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Solving problems.


This checklist outlines the systematic method of problem solving problem solving

Process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Many animals routinely solve problems of locomotion, food finding, and shelter through trial and error.
 first put forward by Kepner and Tregoe in their work, The New Rational Manager.

With straightforward, common problems--for example, slugs See State and local government series.  eating the bedding plants--it is common sense to try a series of quick and tested solutions starting with the most simple or cheapest (slug-pellets) and then moving on to those which take longer to apply (changing the plants or soil). With problems of greater complexity it may not be so easy, or indeed advisable, to try quick solutions. The answer may lie in any one of a number of directions and the quick fix may do more harm than good. The Kepner-Tregoe method enables far more complex problems to be tackled, such as why staff morale is low, why sales are down, why complaints are up, why industrial relations industrial relations
Relations between the management of an industrial enterprise and its employees.

industrial relations
Noun, pl

the relations between management and workers
 are worsening wors·en  
tr. & intr.v. wors·ened, wors·en·ing, wors·ens
To make or become worse.

Noun 1. worsening - process of changing to an inferior state
decline in quality, deterioration, declension

The process:

* is systematic and thorough

* provides evidence to show how the problem was solved

* helps avoid the rush to jump to a solution without knowing the cause of the problem

* enables possible causes to be tested

* is particularly suitable for complex or fuzzy problems.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards: B: Providing direction, units 5, 6, 7


Kepner and Tregoe define a problem as a deviation from the norm.

Problem solving differs fundamentally from decision making. A problem occurs when something is not behaving as it should; something is deviating from the norm; something goes wrong. Decision making is a case of choosing between different alternatives. Decision making is required for the question: "Which computer shall I buy?" Problem solving is needed for the statement: "My computer won't work".

Other approaches to problem solving can be tackled using Further Reading as a starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the

Action checklist

1. Define the problem

Investigate exactly what has gone wrong; do not be influenced by people with ready-made solutions. Try to identify the problem through signals from routine statistical returns, progress meetings, suggestion schemes, reports and letters. rising tide Noun 1. rising tide - the occurrence of incoming water (between a low tide and the following high tide); "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" -Shakespeare
flood tide, flood
 of complaints, for example, could stem from faulty machinery, poor packaging, staff absence, poor staff training, product deficiency, false marketing hype and so on. Getting the definition accurate is crucial; otherwise you might find that you are solving the wrong problem and collecting possible answers to questions that have not been asked.

2. Gather relevant information

This is a key step, involving all factors which may have an influence on the problem. Go into detail on the people, activities, processes, equipment, systems, time-scales and conditions under which the problem occurs.

Ask the following:

* what is the problem? e.g. productivity on the shop-floor

* what is not the problem? e.g. equipment, working conditions

* what is different about the problem? e.g. the time it started

* who is affected by it? e.g. staff on shop-floor

* who is not affected by it? e.g. clerical, administrative staff

* what is different about those affected? e.g. a continuing rise in absenteeism ab·sen·tee·ism  
1. Habitual failure to appear, especially for work or other regular duty.

2. The rate of occurrence of habitual absence from work or duty.

* what things are affected by the problem? e.g. meeting production targets, deadlines, quality requirements

* what things are not affected? e.g. machine capacity, skill requirements

* what is distinctive about those affected? e.g. rumblings of discontent; lack of, cooperation.

3. Identify possible causes

Causes usually relate to people, systems or equipment. Be careful not to blame the tool when it could be the operator. Asking the question--"What has changed from the norm?"--helps to identify the cause.

* when did the problem first occur? e.g. 6-7 weeks ago

* when did it not exist? e.g. before then

* what changed? e.g. the introduction of new work teams

* what changes might be relevant? e.g. new work practices.

4. Identify a possible solution

Once you have identified a likely cause, work out an hypothesis to test exactly what it is you are looking for Looking for

In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with.
 and how you will know if you are right. The cause of a problem is always a change from the norm that has produced effects in some places but not in others. Find out where the effects are not happening.
What changes might be relevant? e.g. New work practices.
What causes might this suggest? e.g. Imposition of new scheme?
                                     Lack of consultation?
                                     Inadequate training?
                                     Dominance of certain individuals?
                                     Implementation too rushed?

5. Test the possible causes

Go back over the information you have assembled in steps 1-4 to test, on paper, if the cause finds a good match with how, where and when the problem occurs, to what extent it occurs, and who is affected by it.

6. Work out the solution

There may be a number of possible solutions (which may not be mutually exclusive Adj. 1. mutually exclusive - unable to be both true at the same time

incompatible - not compatible; "incompatible personalities"; "incompatible colors"
), with some more appropriate than others. This is the time to move from problem analysis to a method for decision-making.

7. Make the decision

Identify alternative solutions and assess the consequences of implementing each. Testing solutions against causes provides one mechanism for doing this, group brainstorming (see Related Checklists below) another. Select the most promising alternative and produce a plan showing a schedule of actions to be performed by whom, when.

There may not be an ideal solution, but there should be a "best" one (even if "best" means "least worst").

8. Monitor the results

Track the changes which occur because of what has been implemented. Take care to monitor how other changes might impact on the action you have chosen, and vice-versa.

Managers should avoid

* forgetting the key principle of opposites, or negatives: what not? when not? where not? who not?

* neglecting to test possible causes against the data gathered

* jumping to an apparently obvious solution without evidence

* evaluating ideas too quickly.

Additional resources


Problem solving and decision making: hard soft and creative approaches, Michael

J Hicks Hicks   , Edward 1780-1849.

American painter of primitive works, notably The Peaceable Kingdom, of which nearly 100 versions exist.

London: Thomson Learning, 2004

Decision management: how to assure better decisions in your company, J Frank


San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden  Calif: Jossey Bass, 2003

Decision analysis for management judgment, Paul Goodwin Paul Goodwin is an English oboist and conductor, specialising in baroque and neo-baroque music.

He studied oboe with Janet Craxton and, following his graduation from Nottingham University with a degree in composition, specialised in contemporary oboe techniques and the
 and George Wright George Wright may refer to:

In politics:
  • George Wright (governor) (1780–1842), Canadian, Governor of Prince Edward Island
  • George Wright (lawyer) (1847–1913), Solicitor General for Ireland
  • George Washington Wright (1816–1885), U.S.

Chichester: John Wiley John Wiley may refer to:
  • John Wiley & Sons, publishing company
  • John C. Wiley, American ambassador
  • John D. Wiley, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • John M. Wiley (1846–1912), U.S.
, 2003

How great decisions get made: 10 easy steps for reaching agreement on

even the toughest issues, Don Maruska

New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 NY: AMACOM AMACOM American Management Association , 2003

Directors dilemmas: tales form the frontline front·line also front line  
1. A front or boundary, especially one between military, political, or ideological positions.

2. Basketball See frontcourt.

3. Football The linemen of a team.
, Patrick Dunne

London: Kogan Page, 2000

Dangerous decisions : problem solving in tomorrows world, Enid Mumford Enid Mumford (March 6, 1924- April 7,2006) is largely known for her work on human factors and socio-technical systems. She was, until recently, an Emeritus Professor of Manchester University and a Visiting Fellow at Manchester Business School.  

New York NY: Kluwer Academic,1999

Thinking straight: a systematic guide to managerial problem solving and

decision making that works, Steve Kneeland

Oxford: Pathways, 1999

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Making rational decisions (015) Brainstorming (014)

Internet resources

Kepner-Tregoe Inc: Provides a brief overview of the Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making (PSDM PSDM Pre Stack Depth Migration (seismic processing; oil industry)
PSDM Problem Solving and Decision Making
PsDM Pseudospectrum Descent Method
) technique.
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Title Annotation:Checklist 012
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Personal Effectiveness and Development
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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