When confronted with a problem, many of us like to procrastinate or avoid the problem altogether. Avoiding problems is a short-term solution. Problem solving keeps you moving forward. It’s essential for getting work done. Therefore, the faster you can solve a problem, the faster you can get the work done or review the solution to ensure it’s correct (and get home on time).
Having the skills and the tools to solve problems effectively and swiftly helps not only on your present job, but future ones, as it’s an ability that will impress employees when they see it on your resume and follow-up with interview questions.
No matter what level you are at in terms of being able to quickly solve problems when faced with them, you can always improve. That’s why the following seven problem solving skills are so important to both the experienced and new person on the job.
Research means doing the due diligence before embarking on executing your project, and it is the rock on which all your problem solving sits. Therefore, to not put it down as a fundamental skill that all good problem solvers have in common would leave a big hole in your problem-solving skills.
Problems usually don’t show up without a history, and where there’s a history, there’s also a precedent for responding to the problem. To understand the way others fixed a problem is to find a way out of the one you’re in now.
But there’s more. The deeper your research, the less likely you’ll have a problem to begin with. That and the fact that your familiarity with a process will make you better able to identify an issue before it becomes a problem. Brainstorming with your team only expands the knowledge base and improves problem solving, especially if they’re experienced and have seeped that experience into research of their own.
Of course, research alone is not enough. Think of research as the field in which you’ve planted the seed of knowledge, but it’s the toiling over that garden, the watering and nurturing that bares fruit. That toiling is analysis. It’s a way to take what you know and use it to understand why something is not proceeding as it should. Analysis comes in many forms, whether it’s cost benefit analysis, gap analysis or any other form that helps you understand your current state.
Analytical skills allow you to see a situation and pull from what is often a chaotic mess, the core issue that is causing the problem. This problem-solving skill gives you a pathway through the problem, so you can develop effective solutions to resolve it.
These analytical skills are not merely good for triage, though it helps, but they can also assist prior to the problem when you’re in the research stage. The problem with research is knowing what is important and what it not. Analytical skills give you the tools to prioritize effectively, as time is always of the essence with any major problem.
Creativity—it’s not just for artists. Creativity is simply being able to find a solution that is unique. This means not responding to problems with a knee-jerk reaction, or some safe solution that will likely bring unsatisfactory results.
What creativity calls for is being able to look at a problem from many perspectives, not just the one you’re comfortable with. You’ve heard the clichés: step out of your comfort zone, think outside the box, push the envelope. Well, there’s some truth to these statements, even if they’ve been repeated to the point of absurdity.
So, what are creative-thinking skills? Brainstorming for one. It opens the discussion to more than your point of view and widens the lens to open a broader view of the landscape. Brainstorming is a type of collaboration, which is a great way to think creatively because it adds more voices to the mix. But don’t wait for inspiration. Remember, you need to get into the routine, so when inspiration hits you can exploit it. Try using creativity exercises to get into the mood.
It sounds ridiculous, but one of the barriers to solving a problem is being able to act and make a decision. Research and analysis are important, of course, but if you fall prey to analysis paralysis, then the problems persist. Knowing about a problem and discussing how to respond to it is impotence without deciding on something.
Some might say anything is better than doing nothing, and there’s some truth to that, but the decision must be built on the research with the analytical chops in order to have the effect you want. You must evaluate what is the best solution, and there are going to be more than one, so you’ll have to choose that which is most suitable and realistic.
Can you make that decision quickly? With experience you’ll be more able to act fast. If you don’t have a great amount of experience, then the research and analytical skills are a great ballast to keep you afloat and sailing in the right direction amidst the storms that problems stir up. Upgrading your decision-making process is one of the fastest ways to improve your problem solving, so be aware of how and why you’re making your decisions.
As with almost everything, nothing can be done without the communicative skills to deliver the solution to those who must resolve it. Communications seem easy until you try to communicate. Even simple ideas are often clouded by poor rhetoric, not to mention the quagmire that comes with trying to relay complex ones and solve problems.
It’s not just being able to communicate clearly to orders, but knowing the right channel to communicate your message is also important. That message needs to go to the right people and reach them as soon as possible. Finding a solution to a problem is only one link in a larger chain. If that solution isn’t delivered to the parties that need it to repair the problem for the project to move forward, then all is for naught. Try our free communication plan template to clearly map out your communications.
Not everyone is born a great communicator, but there are ways to learn how to communicate better. It takes empathy and active listening to develop trust and loyalty. Without that bond between a team, no matter how explicitly you communicate your message it will be misheard or even ignored.
There are exercises you can do to gain problem-solving skills and help with your ability to better respond to problems and solve them quickly. For example, there are logic reasoning tests that help organize your thoughts clearly, analyze them and choose the best course of action quickly. These tests will help you recognize and avoid the typical logical fallacies.
Spatial-temporal reasoning tests your ability to mentally visualize objects, which is important to correctly perceive space and orienting ourselves. Numerical reasoning helps us to understand, structure, organize and solve problems with mathematical methods or formulas. Logical reasoning also helps with problem-solving skills in that it offers different propositions by using what we already know and what we believe to know and even what we don’t know.
There many more examples of logic exercises, but before you even start testing yourself and improving your problem-solving skills, it’s important to take care of yourself. Be sure to stick to a good sleep schedule, do regular physical exercises, keep an idea journal to facilitate creative thinking, even try doing yoga or a meditative practice. It all helps to prime your body and mind and improve your problem solving skills.
Before we leave the subject, let’s share one problem-solving technique you can try then next time an issue comes up that you must deal with. The IDEAL method is an acronym that stands for Identify (the issue), Define (the obstacles), Examine (your options), Act (on an agreed course of action) and Look (how it turns out and whether any changes are needed).
This process incorporates much of what has already been discussed and provides a clear template to addressing problems and quickly resolving them. When you identify the problem, hear from everyone on the team. Then define not only the obstacles but your goals in resolving it. The exploration of possible solutions should look at not only if it will work, but if it’s safe, reasonable, the best solution, etc. Once a solution has been agreed on act on it.
What we’ve not discussed, which is part of the IDEAL method, is the last step, Learn. Whatever course of action is taken, it’s critical to monitor and report on how it worked or didn’t work. If it doesn’t work, then go back to the beginning and start fresh. This will also inform you on what to do and what not to do the next time a similar problem happens.
Problems are going to come up in any project. You can plan for them, but never total avoid them. However, with the right problem-solving skills and tools you’ll always get back on track. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has the features you need to monitor and report on issues that arise, so they can be resolved before they grow into problems. See how it can help your team by taking this free 30-day trial today.