Problem-Solving Strategies Help (page 2)

Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Breaking the Problem into Its Parts

Now that you've identified the main problem, it's time to identify the various parts of that problem. You already know several issues:

Problem: How to get the team working together again
Parts of the problem:
  • Who started the fight
  • What really happened
  • Whose version of what happened you should believe
  • How to prevent future disputes

As you think about the different parts of a problem, pretend for a moment that you are a journalist. Ask the most important questions that any skilled newspaper writer does: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These can lead you to data you might have missed before.

Tackling the Issue

Prioritizing Issues

The next step is to decide how to tackle the issues above. Clearly, some are more important than others, and some must be addressed before others. That's why it's essential to rank the parts of the problem in the order in which you think they should be addressed. Which issues need to be dealt with first? Second? Third? Are there some issues that must be solved before you can deal with others?

Relevance of Issues

When you're breaking down a problem, it's important that you make sure your issues are relevant to the problem. That is, each issue should be clearly related to the matter at hand. It's often obvious when something isn't relevant. Whether you like your pizza plain or with pepperoni, for example, clearly has nothing to do with this problem. But something like who has been on the job longer might be relevant. It depends upon what the fight was about.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that personal preferences are often brought in as issues when they shouldn't be. For example, you may like certain members of your production team better than others, but that doesn't mean that these people are more believable than the others. In other words, your friendship with one or the other, or lack thereof, should not be relevant to the situation.

Problem-Solving Strategies In Short

A problem is any situation or matter that is challenging to solve, thus requiring you to make a difficult decision. Breaking problems down can help you make even big problems manageable. The first step to effective problem solving is to clearly identify the main problem. Then, break the problem down into its various parts. After you rank the parts in order of priority, check to make sure each issue is relevant.

Skill Building until Next Time

  • Take a problem that you come across today and break it down. Identify the main issue and each of its parts. Then, prioritize the parts.
  • While sitcoms often drastically simplify the problems we face in real life, dramas like Law and Order and Grey's Anatomy or House often show characters dealing with complex problems. Watch one of these shows and notice how the characters work through their problems. Do they correctly identify the real problem? Do they break it down into its parts? Evaluate their problem-solving strategies.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Problem-Solving Strategies Practice.

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