Problem-solving Strategies

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Different problems lend themselves to different strategies for solving them.  Most problems dealt with in the website are unique and non-repeatable (different people, place, circumstances, etc.) human problems. Most of these problems either 1) do not have an obvious solution (solution to solve the problem are not known), 2)  have solutions but they lack acceptably by the people who own the problem, or 3) have solutions that are not easily implementable.  So, it helps to have different tools in the problem-solver's tool kit.  Listed here are ten problem-strategies that can be use individually or collectively.

  1. Modeling or representation of the problem.   Visualizing the problem may spark ideas as to the cause or solutions to the problem.  Representation or visualization of the problems could be rendered by a drawing, visual aids, or acting out the sequence of events leading to the manifestation of the problem.  

  2. Lateral thinking.   A method developed by Edward Debono for using associative links between random objects and the problem at hand for sparking fresh perspectives that trigger new possible lines of solutions.  For example, what are the possible connections between a frog and the problem?

  3. Common denominator. Given all the symptoms of the problem, what could be the common cause that could account for all the manifestation of the problem? 

  4. Formulas.  What solutions have worked for similar problems in the past.  Find a similar problem and try to match the solution to the current problem.

  5. Option Tree.  Diagram all  aspect of the problem  by decomposing the problem into is various attributes, manifestation, symptoms, or components/factors.    Keep dividing the problem into its component parts until they cannot be meaningfully subdivided any further.  Solving each of the decision branches at the highest level (in the hierarchy or tree) possible with potential solutions. 

  6. Matrices.  They are used with option trees.   The vertical axis of the matrix is the lowest branches of the option tree.  The horizontal axis of the matrix are the associated solutions for each option tree branch.  the intent of the matrix is to find out how well the same solutions impact or affect other aspects of the problem.  The numbers placed in in cell indicate how well a solution solves each aspect (branch) of the problem.   A nine indicates that the solution would completely solve that aspect of the problem.  A three indicates that the solution would have a significant impact on reducing that aspect of the problem.  A one indicates that the solution has some positive impact on the problem.  A blank means that the solution would have no effect.  Sum the scores down each vertical column (each column is solution to one or more branches of the problem).   Higher the score, the more effective each solution in solving the overall problem.   The problem-solver could quickly observe the relative effectiveness of each solution and could begin to bundle the individual solutions into a total solution. 

  7. Trial and Error or Process of Elimination.   Here the problem-solver is aware of multiple possibilities and doesn't know for sure which one will solve the problem.   So, the problem-solver starts with the one with the highest likelihood and implements it.  If it works, the problem is solved.  If not solved, then the problem-solver tries the next most likely solution, and so on until the problem is finally solved. 

  8. Pattern Finding.   A repetitive problem often leaves clues in the pattern of its occurrence.  Some overarching condition is influencing or triggering the on-set of the problem.  By identifying the common pattern, the cause of the problem is found and can be eliminated. 

  9. Simplifying the problem.  Find simple instances of the problem and attempt to solve it.  Try the solution on the more complex problem and observe the outcome.    If the problem is changed but not solved, then develop a new simplification of the newly observed problem and repeat the process.

  10. Root Cause Analysis.   Repeated ask the question of all symptoms, "What could be causing this symptom?"  Then repeatedly ask the follow-on questions, "What is causing this cause?"  Ask these questions until they cannot be answered any further.   then, go back up the question and answer chain until you come to an causal answer that the problem-solver can control (implement).   By eliminating this set of root causes, the problem can be solved.