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Problem-Solving Strategies Practice

Updated on Sep 29, 2011

Review the lesson for Problem-Solving Strategies Help.

Problem-Solving Strategies Practice

To see exactly how breaking down a problem works, read the following scenario:

Your car has broken down and will have to be in the shop for two or three days. It's Monday, and you need to get to work, which is 20 miles north of where you live. The nearest bus stop is ten miles away to the east. Your brother, who lives near you, works 20 miles to the south. The nearest cab company is 20 miles to the west.
  1. Which of the following best expresses the real issue or problem?
    1. how you will be able to afford the repairs
    2. how you can convince your brother to give you a ride
    3. how you are going to get to work
    4. whether you will be able to afford a cab

Here's another scenario:

You're the leader of a small production-line team. Two members of the team have had a serious fight. The other two team members witnessed the fight. Everyone seems to have a different story.
  1. Which of the following best expresses the real issue or problem?
    1. who started the fight
    2. what really happened
    3. whose version of what happened you should believe
    4. how to get the team working together again
    5. how to prevent future disputes

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
  1. Each of these issues must be addressed in order to solve the problem. But these aren't the only issues. Can you think of any other parts of this problem? Write them here:
  2. Use your critical thinking and reasoning skills to prioritize the previously mentioned issues.

Read the following scenario carefully and then answer the questions that follow.

You just won first prize in the local radio station contest. Now you have to choose between tickets to an all-expense paid three day trip to Disney World or a five day ocean cruise. Your kids are definitely campaigning for Disney World. Your spouse votes for the cruise. Your mother told you to sell the tickets and buy a new refrigerator.
  1. The main problem or issue is
    1. how much fun your kids will have at Disney World.
    2. who you should listen to before making the decision.
    3. which tickets you should choose.
    4. how long your refrigerator is going to last.
  2. What are the parts of the problem?
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  
  3. In what order should you address the parts of the problem?
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  

Answers

  1. The answer is c—how you are going to get to work. This is the main problem you must solve—the "big picture." Notice, however, that each of the other answers above is a subissue; each option except choice c is a specific way to address the larger, more general problem. It's important to remember that choices a, b, and d are just parts of the problem. Also, there may be other parts that are not listed here. If one of those options doesn't work out, other viable options remain.
  2. This situation is a bit more complicated than the first. To get the best answer, you need to ask yourself where the real issue lies, what's really at stake. Is it more important to determine what happened, or to decide how to fix what happened?

    It's very easy to get caught up in the details of the fight, trying to find out who's to blame. But while that's important, the real problem is to figure out how to keep making progress, and how to get the team working together again, which is reflected in choice d. The other choices, except choice e, illustrate different components of that larger problem.

    In order to solve this problem, you do need to address both issues in choices a and b: who started it and what really happened. And in order to do that, you'll need to take into consideration choice c as well: whose version of what happened you should believe. Furthermore, you should also keep choice e in mind so that you can minimize this type of problem in the future.

  3. You might have added several issues, such as:

    Parts of the problem:

  • Who started the fight
  • What really happened
  • Whose version of what happened you should believe
  • How to prevent future disputes
  • How to reprimand the members who were fighting
  • Whether or not to report the fight to your superiors
  • How to exercise your authority
  • How to carry out your investigation
  • If you thought of any other issues, add them here.
  1. Answers will vary, depending upon what other issues you identified. Here's how the previous list might be prioritized:

Parts of the problem, in order of importance:

  • How to exercise your authority

  • How to carry out your investigation

  • Who started the fight

  • What really happened

  • Whose version of what happened you should believe

  • How to reprimand the members who were fighting

  • Whether or not to report the fight to your superiors

  • How to prevent future disputes

  1. The main problem is choice c, which tickets you should choose.
  2. You may have broken the problem down into the following parts:
    • How much will each trip actually cost me out of pocket?
    • What do I want to do most?
    • What does my spouse think?
    • How will my spouse/kids/mother react if I don't pick what they want?
    • How long can I be gone from work/school?
    • Can I bring my kids on the cruise?
    • Whose opinion should I trust?
    • How much are these tickets worth?
  3. You should probably address the parts of the problem in the following order:
    • How much will each trip actually cost me out of pocket?
    • What do I want to do the most?
    • How long can I be gone from work/school?
    • Whose opinion can I trust?
    • How much are the tickets worth?
    • How will my spouse/kids/mother react if I don't pick what they want?
    • Can I bring my kids on the cruise?

 

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