The Problem-Solving Process (2023)

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Recap

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

(Video) The Problem Solving Process with Zipline

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies.

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Recap

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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The Problem-Solving Process (1)

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I improve my problem-solving skills?

    You can become a better problem solving by:

    • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
    • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
    • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
    • Asking for help when needed
    • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
    • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow
  • How can I solve problems in my relationship?

    It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

    Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

  • What if there is no solution to my problem?

    If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

(Video) Problem Solving Process

2 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.The Psychology of Problem Solving.Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

  2. Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving.Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

(Video) How to Solve a Problem in Four Steps: The IDEA Model

The Problem-Solving Process (2)

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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(Video) Clarifying the '5 Whys' Problem-Solving Method

FAQs

What is the problem-solving process? ›

Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.

How do you answer problem-solving? ›

The following steps will help you develop a clear and impressive answer to any problem solving question.
  1. Define the Problem. Explain why the situation was problematic. ...
  2. Analyze the Problem. ...
  3. Generate Possible Solutions. ...
  4. Select the Best Solution(s) and Action to Take. ...
  5. Lesson learned.

Why problem-solving process is important? ›

Solving problems means making choices. Typically, effective problem-solving skills result in “happier, more confident, and more independent” individuals. When children tackle problems on their own, or in a group, they become resilient. They learn to look at challenges from a fresh perspective.

How do you say you have good problem-solving skills on a resume? ›

Example 1: Demonstrate problem-solving skills in the experience section. Conducted extensive research on a daily basis to identify potential gaps and issues that would affect the market position of our clients. Used data to identify how my team can make better decisions and improve its analysis strategy.

What is a good example of the problem solving process? ›

Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace

Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc. Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.

What is a word for problem solving? ›

Problem-solving Synonyms - WordHippo Thesaurus.
...
What is another word for problem-solving?
analyticanalytical
diagnosticlogical
methodicalscientific
systematicinvestigative
pinpointingrational
127 more rows

What is the answer to a problem? ›

A solution to a problem is a way of dealing with it so that the difficulty is removed. ...

What makes you a great problem solver? ›

Excellent problem solvers build networks and know how to collaborate with other people and teams. They are skilled in bringing people together and sharing knowledge and information. A key skill for great problem solvers is that they are trusted by others.

What is the most important part of the problem solving process? ›

Understanding your process is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of systematic problem solving.

How can I improve my problem-solving skills at work? ›

5 ways to improve your problem solving skills
  1. Identity and understand the right problem. ...
  2. Research the systems and practices behind the problem. ...
  3. Visualise the problem. ...
  4. Brainstorm creative solutions. ...
  5. Identify the best answer.

What do you call someone with good problem-solving skills? ›

Solutionist Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster.

What is the most effective problem solving? ›

One of the most effective ways to solve any problem is a brainstorming session. The gist of it is to generate as many ideas as you can and in the process, come up with a way to remove a problem.

What are the 2 main tips for problem solving? ›

Top Tips for Effective Problem-Solving
  • Keep calm – don't panic! ...
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions. ...
  • Write it down. ...
  • Break it down. ...
  • Try different approaches. ...
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques. ...
  • Consider different perspectives. ...
  • Talk about it.
15 Jul 2014

Which is the first step of problem-solving? ›

Step 1: Define the Problem.

Does every problem have an answer? ›

There is always a solution

You may not believe it, but every problem can be solved. Of course the logical, mathematical, or cognitive problems will always have a correct answer, but what about those non-logical, non-linear problems?

How do you solve problems quickly? ›

Two problem-solving techniques you need to know
  1. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Don't evaluate, critique, or prioritize them — just write them all down. ...
  2. Turn all your problems into questions. ...
  3. Keep your language positive and affirmative.
18 Oct 2019

How can I improve my problem solving and critical thinking skills? ›

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
  1. Know exactly what you want. ...
  2. Deal with your biases. ...
  3. Consider the consequences of your options. ...
  4. Do your research. ...
  5. Accept the fact that you're not always right. ...
  6. Break it down. ...
  7. Don't overcomplicate things. ...
  8. 2022 L&D Report.
24 Jan 2022

Can Problem Solving be learned? ›

Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning.

› skills-and-tools › problem-s... ›

Interested in improving your problem solving skills and understanding why this soft skill is so important for your career advancement? We cover it all.
Problem solving is an essential skill in the workplace and personal situations. Learn how to solve problems more effectively with our step-by-step guide.
Problem-solving skills help you to resolve obstacles in a situation. Problem-solving is made up of several skills that can improve how well you solve problems o...

What are the 4 steps of problem solving process? ›

The 4-step Problem Solving Method
  • Develop a Problem Statement.
  • Determine Root Causes.
  • Rank Root Causes in Order of Importance.
  • Create an Action Plan.
7 Jun 2017

What are the 4 types of problem solving? ›

After a chapter-long digression on the history of problem solving approaches, Smalley takes a deep dive into each of the four types of problem solving.
...
Book Review: Four Types of Problems
  • Type 1: Troubleshooting. ...
  • Type 2: Gap from standard. ...
  • Type 3: Target condition. ...
  • Type 4: Open-ended.
17 Dec 2018

How can I improve my problem-solving skills at work? ›

5 ways to improve your problem solving skills
  1. Identity and understand the right problem. ...
  2. Research the systems and practices behind the problem. ...
  3. Visualise the problem. ...
  4. Brainstorm creative solutions. ...
  5. Identify the best answer.

What are the 3 stages of problem-solving? ›

A few months ago, I produced a video describing this the three stages of the problem-solving cycle: Understand, Strategize, and Implement. That is, we must first understand the problem, then we think of strategies that might help solve the problem, and finally we implement those strategies and see where they lead us.

What are the 3 most common barriers to problem solving? ›

Some barriers do not prevent us from finding a solution, but do prevent us from finding the most efficient solution. Four of the most common processes and factors are mental set, functional fixedness, unnecessary constraints and irrelevant information.

What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver? ›

We've found that fearless problem solvers tend to exhibit five key characteristics: They are undaunted, optimistic, driven, smart, and empathetic.
...
We wouldn't have it any other way.
  • Undaunted. There is no problem that won't be tackled. ...
  • Optimistic. ...
  • Driven. ...
  • Smart. ...
  • Empathetic.
9 Dec 2015

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