thickness of the weld seam ( \({\text{h}}\) ), the length of the clamped bar ( \({\text{l}}\) ), the height of the bar ( \({\text{t}}\) ) and the thickness of the bar ( \({\text{b}}\) ). The mathematical formulation of the optimization problem is given as follows:

figure 37

Welded beam design.

In Table 9 , the NDWPSO, GWO, and EO algorithms obtain the best optimal cost. Besides, the standard deviation (SD) of t NDWPSO is the lowest, which means it has very good results in solving the welded beam design problem.

Pressure vessel design

Kannan and Kramer 43 proposed the pressure vessel design problem as shown in Fig.  38 to minimize the total cost, including the cost of material, forming, and welding. There are four design optimized objects: the thickness of the shell \({T}_{s}\) ; the thickness of the head \({T}_{h}\) ; the inner radius \({\text{R}}\) ; the length of the cylindrical section without considering the head \({\text{L}}\) . The problem includes the objective function and constraints as follows:

figure 38

Pressure vessel design.

The results in Table 10 show that the NDWPSO algorithm obtains the lowest optimal cost with the same constraints and has the lowest standard deviation compared with other algorithms, which again proves the good performance of NDWPSO in terms of solution accuracy.

Three-bar truss design

This structural design problem 44 is one of the most widely-used case studies as shown in Fig.  39 . There are two main design parameters: the area of the bar1 and 3 ( \({A}_{1}={A}_{3}\) ) and area of bar 2 ( \({A}_{2}\) ). The objective is to minimize the weight of the truss. This problem is subject to several constraints as well: stress, deflection, and buckling constraints. The problem is formulated as follows:

figure 39

Three-bar truss design.

From Table 11 , NDWPSO obtains the best design solution in this engineering problem and has the smallest standard deviation of the result data. In summary, the NDWPSO can reveal very competitive results compared to other intelligent algorithms.

Conclusions and future works

An improved algorithm named NDWPSO is proposed to enhance the solving speed and improve the computational accuracy at the same time. The improved NDWPSO algorithm incorporates the search ideas of other intelligent algorithms (DE, WOA). Besides, we also proposed some new hybrid strategies to adjust the distribution of algorithm parameters (such as the inertia weight parameter, the acceleration coefficients, the initialization scheme, the position updating equation, and so on).

23 classical benchmark functions: indefinite unimodal (f1-f7), indefinite multimodal (f8-f13), and fixed-dimensional multimodal(f14-f23) are applied to evaluate the effective line and feasibility of the NDWPSO algorithm. Firstly, NDWPSO is compared with PSO, CDWPSO, and SDWPSO. The simulation results can prove the exploitative, exploratory, and local optima avoidance of NDWPSO. Secondly, the NDWPSO algorithm is compared with 5 other intelligent algorithms (WOA, HHO, GWO, AOA, EO). The NDWPSO algorithm also has better performance than other intelligent algorithms. Finally, 3 classical engineering problems are applied to prove that the NDWPSO algorithm shows superior results compared to other algorithms for the constrained engineering optimization problems.

Although the proposed NDWPSO is superior in many computation aspects, there are still some limitations and further improvements are needed. The NDWPSO performs a limit initialize on each particle by the strategy of “elite opposition-based learning”, it takes more computation time before speed update. Besides, the” local optimal jump-out” strategy also brings some random process. How to reduce the random process and how to improve the limit initialize efficiency are the issues that need to be further discussed. In addition, in future work, researchers will try to apply the NDWPSO algorithm to wider fields to solve more complex and diverse optimization problems.

Data availability

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Key R&D plan of Shandong Province, China (2021CXGC010207, 2023CXGC01020); First batch of talent research projects of Qilu University of Technology in 2023 (2023RCKY116); Introduction of urgently needed talent projects in Key Supported Regions of Shandong Province; Key Projects of Natural Science Foundation of Shandong Province (ZR2020ME116); the Innovation Ability Improvement Project for Technology-based Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises of Shandong Province (2022TSGC2051, 2023TSGC0024, 2023TSGC0931); National Key R&D Program of China (2019YFB1705002), LiaoNing Revitalization Talents Program (XLYC2002041) and Young Innovative Talents Introduction & Cultivation Program for Colleges and Universities of Shandong Province (Granted by Department of Education of Shandong Province, Sub-Title: Innovative Research Team of High Performance Integrated Device).

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Jinwei Qiao, Guangyuan Wang, Zhi Yang, Jun Chen & Pengbo Liu

Shandong Institute of Mechanical Design and Research, Jinan, 250353, China

School of Information Science and Engineering, Northeastern University, Shenyang, 110819, China

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Fushun Supervision Inspection Institute for Special Equipment, Fushun, 113000, China

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Z.Y., J.Q., and G.W. wrote the main manuscript text and prepared all figures and tables. J.C., P.L., K.L., and X.L. were responsible for the data curation and software. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Qiao, J., Wang, G., Yang, Z. et al. A hybrid particle swarm optimization algorithm for solving engineering problem. Sci Rep 14 , 8357 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-59034-2

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