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The Basics of Structured Problem-Solving Methodologies: DMAIC & 8D

Topics: Minitab Engage

When it comes to solving a problem, organizations want to get to the root cause of the problem, as quickly as possible. They also want to ensure that they find the most effective solution to that problem, make sure the solution is implemented fully, and is sustained into the future so that the problem no longer occurs. The best way to do this is by implementing structured problem-solving. In this blog post, we’ll briefly cover structured problem-solving and the best improvement methodologies to achieve operational excellence. Before we dive into ways Minitab can help, let’s first cover the basics of problem-solving.


Structured problem-solving is a disciplined approach that breaks down the problem-solving process into discrete steps with clear objectives. This method enables you to tackle complex problems, while ensuring you’re resolving the right ones. It also ensures that you fully understand those problems, you've considered the reasonable solutions, and are effectively implementing and sustaining them.


A structured problem-solving methodology is a technique that consists of a series of phases that a project must pass through before it gets completed. The goal of a methodology is to highlight the intention behind solving a particular problem and offers a strategic way to resolve it. WHAT ARE THE BEST PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODOLOGIES?

That depends on the problem you’re trying to solve for your improvement initiative. The structure and discipline of completing all the steps in each methodology is more important than the specific methodology chosen. To help you easily visualize these methodologies, we’ve created the Periodic Table of Problem-Solving Methodologies. Now let’s cover two important methodologies for successful process improvement and problem prevention: DMAIC and 8D .

DMAIC Methodology

8D is known as the Eight Disciplines of problem-solving. It consists of eight steps to solve difficult, recurring, or critical problems. The methodology consists of problem-solving tools to help you identify, correct, and eliminate the source of problems within your organization. If the problem you’re trying to solve is complex and needs to be resolved quickly, 8D might be the right methodology to implement for your organization. Each methodology could be supported with a project template, where its roadmap corresponds to the set of phases in that methodology. It is a best practice to complete each step of a given methodology, before moving on to the next one.


Minitab Engage TM was built to help organizations drive innovation and improvement initiatives. What makes our solution unique is that it combines structured problem-solving methodologies with tools and dashboards to help you plan, execute, and measure your innovation initiatives! There are many problem-solving methodologies and tools to help you get started. We have the ultimate end-to-end improvement solution to help you reach innovation success.

Ready to explore structured problem-solving?

Download our free eBook to discover the top methodologies and tools to help you accelerate your innovation programs.

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McKinsey Problem Solving: Six steps to solve any problem and tell a persuasive story

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The McKinsey problem solving process is a series of mindset shifts and structured approaches to thinking about and solving challenging problems. It is a useful approach for anyone working in the knowledge and information economy and needs to communicate ideas to other people.

Over the past several years of creating StrategyU, advising an undergraduates consulting group and running workshops for clients, I have found over and over again that the principles taught on this site and in this guide are a powerful way to improve the type of work and communication you do in a business setting.

When I first set out to teach these skills to the undergraduate consulting group at my alma mater, I was still working at BCG. I was spending my day building compelling presentations, yet was at a loss for how to teach these principles to the students I would talk with at night.

Through many rounds of iteration, I was able to land on a structured process and way of framing some of these principles such that people could immediately apply them to their work.

While the “official” McKinsey problem solving process is seven steps, I have outline my own spin on things – from experience at McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. Here are six steps that will help you solve problems like a McKinsey Consultant:

Step #1: School is over, stop worrying about “what” to make and worry about the process, or the “how”

When I reflect back on my first role at McKinsey, I realize that my biggest challenge was unlearning everything I had learned over the previous 23 years. Throughout school you are asked to do specific things. For example, you are asked to write a 5 page paper on Benjamin Franklin — double spaced, 12 font and answering two or three specific questions.

In school, to be successful you follow these rules as close as you can. However, in consulting there are no rules on the “what.” Typically the problem you are asked to solve is ambiguous and complex — exactly why they hire you. In consulting, you are taught the rules around the “how” and have to then fill in the what.

The “how” can be taught and this entire site is founded on that belief. Here are some principles to get started:

Step #2: Thinking like a consultant requires a mindset shift

There are two pre-requisites to thinking like a consultant. Without these two traits you will struggle:

  • A healthy obsession looking for a “better way” to do things
  • Being open minded to shifting ideas and other approaches

In business school, I was sitting in one class when I noticed that all my classmates were doing the same thing — everyone was coming up with reasons why something should should not be done.

As I’ve spent more time working, I’ve realized this is a common phenomenon. The more you learn, the easier it becomes to come up with reasons to support the current state of affairs — likely driven by the status quo bias — an emotional state that favors not changing things. Even the best consultants will experience this emotion, but they are good at identifying it and pushing forward.

Key point : Creating an effective and persuasive consulting like presentation requires a comfort with uncertainty combined with a slightly delusional belief that you can figure anything out.

Step #3: Define the problem and make sure you are not solving a symptom

Before doing the work, time should be spent on defining the actual problem. Too often, people are solutions focused when they think about fixing something. Let’s say a company is struggling with profitability. Someone might define the problem as “we do not have enough growth.” This is jumping ahead to solutions — the goal may be to drive more growth, but this is not the actual issue. It is a symptom of a deeper problem.

Consider the following information:

  • Costs have remained relatively constant and are actually below industry average so revenue must be the issue
  • Revenue has been increasing, but at a slowing rate
  • This company sells widgets and have had no slowdown on the number of units it has sold over the last five years
  • However, the price per widget is actually below where it was five years ago
  • There have been new entrants in the market in the last three years that have been backed by Venture Capital money and are aggressively pricing their products below costs

In a real-life project there will definitely be much more information and a team may take a full week coming up with a problem statement . Given the information above, we may come up with the following problem statement:

Problem Statement : The company is struggling to increase profitability due to decreasing prices driven by new entrants in the market. The company does not have a clear strategy to respond to the price pressure from competitors and lacks an overall product strategy to compete in this market.

Step 4: Dive in, make hypotheses and try to figure out how to “solve” the problem

Now the fun starts!

There are generally two approaches to thinking about information in a structured way and going back and forth between the two modes is what the consulting process is founded on.

First is top-down . This is what you should start with, especially for a newer “consultant.” This involves taking the problem statement and structuring an approach. This means developing multiple hypotheses — key questions you can either prove or disprove.

Given our problem statement, you may develop the following three hypotheses:

  • Company X has room to improve its pricing strategy to increase profitability
  • Company X can explore new market opportunities unlocked by new entrants
  • Company X can explore new business models or operating models due to advances in technology

As you can see, these three statements identify different areas you can research and either prove or disprove. In a consulting team, you may have a “workstream leader” for each statement.

Once you establish the structure you you may shift to the second type of analysis: a bottom-up approach . This involves doing deep research around your problem statement, testing your hypotheses, running different analysis and continuing to ask more questions. As you do the analysis, you will begin to see different patterns that may unlock new questions, change your thinking or even confirm your existing hypotheses. You may need to tweak your hypotheses and structure as you learn new information.

A project vacillates many times between these two approaches. Here is a hypothetical timeline of a project:

Strategy consulting process

Step 5: Make a slides like a consultant

The next step is taking the structure and research and turning it into a slide. When people see slides from McKinsey and BCG, they see something that is compelling and unique, but don’t really understand all the work that goes into those slides. Both companies have a healthy obsession (maybe not to some people!) with how things look, how things are structured and how they are presented.

They also don’t understand how much work is spent on telling a compelling “story.” The biggest mistake people make in the business world is mistaking showing a lot of information versus telling a compelling story. This is an easy mistake to make — especially if you are the one that did hours of analysis. It may seem important, but when it comes down to making a slide and a presentation, you end up deleting more information rather than adding. You really need to remember the following:

Data matters, but stories change hearts and minds

Here are four quick ways to improve your presentations:

Tip #1 — Format, format, format

Both McKinsey and BCG had style templates that were obsessively followed. Some key rules I like to follow:

  • Make sure all text within your slide body is the same font size (harder than you would think)
  • Do not go outside of the margins into the white space on the side
  • All titles throughout the presentation should be 2 lines or less and stay the same font size
  • Each slide should typically only make one strong point

Tip #2 — Titles are the takeaway

The title of the slide should be the key insight or takeaway and the slide area should prove the point. The below slide is an oversimplification of this:

Example of a single slide

Even in consulting, I found that people struggled with simplifying a message to one key theme per slide. If something is going to be presented live, the simpler the better. In reality, you are often giving someone presentations that they will read in depth and more information may make sense.

To go deeper, check out these 20 presentation and powerpoint tips .

Tip #3 — Have “MECE” Ideas for max persuasion

“MECE” means mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive — meaning all points listed cover the entire range of ideas while also being unique and differentiated from each other.

An extreme example would be this:

  • Slide title: There are seven continents
  • Slide content: The seven continents are North America, South America, Europe, Africa Asia, Antarctica, Australia

The list of continents provides seven distinct points that when taken together are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive . The MECE principle is not perfect — it is more of an ideal to push your logic in the right direction. Use it to continually improve and refine your story.

Applying this to a profitability problem at the highest level would look like this:

Goal: Increase profitability

2nd level: We can increase revenue or decrease costs

3rd level: We can increase revenue by selling more or increasing prices

Each level is MECE. It is almost impossible to argue against any of this (unless you are willing to commit accounting fraud!).

Tip #4 — Leveraging the Pyramid Principle

The pyramid principle is an approach popularized by Barbara Minto and essential to the structured problem solving approach I learned at McKinsey. Learning this approach has changed the way I look at any presentation since.

Here is a rough outline of how you can think about the pyramid principle as a way to structure a presentation:

pyramid principle structure

As you build a presentation, you may have three sections for each hypothesis. As you think about the overall story, the three hypothesis (and the supporting evidence) will build on each other as a “story” to answer the defined problem. There are two ways to think about doing this — using inductive or deductive reasoning:

deductive versus inductive reasoning in powerpoint arguments

If we go back to our profitability example from above, you would say that increasing profitability was the core issue we developed. Lets assume that through research we found that our three hypotheses were true. Given this, you may start to build a high level presentation around the following three points:

example of hypotheses confirmed as part of consulting problem solving

These three ideas not only are distinct but they also build on each other. Combined, they tell a story of what the company should do and how they should react. Each of these three “points” may be a separate section in the presentation followed by several pages of detailed analysis. There may also be a shorter executive summary version of 5–10 pages that gives the high level story without as much data and analysis.

Step 6: The only way to improve is to get feedback and continue to practice

Ultimately, this process is not something you will master overnight. I’ve been consulting, either working for a firm or on my own for more than 10 years and am still looking for ways to make better presentations, become more persuasive and get feedback on individual slides.

The process never ends.

The best way to improve fast is to be working on a great team . Look for people around you that do this well and ask them for feedback. The more feedback, the more iterations and more presentations you make, the better you will become. Good luck!

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll get a kick out of all the free lessons I’ve shared that go a bit deeper. Check them out here .

Do you have a toolkit for business problem solving? I created Think Like a Strategy Consultant as an online course to make the tools of strategy consultants accessible to driven professionals, executives, and consultants. This course teaches you how to synthesize information into compelling insights, structure your information in ways that help you solve problems, and develop presentations that resonate at the C-Level. Click here to learn more or if you are interested in getting started now, enroll in the self-paced version ($497) or hands-on coaching version ($997). Both versions include lifetime access and all future updates.

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Six Steps to Structured Problem Solving

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What happens when a big problem pops up?  For most of us, our first reaction is, “Quick!  Let’s fix it and make this problem go away.” However, if we rush to fix the problem too quickly, we may end up implementing a “solution” or “quick fix” that doesn’t solve anything because we didn’t take the time to truly identify and understand the root cause of the problem itself.

One way we can keep ourselves from falling into this trap is by having a formal structured problem-solving (SPS) process in place.  Then, when problems do occur, we know exactly what steps to take to help ensure that our solution really will “make it go away.” While there are different variations to an SPS ( 8D , 5Why , DMAIC , etc.), they all follow the same basic steps.

1. Define the Problem

It is important to write a problem statement that is easily understood and is stated purely in terms of measurable or observable symptoms. At this point, there should be no mention of suspected causes or possible solutions. We just need to know what the problem is.  A good problem statement might look something like this: “High (greater than 8 ppb) trace metals in one of our hardmask products are causing unacceptably high defect counts with our most important customer.  We will lose this business if we cannot correct the problem by the end of the year.”

2. Describe the Current Situation

We do this by examining data that is readily available. In our hardmask example, we would collect batch data to identify the specific batches with the elevated defects and then study this data to see what they have in common.  Were they all made in a particular manufacturing location or on the same equipment set? Did they all use the same lots of the raw materials? By identifying where the problem is occurring, and where it is not occurring, we begin to zero in on what is causing our problem.

3. Identify Possible Causes

To identify possible causes, we should gather the team and brainstorm all potential causes that come to mind.  Once we’ve exhausted all possibilities, we can then start systematically ruling items out.  This is the most time-consuming, but one of the most vital steps in the process as we take each potential cause and work to rule it out. We must keep working until we have eliminated everything but the root cause.

4. Verify Root Cause

When we think that we have identified the true root cause, we need verify that it is the root cause by testing out our theory.  For our hardmask example, let’s say that we believe that the root cause is due to a bad batch of one of the raw materials. We can test our theory by making a new batch with everything the same except for a new batch of the suspect ingredient.  If the defect levels are back to normal, that’s a good indication that we have confirmed our root cause. 

5. Implement Solution

After we’ve identified the root cause, we implement a solution to remedy the issue, standardizing our solution and making the change permanent. This could mean updating specifications, writing new training materials, updating training packages or updating the FMEA. In the case of our hardmask example, we would need to create specifications and appropriate testing methods that will alert us that a batch of raw material is bad before we use it.  

6. Monitor for Success

After the solution has been implemented, test data can then be created to find which solutions offer the best improvements. In the case of our hardmask example, we would run test batches to make sure that we have the correct solution in place.  Measurements should also be taken on a scheduled basis to continue to confirm that the solution is still valid, making updates if and when needed.

  To stay up to date on industry hot topics, subscribe to the Brewer Science blog . You can also stay up to date on Brewer Science industry events, topics and news by following us on Twitter , YouTube , LinkedIn , or Facebook .

About Author

Karen Brown

Karen Brown, Director of Organizational Development & Relationships, has been employed with Brewer Science for over a decade. Her background in employee development and training has made her an expert for the Brewer Science team in crafting successful, problem-solving employees

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Mckinsey approach to problem solving, a guide to the 7-step mckinsey problem solving process.

McKinsey and Company is recognized for its rigorous approach to problem solving. They train their consultants on their seven-step process that anyone can learn.

This resource guides you through that process, largely informed by the McKinsey Staff Paper 66. It also includes a PowerPoint Toolkit with slide templates of each step of the process that you can download and customize for your own use.

In this guide you'll learn:

Overview of the mckinsey approach to problem solving, problem solving process, problem definition.

  • Problem Statement

Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet

Structure the problem, hypothesis trees, issue trees, analyses and workplan, synthesize findings, craft recommendations, communicate, distinctiveness practices, harness the power of collaboration, sources and additional reading, request the mckinsey approach to problem solving.

Problem solving — finding the optimal solution to a given business opportunity or challenge — is the very heart of how consultants create client impact, and considered the most important skill for success at McKinsey.

The characteristic “McKinsey method” of problem solving is a structured, inductive approach that can be used to solve any problem. Using this standardized process saves us from reinventing the problem-solving wheel, and allows for greater focus on distinctiveness in the solution. Every new McKinsey associate must learn this method on his or her first day with the firm.

There are four fundamental disciplines of the McKinsey method:

1. Problem definition

A thorough understanding and crisp definition of the problem.

2. The problem-solving process

Structuring the problem, prioritizing the issues, planning analyses, conducting analyses, synthesizing findings, and developing recommendations.

3. Distinctiveness practices

Constructing alternative perspectives; identifying relationships; distilling the essence of an issue, analysis, or recommendation; and staying ahead of others in the problem-solving process.

4. Collaboratio n

Actively seeking out client, customer, and supplier perspectives, as well as internal and external expert insight and knowledge.

Once the problem has been defined, the problem-solving process proceeds with a series of steps:

  • Structure the problem
  • Prioritize the issues
  • Plan analyses
  • Conduct analyses
  • Synthesize findings
  • Develop recommendations

Not all problems require strict adherence to the process. Some steps may be truncated, such as when specific knowledge or analogies from other industries make it possible to construct hypotheses and associated workplans earlier than their formal place in the process. Nonetheless, it remains important to be capable of executing every step in the basic process.

When confronted with a new and complex problem, this process establishes a path to defining and disaggregating the problem in a way that will allow the team to move to a solution. The process also ensures nothing is missed and concentrates efforts on the highest-impact areas. Adhering to the process gives the client clear steps to follow, building confidence, credibility, and long-term capability.

The most important step in your entire project is to first carefully define the problem. The problem definition will serve the guide all of the team’s work, so it is critical to ensure that all key stakeholders agree that it is the right problem to be solving.

The problem definition will serve the guide all of the team’s work, so it is critical to ensure that all key stakeholders agree that it is the right problem to be solving.

There are often dozens of issues that a team could focus on, and it is often not obvious how to define the problem.

In any real-life situation, there are many possible problem statements. Your choice of problem statement will serve to constrain the range of possible solutions.

Constraints can be a good thing (e.g., limit solutions to actions within the available budget.) And constraints can be a bad thing (e.g., eliminating the possibility of creative ideas.) So choose wisely.

The problem statement may ignore many issues to focus on the priority that should be addressed. The problem statement should be phrased as a question, such that the answer will be the solution.

Example scenario – A family on Friday evening :

A mother, a father, and their two teenage children have all arrived home on a Friday at 6 p.m. The family has not prepared dinner for Friday evening. The daughter has lacrosse practice on Saturday and an essay to write for English class due on Monday. The son has theatre rehearsal on both Saturday and Sunday and will need one parent to drive him to the high school both days, though he can get a ride home with a friend.

The family dog, a poodle, must be taken to the groomer on Saturday morning. The mother will need to spend time this weekend working on assignments for her finance class she is taking as part of her Executive MBA. The father plans to go on a 100-mile bike ride, which he can do either Saturday or Sunday. The family has two cars, but one is at the body shop. They are trying to save money to pay for an addition to their house.

Potential problem definitions – A family on Friday evening :

The problem definition should not be vague, without clear measures of success. Rather, it should be a SMART definition:

  • Action-oriented

Given one set of facts, it is possible to come up with many possible problem statements. The choice of problem statement constrains the range of possible solutions.

Before starting to solve the problem, the family first needs to agree on what problem they want to solve.

  • What should the family do for dinner on Friday night?
  • How can the family schedule their activities this weekend to accomplish everything planned given that they only have one vehicle available?
  • How can the family increase income or reduce expenses to allow them to save $75K over the next 12 months to pay for the planned addition to their house?

Problem Statement Worksheet

This is a helpful tool to use to clearly define the problem. There are often dozens of issues that a team could focus on, and it is often not obvious how to define the problem. In any real-life situation, there are many possible problem statements. Your choice of problem statement will serve to constrain the range of possible solutions.

  • Use a question . The problem statement should be phrased as a question, such that the answer will be the solution. Make the question SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant, and time-bound. Example: “How can XYZ Bank close the $100 million profitability gap in two years?”
  • Context . What are the internal and external situations and complications facing the client, such as industry trends, relative position within the industry, capability gaps, financial flexibility, and so on?
  • Success criteria . Understand how the client and the team define success and failure. In addition to any quantitative measures identified in the basic question, identify other important quantitative or qualitative measures of success, including timing of impact, visibility of improvement, client capability building required, necessary mindset shifts, and so on.
  • Scope and constraints . Scope most commonly covers the markets or segments of interest, whereas constraints govern restrictions on the nature of solutions within those markets or segments.
  • Stakeholders . Explore who really makes the decisions — who decides, who can help, and who can block.
  • Key sources of insight . What best-practice expertise, knowledge, and engagement approaches already exist? What knowledge from the client, suppliers, and customers needs to be accessed? Be as specific as possible: who, what, when, how, and why.

In completing the Problem Statement Worksheet, you are prompted to define the key stakeholders.

As you become involved in the problem-solving process, you should expand the question of key stakeholders to include what the team wants from them and what they want from the team, their values and motivations (helpful and unhelpful), and the communications mechanisms that will be most effective for each of them.

Using the Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet allows you to comprehensively identify:

  • Stakeholders
  • What you need from them
  • Where they are
  • What they need from you

The two most helpful techniques for rigorously structuring any problem are hypothesis trees and issue trees. Each of these techniques disaggregates the primary question into a cascade of issues or hypotheses that, when addressed, will together answer the primary question.

A hypothesis tree might break down the same question into two or more hypotheses. 

The aim at this stage is to structure the problem into discrete, mutually exclusive pieces that are small enough to yield to analysis and that, taken together, are collectively exhaustive.

Articulating the problem as hypotheses, rather than issues, is the preferred approach because it leads to a more focused analysis of the problem. Questions to ask include:

  • Is it testable – can you prove or disprove it?
  • It is open to debate? If it cannot be wrong, it is simply a statement of fact and unlikely to produce keen insight.
  • If you reversed your hypothesis – literally, hypothesized that the exact opposite were true – would you care about the difference it would make to your overall logic?
  • If you shared your hypothesis with the CEO, would it sound naive or obvious?
  • Does it point directly to an action or actions that the client might take?

Quickly developing a powerful hypothesis tree enables us to develop solutions more rapidly that will have real impact. This can sometimes seem premature to clients, who might find the “solution” reached too quickly and want to see the analysis behind it.

Take care to explain the approach (most important, that a hypothesis is not an answer) and its benefits (that a good hypothesis is the basis of a proven means of successful problem solving and avoids “boiling the ocean”).

Example: Alpha Manufacturing, Inc.

Problem Statement: How can Alpha increase EBITDA by $13M (to $50M) by 2025?

The hypotheses might be:

  • Alpha can add $125M revenues by expanding to new customers, adding $8M of EBITDA
  • Alpha can reduce costs to improve EBITDA by $5M

These hypotheses will be further disaggregated into subsidiary hypotheses at the next level of the tree.

Often, the team has insufficient knowledge to build a complete hypothesis tree at the start of an engagement. In these cases, it is best to begin by structuring the problem using an issue tree.

An issue tree is best set out as a series of open questions in sentence form. For example, “How can the client minimize its tax burden?” is more useful than “Tax.” Open questions – those that begin with what, how, or why– produce deeper insights than closed ones. In some cases, an issue tree can be sharpened by toggling between issue and hypothesis – working forward from an issue to identify the hypothesis, and back from the hypothesis to sharpen the relevant open question.

Once the problem has been structured, the next step is to prioritize the issues or hypotheses on which the team will focus its work. When prioritizing, it is common to use a two-by-two matrix – e.g., a matrix featuring “impact” and “ease of impact” as the two axes.

Applying some of these prioritization criteria will knock out portions of the issue tree altogether. Consider testing the issues against them all, albeit quickly, to help drive the prioritization process.

Once the criteria are defined, prioritizing should be straightforward: Simply map the issues to the framework and focus on those that score highest against the criteria.

As the team conducts analysis and learns more about the problem and the potential solution, make sure to revisit the prioritization matrix so as to remain focused on the highest-priority issues.

The issues might be:

  • How can Alpha increase revenue?
  • How can Alpha reduce cost?

Each of these issues is then further broken down into deeper insights to solutions.

If the prioritization has been carried out effectively, the team will have clarified the key issues or hypotheses that must be subjected to analysis. The aim of these analyses is to prove the hypotheses true or false, or to develop useful perspectives on each key issue. Now the task is to design an effective and efficient workplan for conducting the analyses.

Transforming the prioritized problem structure into a workplan involves two main tasks:

  • Define the blocks of work that need to be undertaken. Articulate as clearly as possible the desired end products and the analysis necessary to produce them, and estimate the resources and time required.
  • Sequence the work blocks in a way that matches the available resources to the need to deliver against key engagement milestones (e.g., important meetings, progress reviews), as well as to the overall pacing of the engagement (i.e., weekly or twice-weekly meetings, and so on).

A good workplan will detail the following for each issue or hypothesis: analyses, end products, sources, and timing and responsibility. Developing the workplan takes time; doing it well requires working through the definition of each element of the workplan in a rigorous and methodical fashion.

It’s useful to match the workplan to three horizons:

  • What is expected at the end of the engagement
  • What is expected at key progress reviews
  • What is due at daily and/or weekly team meetings

The detail in the workplan will typically be greater for the near term (the next week) than for the long term (the study horizon), especially early in a new engagement when considerable ambiguity about the end state remains.

Here are three different templates for a workplan:

This is the most difficult element of the problem-solving process. After a period of being immersed in the details, it is crucial to step back and distinguish the important from the merely interesting. Distinctive problem solvers seek the essence of the story that will underpin a crisp recommendation for action.

Although synthesis appears, formally speaking, as the penultimate step in the process, it should happen throughout. Ideally, after you have made almost any analytical progress, you should attempt to articulate the “Day 1” or “Week 1” answer. Continue to synthesize as you go along. This will remind the team of the question you are trying to answer, assist prioritization, highlight the logical links of the emerging solution, and ensure that you have a story ready to articulate at all times during the study.

McKinsey’s primary tool for synthesizing is the pyramid principle. Essentially, this principle asserts that every synthesis should explain a single concept, per the “governing thought.” The supporting ideas in the synthesis form a thought hierarchy proceeding in a logical structure from the most detailed facts to the governing thought, ruthlessly excluding the interesting but irrelevant.

While this hierarchy can be laid out as a tree (like with issue and hypothesis trees), the best problem solvers capture it by creating dot-dash storylines — the Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments.

Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments

  • Focus on action. Articulate the thoughts at each level of the pyramid as declarative sentences, not as topics. For example, “expansion” is a topic; “We need to expand into the European market” is a declarative sentence.
  • Use storylines. PowerPoint is poor at highlighting logical connections, therefore is not a good tool for synthesis. A storyline will clarify elements that may be ambiguous in the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Keep the emerging storyline visible. Many teams find that posting the storyline or story- board on the team-room wall helps keep the thinking focused. It also helps in bringing the client along.
  • Use the situation-complication-resolution structure. The situation is the reason there is action to be taken. The com- plication is why the situation needs thinking through – typically an industry or client challenge. The resolution is the answer.
  • Down the pyramid: does each governing thought pose a single question that is answered completely by the group of boxes below it?
  • Across: is each level within the pyramid MECE?
  • Up: does each group of boxes, taken together, provide one answer – one “so what?” – that is essentially the governing thought above it?
  • Test the solution. What would it mean if your hypotheses all came true?

It is at this point that we address the client’s questions: “What do I do, and how do I do it?” This means not offering actionable recommendations, along with a plan and client commitment for implementation.

The essence of this step is to translate the overall solution into the actions required to deliver sustained impact. A pragmatic action plan should include:

  • Relevant initiatives, along with a clear sequence, timing, and mapping of activities required
  • Clear owners for each initiative
  • Key success factors and the challenges involved in delivering on the initiatives

Crucial questions to ask as you build recommendations for organizational change are:

  • Does each person who needs to change (from the CEO to the front line) understand what he or she needs to change and why, and is he or she committed to it?
  • Are key leaders and role models throughout the organization personally committed to behaving differently?
  • Has the client set in place the necessary formal mechanisms to reinforce the desired change?
  • Does the client have the skills and confidence to behave in the desired new way?

Once the recommendations have been crafted in the problem-solving process, it’s vital to effectively communicate those findings and recommendations.

An executive summary is a great slide to use for this. See more on executive summary slides, including 30 templates, at our Ultimate Guide to Executive Summary Slides .

Great problem solvers identify unique disruptions and discontinuities, novel insights, and step-out opportunities that lead to truly distinctive impact. This is done by applying a number of practices throughout the problem-solving process to help develop these insights.

Expand: Construct multiple perspectives

Identifying alternative ways of looking at the problem expands the range of possibilities, opens you up to innovative ideas, and allows you to formulate more powerful hypotheses. Questions that help here include:

  • What changes if I think from the perspective of a customer, or a supplier, or a frontline employee, or a competitor?
  • How have other industries viewed and addressed this same problem?
  • What would it mean if the client sought to run the company like a low-cost airline or a cosmetics manufacturer?

Link: Identify relationships

Strong problem solvers discern connections and recognize patterns in two different ways:

  • They seek out the ways in which different problem elements – issues, hypotheses, analyses, work elements, findings, answers, and recommendations – relate to one another.
  • They use these relationships throughout the basic problem-solving process to identify efficient problem-solving approaches, novel solutions, and more powerful syntheses.

Distill: Find the essence

Cutting through complexity to identify the heart of the problem and its solution is a critical skill.

  • Identify the critical problem elements. Are there some issues, approaches, or options that can be eliminated completely because they won’t make a significant difference to the solution?
  • Consider how complex the different elements are and how long it will take to complete them. Wherever possible, quickly advance simpler parts of the problem that can inform more complex or time-consuming elements.

Lead: Stay ahead/step back

Without getting ahead of the client, you cannot be distinctive. Paradoxically, to get ahead – and stay ahead – it is often necessary to step back from the problem to validate or revalidate the approach and the solution.

  • Spend time thinking one or more steps ahead of the client and team.
  • Constantly check and challenge the rigor of the underlying data and analysis.
  • Stress-test the whole emerging recommendation
  • Challenge the solution against a set of hurdles. Does it satisfy the criteria for success as set out on the Problem Statement Worksheet?

No matter how skilled, knowledgeable, or experienced you are, you will never create the most distinctive solution on your own. The best problem solvers know how to leverage the power of their team, clients, the Firm, and outside parties. Seeking the right expertise at the right time, and leveraging it in the right way, are ultimately how we bring distinctiveness to our work, how we maximize efficiency, and how we learn.

When solving a problem, it is important to ask, “Have I accessed all the sources of insight that are available?” Here are the sources you should consider:

  • Your core team
  • The client’s suppliers and customers
  • Internal experts and knowledge
  • External sources of knowledge
  • Communications specialists

The key here is to think open, not closed. Opening up to varied sources of data and perspectives furthers our mission to develop truly innovative and distinctive solutions for our clients.

  • McKinsey Staff Paper 66 — not published by McKinsey but possibly found through an internet search
  • The McKinsey Way , 1999, by Ethan M. Rasiel

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The Complete Guide to Structured Problem Solving

When you are looking to thoroughly solve a pesky problem, structured problem solving is the way to go. Structured problem solving allows you to explore the problem, get to the heart of the issue, and develop a creative solution that finally solves the issue.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

To illustrate this example, Takashi Amano was a nature photographer and avid aquarist. He started developing art in the form of fish tanks – which he called nature aquariums. The problem was algae would grow in his tanks and ruin his art. Not deterred, Mr. Amano found a shrimp distributor who bred, small, and clear micro-shrimp which were various algae eaters. Mr. Amano ordered thousands of them and promoted them in the hobby – to the point where the shrimp are now called Amano Shrimp.

He got creative. Knowing he needed a lasting solution to his algae problem, a clear shrimp that would eat the algae and not detract from his art was perfect.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

The Basic idea of Structured Problem Solving

Professionals who solve complex problems for a living all start from the same place. They need to understand the actual problem they are solving. They ask themselves questions to get to the heart of the problem.

Usually promoting thinking with questions like what is the real problem, how can we gather data about the root problem, brainstorm solutions, test a solution and monitor it?

Why Structured Problem-Solving Works

Often, we are eager to jump into solving the first apparent problem with a variety of solutions. Why structured problem-solving works is because it forces us to slow down. By slowing down, we understand the problem first, without leaping into “fix-it” mode with preconceived notions of how the problem should be solved.

Studies have also found that having explicit techniques (methods for problem-solving) in the structured problem-solving workflow not only improves the problem-solving process but also increases the knowledge base all individuals can pull from.  Basically, using structured problem solving allows better solutions to be developed while ensuring everyone participates in sharing their own unique knowledge.

The two ideas translate into the problem-solving principles of:

  • Seek to understand before we seek to solve
  • Search early, search often

By understanding the problem inside and out, the individual, or team can make more informed decisions and generate appropriate solutions.

There are a variety of techniques to work through the process. Below are some sample ways to do structured problem solving before getting into the walk-through further down in the article.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

Multiple Ways of Structured Problem Solving

There are many techniques to perform structured problem solving, or at least get more in-depth in certain aspects of the process. Some of my favorite ones include

Pre-mortem analysis: Instead of working through a project and assessing what went wrong at the end, run through a simulation of the project to see where the project could fail before you even start. Where and why did it fail? Then brainstorm solutions to avoid those issues without creating new ones.

The Hat Technique: There are 6 colored hats, all with different roles. Whether alone or in a group, assign some time or a specific person to that role. Having a person designated to each role means that all ideas are validated through six different lenses. Plus, everyone has a designated role which helps keep people engaged, and limits feelings getting hurt since everyone is simply doing their assigned role.

PDCA Cycle: An easy way to remember the process is the PDCA cycle. Which stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act. PDCA is a high-level way to remember how the structured problem-solving process works. 

You can also use the PDCA Model to manage your personal development too !

Get the Creative Juices Flowing

I like to start all my structured problem-solving sessions with some fun at the beginning of the session to get everyone’s creative juices flowing. By taking the 5 minutes to have a little fun, it is surprising how much more creative and engaged people are with the structured problem-solving process!

Problem-solving can be a stressful process, and it can even be high-stakes with the future of the group’s work hanging in the balance. However, laughing together helps relieve stress, makes people more creative, and improves social bonding.

The New Idea: One creative thinking exercise to start your session in a fun way, the goal is to split into two groups. Each group generates two dissimilar words. Then they swap words. For instance, “bug” & “sky-diving” and “winter” and “bikinis” for the other. Then the groups must devise the best ideas for those two words. For the bugs, you could make parachute designs that are themed after a different butterfly, and for the other, you could make a winter work-out with the goal have bikini-ready bodies by the summer. Silly ideas but shows there is a solution to even the weirdest problems.

Horrible idea challenge: Think of your problem. Then have everyone compete to come up with the worst idea. The practical part is that it helps to see what not to do – plus, part of the fun is seeing how creative people can be!

Beyond the two creative ideas, there are also 13 mental models which make work easier overall as well.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

The Structured Problem Solving Process

1. define the problem statement.

The first step is defining what the real problem is. Below are some prompts to get the right decision-makers and problem-solvers sent in the right direction to tackle the challenge.

  • Is the problem many problems?
  • What requirements must a solution meet?
  • Which problem solvers should we engage?
  • What information and language should the problem statement include?
  • Tip: To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not necessarily technical.
  • What do solvers need to submit?
  • What incentive do solvers need?
  • How will solutions be evaluated, and success measured?

Problem statements are a statement of a current issue or problem. For example , Problem: Voter turnout in the southwest region of Florida has been significantly decreasing over the past decade, while other areas of the state continue to see increasing numbers of voters at the polls.

Writing one or two sentences takes the whole issue and makes it very clear what the issue is.

2. Root Cause Analysis

After getting the foundation set, an understanding of the root problem is critical. If you want to go through all the effort of structured problem solving, you might as well get to the real problem in the end.

Think of weeds in a garden. A potential solution is to mow over the weeds and they are gone. However, every few days the weeds keep coming back. That is because the root is the root issue in this scenario. You need to get the whole root system of the weed out to stop those pesky weeds in your garden.

Below are three techniques to help with Root-Cause Analysis

5 whys: When a problem occurs, drill down to its root cause by asking “Why?” five or more times. Then, when a counter-measure becomes apparent, you follow it through to prevent the issues from recurring.

Fishbone diagram: (Also called Ishikawa diagram named after Kaoru Ishikawa) is a cause-and-effect diagram that helps managers track down the reasons for imperfections, variations, defects, or failures.

Cause mapping: a cause map provides a visual explanation of why an incident occurred. It connects individual cause-and-effect relationships to reveal the system of cause within an issue.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

3. Gather Data

After analyzing the problem and getting to the root cause – you need to gather information to understand why the problem and situation are happening. Doing the research and understanding how the different forces are interacting lets you understand why the problem is happening and how the overall solution is occurring.

Below are three different methods for gathering data to understand the context and interplaying forces in the current problem.

Gemba walk: The purpose is to allow managers and leaders to observe actual work process, engage with employees, gain knowledge about the work process, and explore opportunities for continuous improvement

Process mapping: A process map is a planning and management tool that visually describes the flow of work. Allowing you to see hiccups, bottlenecks, or high-failure points in the process.

Focus groups : Asking open-ended questions to a group of individuals ranging from 6-10 people. Letting you get different perspectives on the same issue.

4. Develop Potential Solutions

The next part is the fun part. You take all the research you’ve gathered in the first three aspects and put them together to come up with a solution to solve the problem. The common way is do Brainstorming.

Harvard Business Review sites that traditional brainstorming, in groups trying to answer the question, isn’t as effective as individuals coming up with ideas on their own first. Working in a big group doesn’t work for many reasons. Working in groups encourages social loafing (coasting on other’s ideas), some members experience social anxiety (introverted members feeling self-conscious of throwing in ideas), and it focuses too much on the solutions over the problem.

The better way to brainstorm is to have everyone work on the main problems and their solutions alone, and then reconvene after twenty minutes. Then everyone shares their top one or two ideas and what features of the problem it tackles.

This method gives everyone time to think about their solutions, present their ideas, and lets all the voices be heard. Plus, all the ideas can then smashed together to come up with a solution based on everyone’s input.

Remember, the solution has to solve the core of the issue and get to the root cause. Plus, it must be feasible in terms of the money, time, and manpower allocated to the project. Use the constraints as a guide to direct the project!

5. Implement a Solution

After running through the potential solutions – pick one and trial run it. Think of the minimum viable product to get to the root cause. You won’t know if you are alleviating the problem until a potential solution is out in the field.

For example , Airbnb founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent for their apartment (the problem). They decided to put an air mattress in their living room and turn it into a bed and breakfast (MVP solution). The goal was to make a few bucks, but instead, they discovered the idea the connect Bed and Breakfasts to people looking for renters. They started advertising on Craiglist, then their website, and the story continues.

The point of the story is to illustrate that small tests can be done to see if you are solving the main issue! Their issue was not that someone needed to stay in their apartment for them to make rent – the issue was there was no service that easily let Bed and Breakfasts work with potential clients.

the last step of the structured problem solving approach is

6. Monitor for Success

Once a solution is implemented, that is not the end. You must make sure the solution works. Keeping in mind the below questions

  • Who is responsible for the solution?
  • What are the risks of implementing the solution?

Some ways to monitor for success are:

Failure mode and effect analysis: A step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing process, product, or service.

Impact analysis: A detailed study of business activities, dependencies, and infrastructure. It reveals how critical products and services are delivered and examines the potential impact of a disruptive (or additive solution) event over time

Kaizen : The Japanese term for “continuous improvement”. It is a business philosophy regarding the process that continuously improves operations and involves all employees.

Illustrated Example

A often find it helpful to see someone do the process as well. Here is a great video of IDEO re-working the shopping cart.

Key Take-Aways

What sets apart okay problem solvers from great problem solvers is the ability to think in repeatable, useful frameworks.

Structured Problem Solving is a general concept used to solve challenging problems, and there are hundreds of different methods that fall underneath it.

Action Item

Think of a tough challenge you are facing at work or in your personal life. Test run your problem through the structured problem-solving process with a few of the above techniques, and see what solution you can generate to get to the root of the issue!

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I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

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Hello, I love hearing the feedback. I will write a follow-up post the structured problem solving that dives into more detail!

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Thank you for some other fantastic article. The place else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the search for such info.

Hello – for similar content, the perspective and ambition parts of the blog have similar content! Some posts to investigate are “A 4 Step Plan to Better Goal Setting (WOOP)” ( https://themobiusstripblog.com/4-step-process-to-better-goal-setting/ ) and “How to Give a Better Presentation” ( https://themobiusstripblog.com/better-presentation/ ). Let me know how your presentation goes!

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Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My blog covers a lot of the same subjects as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Great blog by the way!

Hello, I am always interested in providing valuable content to my readers! Send me an email either directly from the “Contact Us” page or fill-out the interest form and I can get back to you!

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Continuous Improvement blog Problem Solving: A Structured Approach

"The problems of the world cannot be solved by thinking the same way we thought when we created them." - Albert Einstein

Problem solving is a skill that is essential for success in both personal and professional life. It is the ability to identify and articulate problems, gather information, generate solutions, and implement those solutions effectively.

There are many different approaches to problem solving, but one of the most effective is the 8-step problem-solving process. This process is structured and systematic, which helps to ensure that problems are solved efficiently and effectively.

The 8 steps of the problem-solving process are:

Define the problem

This is the first and most important step in the problem-solving process. If you do not clearly define the problem, you'll have a hard time solving it.

So how do you define a problem? Here are a few tips:

  • be specific - do not just say, "the application process lead time is too long."; instead, say something like "the current lead time for the application process is 40 working days”
  • use data - if you have data, use it to support your definition of the problem. For example, you could say "the average process lead time has increased by 20% in the past 6 month."
  • be objective - do not let your emotions get in the way of defining the problem. For example, don't say "Our lead time is terrible." Instead, say something like "the process lead time is not meeting our customers’ expectations."

Once you've defined the problem, you'll have a much better understanding of what you need to solve. You'll also be able to narrow down the scope of the problem and identify the root cause.

Here is an example of a well-defined problem statement:

The application process lead time has increased by 20% on average to 40 days, in the past 6 months.

This problem statement is specific, uses data, and is objective. It also includes a measure, which is the 20% average increase in lead time. This measure will help to gauge the effectiveness of the final solution. Your problem statement should always include some sort of measure but no suggested solution!

Break down the problem

Once the problem has been defined, you can break it down into smaller, more manageable problems. This will make it easier to identify the root cause of the problem. For example, if the problem is that a process is not producing the desired output, you could break the problem down into the following smaller problems:

  • the person in the process is not properly trained.
  • the person doing the process is not processing the input correctly.

Set a target

What is the desired outcome of the problem-solving process? What are the specific goals that need to be achieved? It is important to set a clear target so that you know when the problem has been solved. For example, the target for the process problem could be to have the process producing the desired output within 24 hours.

Analyse the root cause

The root cause of the problem is the underlying issue that is causing the problem to occur. It is important to identify the root cause so that it can be addressed effectively. Several techniques can be used to analyse the root cause of a problem, such as the 5 Whys, Fishbone diagrams, and Pareto charts.

A fishbone diagram with six sections branching off that say 'Key Topic' and a head section that says 'Problem Statement'

Develop Countermeasures

Once the root cause of the problem has been identified, countermeasures can be developed to address it. Countermeasures are specific actions that can be taken to prevent the problem from occurring again. For example, the countermeasures for a process problem could include:

  • create Standard Operating Procedures and the “best-known way” of doing the process”
  • retraining everyone in the new way of working
  • create a control plan to ensure that the input information is being processed correctly 100% of the time

Implement countermeasures

The countermeasures that have been developed need to be implemented. This may involve making changes to processes, procedures, or training. It is important to monitor the implementation of the countermeasures to ensure that they are effective.

Evaluate the results

Once the countermeasures have been implemented, it is important to evaluate the results. Did the countermeasures solve the problem? If not, further action may be needed. For example, if the process problem has not been solved, you may need to identify a new root cause and develop new countermeasures.

Standardise and share lessons learned

Once the problem has been solved, it is important to standardise the solution so that it can be used to prevent the problem from occurring again. The lessons learned from the problem-solving process should also be shared so that others can benefit from them. For example, you could create a standard operating procedure for the new way of working or develop a training program for the staff involved.

By following these steps, you can solve problems more effectively and efficiently.

Here are some additional tips for problem-solving:

  • be curious - be willing to investigate problems with an open mind and a desire to learn
  • be collaborative - involve others in the problem-solving process to get different perspectives and ideas
  • use data and evidence - make decisions about solutions based on data and evidence
  • be persistent - do not give up on a problem until you have found a solution that works
  • be optimistic - believe that you can solve the problem and do not be afraid to take risks

By following these tips, you can improve your problem-solving skills and become more effective in your personal and professional life.

So, what are you waiting for? Start solving some problems today. 

Graham Ross smiling at the camera

28 July 2023

Graham Ross, Continuous Improvement Manager

a woman typing on a laptop

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A Step-by-Step Guide to A3 Problem Solving Methodology

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Author: Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Problem-solving is an important component of any business or organization. It entails identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems in order to improve processes, drive results, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. A3 Problem solving is one of the most effective problem-solving methodologies.

A3 Problem solving is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving that originated with the lean manufacturing methodology. It visualizes the problem-solving process using a one-page document known as an A3 report. The A3 report provides an overview of the problem, data analysis, root causes, solutions, and results in a clear and concise manner.

A3 Problem Solving has numerous advantages, including improved communication, better decision-making, increased efficiency, and reduced waste. It is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes and industries, and it is especially useful for solving complex and multi-faceted problems.

In this blog post, we will walk you through the A3 Problem Solving methodology step by step. Whether you are new to A3 Problem Solving or simply want to improve your skills, this guide will help you understand and apply the process in your workplace.

What is A3 Problem Solving?

A3 Problem Solving is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving that makes use of a one-page document called an A3 report to visually represent the process. The A3 report provides an overview of the problem, data analysis, root causes, solutions, and results in a clear and concise manner. The method was created within the framework of the Lean manufacturing methodology and is based on the principles of continuous improvement and visual management.

A3 Problem Solving Template

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Origin and History of A3 Problem Solving

A3 Problem Solving was developed by Toyota Motor Corporation and was first used in the manufacture of automobiles. The term “A3” refers to the size of the paper used to create the report, which is an ISO standard known as “A3”. The goal of the A3 report is to provide a visual representation of the problem-solving process that all members of the organisation can easily understand and share. A3 Problem Solving has been adopted by organisations in a variety of industries over the years, and it has become a widely used and recognised method for problem-solving.

Key Principles of A3 Problem Solving

The following are the key principles of A3 Problem Solving:

  • Define the problem clearly and concisely
  • Gather and analyze data to gain a deep understanding of the problem
  • Identify the root causes of the problem
  • Develop and implement effective solutions
  • Evaluate results and continuously improve

These principles serve as the foundation of the A3 Problem Solving methodology and are intended to assist organisations in continuously improving and achieving their objectives. Organizations can effectively solve problems, identify areas for improvement, and drive results by adhering to these principles.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Importance of clearly defining the problem.

The first step in the A3 Problem Solving process is critical because it lays the groundwork for the remaining steps. To define the problem clearly and accurately, you must first understand the problem and identify the underlying root cause. This step is critical because if the problem is not correctly defined, the rest of the process will be based on incorrect information, and the solution developed may not address the issue effectively.

The significance of defining the problem clearly cannot be overstated. It aids in the collection and analysis of relevant data, which is critical for developing effective solutions. When the problem is clearly defined, the data gathered is more relevant and targeted, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. This will enable the development of solutions that are more likely to be effective because they are founded on a thorough and accurate understanding of the problem.

However, if the problem is not clearly defined, the data gathered may be irrelevant or incorrect, resulting in incorrect conclusions and ineffective solutions. Furthermore, the process of collecting and analysing data can become time-consuming and inefficient, resulting in resource waste. Furthermore, if the problem is not accurately defined, the solutions developed may fail to address the root cause of the problem, resulting in ongoing issues and a lack of improvement.

Techniques for Defining the Problem

The first step in the A3 Problem Solving process is to clearly and accurately define the problem. This is an important step because a clearly defined problem will help to ensure that the appropriate data is collected and solutions are developed. If the problem is not clearly defined, incorrect data may be collected, solutions that do not address the root cause of the problem, and time and resources may be wasted.

A problem can be defined using a variety of techniques, including brainstorming , root cause analysis , process mapping , and Ishikawa diagrams . Each of these techniques has its own advantages and disadvantages and can be used in a variety of situations depending on the nature of the problem.

Best Practice for Defining the Problem

In addition to brainstorming, root cause analysis, process mapping, and Ishikawa diagram s, best practices should be followed when defining a problem in A3 Problem Solving. Among these best practices are:

  • Define the issue in a specific and quantifiable way: It is critical to be specific and concise when defining the problem, as well as to quantify the problem in terms of its impact. This will help to ensure that all stakeholders understand the problem and that data collection is focused on the right areas.
  • Focus on the problem’s root cause: The A3 Problem Solving methodology is intended to assist organisations in identifying and addressing the root cause of a problem, rather than just the symptoms. Organizations can ensure that their solutions are effective and long-lasting by focusing on the root cause of the problem.
  • Ascertain that all stakeholders agree on the problem’s definition: All stakeholders must agree on the definition of the problem for the A3 Problem Solving process to be effective. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal and that the solutions developed are relevant and appropriate.
  • Consider the problem’s impact on the organisation and its stakeholders: It is critical to consider the impact of the problem on the organisation and its stakeholders when defining it. This will assist in ensuring that the appropriate data is gathered and that the solutions developed are relevant and appropriate.

Organizations can ensure that their problem is defined in a way that allows for effective data collection, analysis, and solution development by following these best practices. This will aid in the development of appropriate solutions and the effective resolution of the problem, resulting in improvements in the organization’s processes and outcomes.

Step 2: Gather Data

Gathering data in a3 problem solving.

Data collection is an important step in the A3 Problem Solving process because it allows organisations to gain a thorough understanding of the problem they are attempting to solve. This step entails gathering pertinent information about the problem, such as data on its origin, impact, and any related factors. This information is then used to help identify root causes and develop effective solutions.

One of the most important advantages of data collection in A3 Problem Solving is that it allows organisations to identify patterns and trends in data, which can be useful in determining the root cause of the problem. This information can then be used to create effective solutions that address the problem’s root cause rather than just its symptoms.

In A3 Problem Solving, data collection is a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders, including those directly impacted by the problem and those with relevant expertise or experience. Stakeholders can ensure that all relevant information is collected and that the data is accurate and complete by working together.

Overall, data collection is an important step in the A3 Problem Solving process because it serves as the foundation for effective problem-solving. Organizations can gain a deep understanding of the problem they are attempting to solve and develop effective solutions that address its root cause by collecting and analysing relevant data.

Data Collection Methods

In A3 Problem Solving, several data collection methods are available, including:

  • Observations
  • Process diagrams

The best data collection method will be determined by the problem being solved and the type of data required. To gain a complete understanding of the problem, it is critical to use multiple data collection methods.

Tools for Data Analysis and Visualization

Once the data has been collected, it must be analysed and visualised in order to gain insights into the problem. This process can be aided by the following tools:

  • Excel Spreadsheets
  • Flow diagrams
  • Pareto diagrams
  • Scatter Plots
  • Control diagrams


These tools can assist in organising data and making it easier to understand. They can also be used to generate visual representations of data, such as graphs and charts, to communicate the findings to others.

Finally, the data collection and analysis step is an important part of the A3 Problem Solving process. Organizations can gain a better understanding of the problem and develop effective solutions by collecting and analysing relevant data.

Step 3: Identify Root Causes

Identifying the root causes of the problem is the third step in the A3 Problem Solving process. This step is critical because it assists organisations in understanding the root causes of a problem rather than just its symptoms. Once the underlying cause of the problem is identified, it can be addressed more effectively, leading to more long-term solutions.

Overview of the Root Cause Analysis Process

The process of determining the underlying causes of a problem is known as root cause analysis. This process can assist organisations in determining why a problem is occurring and what can be done to prevent it from recurring in the future. The goal of root cause analysis is to identify the underlying cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms, allowing it to be addressed more effectively.

To understand Root cause analysis in more detail check out RCA in our Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Course Root Cause Analysis section

Techniques for Identifying Root Causes

There are several techniques for determining the root causes of a problem, including:

  • Brainstorming
  • Ishikawa diagrams (also known as fishbone diagrams)
  • Root Cause Tree Analysis

These methods can be used to investigate the issue in-depth and identify potential root causes. Organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the problem and identify the underlying causes that must be addressed by using these techniques.

Best Practices for Conducting Root Cause Analysis

It is critical to follow these best practices when conducting root cause analysis in A3 Problem Solving:

  • Make certain that all stakeholders participate in the root cause analysis process.
  • Concentrate on determining the root cause of the problem rather than just its symptoms.
  • Take into account all potential root causes, not just the most obvious ones.
  • To identify root causes, use a systematic approach, such as the 5 Whys or root cause tree analysis.

Organizations can ensure that root cause analysis is carried out effectively and that the root cause of the problem is identified by adhering to these best practises. This will aid in the development of appropriate solutions and the effective resolution of the problem.

Step 4: Develop Solutions

Developing solutions is the fourth step in the A3 Problem Solving process. This entails generating ideas and options for dealing with the problem, followed by selecting the best solution. The goal is to develop a solution that addresses the root cause of the problem and prevents it from recurring.

Solution Development in A3 Problem Solving

A3 solution development Problem solving is an iterative process in which options are generated and evaluated. The data gathered in the previous steps, as well as the insights and understanding gained from the root cause analysis, guide this process. The solution should be based on a thorough understanding of the problem and address the underlying cause.

Techniques for Developing Solutions

There are several techniques that can be used to develop solutions in A3 Problem Solving, including:

  • Brainwriting
  • Solution matrix
  • Multi voting
  • Force field analysis

These techniques can help to generate a range of options and to select the best solution.

Best Practice for Developing Solutions

It is critical to follow the following best practices when developing solutions in A3 Problem Solving:

  • Participate in the solution development process with all stakeholders.
  • Make certain that the solution addresses the underlying cause of the problem.
  • Make certain that the solution is feasible and achievable.
  • Consider the solution’s impact on the organisation and its stakeholders.

Organizations can ensure that the solutions they develop are effective and sustainable by adhering to these best practises. This will help to ensure that the problem is addressed effectively and that it does not reoccur.

Step 5: Implement Solutions

The final and most important step in the A3 Problem Solving methodology is solution implementation. This is the stage at which the identified and developed solutions are put into action to address the problem. This step’s goal is to ensure that the solutions are effective, efficient, and long-lasting.

The implementation Process

The implementation process entails putting the solutions developed in the previous step into action. This could include changes to processes, procedures, and systems, as well as employee training and education. To ensure that the solutions are effective, the implementation process should be well-planned and meticulously executed.

Techniques for Implementing Solutions

A3 Problem Solving solutions can be implemented using a variety of techniques, including:

  • Piloting the solution on a small scale before broadening its application
  • Participating in the implementation process with all relevant stakeholders
  • ensuring that the solution is in line with the goals and objectives of the organisation
  • Monitoring the solution to determine its effectiveness and make any necessary changes

Best Practice for Implementing Solutions

It is critical to follow these best practices when implementing solutions in A3 Problem Solving:

Make certain that all relevant stakeholders are involved and supportive of the solution. Have a clear implementation plan that outlines the steps, timeline, and resources required. Continuously monitor and evaluate the solution to determine its efficacy and make any necessary changes. Encourage all stakeholders to communicate and collaborate openly. Organizations can ensure that solutions are effectively implemented and problems are effectively addressed by adhering to these best practices. The ultimate goal is to find a long-term solution to the problem and improve the organization’s overall performance.

In conclusion, A3 Problem Solving is a comprehensive and structured methodology for problem-solving that can be applied in various industries and organisations. The A3 Problem Solving process’s five steps – Define the Problem, Gather Data, Identify Root Causes, Develop Solutions, and Implement Solutions – provide a road map for effectively addressing problems and making long-term improvements.

Organizations can improve their problem-solving skills and achieve better results by following the key principles, techniques, and best practices outlined in this guide. As a result, both the organisation and its stakeholders will benefit from increased efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. So, whether you’re an experienced problem solver or just getting started, consider incorporating the A3 Problem Solving methodology into your work and start reaping the benefits right away.

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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 www.learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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The 8-Step Problem-Solving Method

The 8 step problem solving method

  • November 22, 2021

Table Of Contents

What is the 8-step problem-solving method, the 8 steps and the problem-solving process, the culture of problem-solving.

  • Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)
  • Gain Problem-Solving Support

As a manufacturing professional, you know how important it is to stay organized, keep your goals in mind and strive for success. But with all of the responsibilities and daily tasks piling up, it takes effort to find and stick to a process that can keep you on track.

Luckily, there’s a tried and trusted way to achieve success in the manufacturing industry.

The eight-step problem-solving process is a  structured method  that guides you through the various steps of solving issues. Unlike other problem-solving processes that are often broad, the eight-step method takes you through each individual step, from identifying the problem to taking actionable steps to success.

Instead of changing a few things at a middling level that will probably break down again later, you can unearth the roots of problems and build success from the ground up.

For a fundamental breakdown of how to fix problems and lead your manufacturing team to success, here are the eight steps of the problem-solving process.

1. Identify the Problem

The first step in the process is to identify the problem. Identify why this is a problem, how you discovered it and how it impacts your business. Also note when the problem started and how long it has been going on.

If the problem is small, you can try to contain it and may not need additional steps to fix it. However, if the problem is complex, move forward through the process.

2. Define the Problem

The next step involves breaking down the problem and defining what it is. It’s important to be as clear as you can with this step — a vague problem will hinder the process, whereas a clearly defined issue will allow you to take actionable steps to fix it.

Analyze factors like how high of a priority it is to solve the problem. You can also look to data and other resources to clarify or help you understand the concern.

3. Make a Goal

Create an end goal. Envision what fixing this problem would look like and feel like. What would it accomplish? How would it help you? Map out all the ways fixing this problem would benefit you and use it for motivation to achieve your goal. Set a timeline to figure how long it will take to accomplish that goal.

4. Find the Root of the Problem

Often problems are byproducts of deeper, more central problems, so make sure you dig deep enough to find out what is really causing the issue. If the problem is large and complex, break it down into individual parts.

Gather information and use it to identify the deeper issues of the problem and validate what you think the real concern may be. Take time at this step to really focus on the deep problem — executing this step effectively will save you a lot of time down the road.

Problems are byproducts of deeper, more central problems

5. Develop Actionable Steps

Create a list of realistic steps you can take to combat the problem. You can start with a large list and combine or subtract steps, but it’s important you come up with various ways to attack the problem. Use this action plan to draw up a strategy to get at the root of the problem. Each step should be specific and detail-focused — any steps that are vague or tedious will only take up time and cause confusion.

6. Execute Steps

Now that the plan is in place, all you have to do is follow through on your actionable steps. Illustrate the steps you’re taking to your team, explain why you’re taking them and delegate any steps that another employee has to perform to execute your plan.

Communication is key in this step. In most cases, you won’t be executing the plan all by yourself, so make sure you’re expressing the goals and motives of each step with your team so they can see how it connects to the bigger picture.

7. Observe and Evaluate

Monitor your strategy carefully and see how it relates to the original problem. Is it working? Is it only creating more problems? Gather data, talk to your team and be thorough and objective in your evaluation. You might have to readjust your plan as you gain new information, or you may meet your goals and the plan will be successful.

8. Continue the Process

If the plan worked, find ways to continue integrating these steps into your team’s daily routine. If they didn’t work, go back to the goal-setting process or identify some more aspects of the problem — there may be a deeper concern you missed the first time around. Communicate to your team about how the plan went.

In the future, continue using the eight-step process to solve issues and build momentum with your team.

It’s important to build a culture of problem-solving in your manufacturing plant. It can be easy to fall into the trap of “Band-Aid” solutions — quick fixes without digging into the deeper problems.

It’s believed that the eight-step problem-solving process was actually created by the Toyota Motor Corporation to achieve their admired production standards.

From the lore of Toyota, we get some great eight-step problem-solving examples.  Taiichi Ohno , the father of the Toyota Production System, observed his workers fixing only the first level of cause when their machines stopped working. To combat this, he developed a problem-solving method to methodically break down each problem of the machine until he found the root cause. Only then could he truly fix the machine.

It’s one of many eight-step problem-solving examples, and it shows the importance of creating a process to increase productivity.

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) and the 8-Step Problem-Solving Process Differences

The eight-step problem-solving process is an expanded version of the  Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle . The first five steps of the 8-step process fall under the planning step, while steps six, seven and eight all correspond to the do, check and act steps. The eight-step process is a more detailed, methodical version of PDCA problem-solving, and converts a vague cycle into something a bit more specific and actionable.

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Our expert staff has had vast experience in the manufacturing industry, and we can provide the guidance you need to get your business running at top efficiency. Our services are affordable and extremely valuable.  Contact us  today!

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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.


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.

Five routes to more innovative problem solving

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Strategy to beat the odds

How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

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  7. Structured Approach to Problem Solving

    1. Explain the different stages of a data science project 2. Discuss some of the tools and techniques used in data science. 3. Apply structured thinking to solving problems and avoid the common traps while doing so 4. Apply human-centric design in problem-solving. This course also acts as the first stepping-stone for aspiring data scientists.

  8. The McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving

    The characteristic "McKinsey method" of problem solving is a structured, inductive approach that can be used to solve any problem. Using this standardized process saves us from reinventing the problem-solving wheel, and allows for greater focus on distinctiveness in the solution.

  9. The Complete Guide to Structured Problem Solving

    The Structured Problem Solving Process. 1. Define the Problem Statement. The first step is defining what the real problem is. Below are some prompts to get the right decision-makers and problem-solvers sent in the right direction to tackle the challenge.

  10. Problem Solving: A Structured Approach

    There are many different approaches to problem solving, but one of the most effective is the 8-step problem-solving process. This process is structured and systematic, which helps to ensure that problems are solved efficiently and effectively.

  11. A Step-by-Step Guide to A3 Problem Solving Methodology

    A3 Problem solving is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving that originated with the lean manufacturing methodology. It visualizes the problem-solving process using a one-page document known as an A3 report. The A3 report provides an overview of the problem, data analysis, root causes, solutions, and results in a clear and concise manner.

  12. A Structured Approach to Problem Solving

    A disciplined approach ensures that essential guidelines and rules are followed. The steps offer a way to replicate success for similar problems in other areas. There are five components to the framework for structured problem solving. Understand the problem. This is the most important step in assessing the extent of the problem.

  13. Technique 6.1: Structured Problem Solving

    The structured problem solving process involves application of the four practices in the Solve Loop. It helps the responders collect, organize, and analyze the information used in solving the issue. Note that there are different skills used in different steps in the problem solving process, and, as a result, different responders or collaborators may be involved in each step.

  14. 1.7: Problem Solving Process

    1.7: Problem Solving Process Learning how to use a structured problem solving process will help you to be more organized and support your future courses. Also, it will train your brain how to approach problems. Just like basketball players practice jump shots over and over to train their body how to act in high pressure scenarios, if you are comfortable and familiar with a structured problem ...

  15. The 8-Step Problem-Solving Method

    The eight-step problem-solving process is a structured method that guides you through the various steps of solving issues. Unlike other problem-solving processes that are often broad, the eight-step method takes you through each individual step, from identifying the problem to taking actionable steps to success.

  16. The McKinsey guide to problem solving

    Become a better problem solver with insights and advice from leaders around the world on topics including developing a problem-solving mindset, solving problems in uncertain times, problem solving with AI, and much more.

  17. 8-Step Framework to Problem-Solving from McKinsey

    The McKinsey problem-solving process begins with the use of structured frameworks to generate fact-based hypotheses followed by data gathering and analysis to prove or disprove the hypotheses. Gut ...

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

    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 ...

  19. The Six-Step Problem-Solving Model: A Collaborative Approach to

    What is the Six Step Problem-Solving Model? It is a collaborative and systematic approach to addressing problems. Instead of tackling issues haphazardly, this model encourages a sequential process ...

  20. Adopting the right problem-solving approach

    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 ...

  21. 12 Approaches To Problem-Solving for Every Situation

    Learn about 12 different approaches to problem-solving and how you can implement them to find more productive solutions at work.

  22. Taking a structured approach to problem management

    Why is a structured approach important? Simply put, a structured approach leads to better results. For example, a colleague of mine assessed two teams, one using one of the standard frameworks and one that did not provide any particular method for its problem solving teams. The structured approach averaged less than four days to reach a verified root cause or causes, while the other team took ...

  23. The Problem-Solving Process

    Although problem-solving is something everyone does on a daily basis, many people lack confidence in their ability. Here we look at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.