An effective problem-solving model is the process of finding a solution to a problem or challenge, usually by breaking it down into smaller parts, analyzing it, and evaluating possible solutions until an effective and efficient solution is found.
Problem-solving and decision-making are closely related concepts. Problem-solving is the process of identifying and solving a problem, while decision-making is the process of choosing a course of action from several possible alternatives. I compared 4 decision-making models in Optimizing Outcomes: How Decision-Making Models Can Help.
This time I will compare 3 problem-solving models.
Using models for problem-solving
By using these models, I have been able to better understand problems, generate more creative and effective solutions, and make more informed and well-reasoned decisions.
three most common models for problem solving
The three most common models for problem-solving are:
- Root Cause Analysis: A structured approach for identifying the underlying causes of a problem, and developing solutions to prevent it from happening again.
- Design Thinking: A human-centered, iterative approach to problem-solving that involves understanding the problem, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping, and testing solutions.
- Polya’s Model: A four-step process that includes understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution.
Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
A problem-solving method that is used to identify the underlying cause(s) of a problem or issue.
1. Systematic and structured approach that helps identify and address the root causes of problems.
2. Helps organizations make meaningful and lasting improvements in their processes and systems.
3. Can be used in a variety of industries and applications.
1. Can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
2. May require expertise in data collection and analysis.
3. May be limited in scope if only symptoms of a problem are addressed.
A human-centered problem solving approach that seeks to understand the needs and perspectives of users and uses that understanding to drive the development of innovative and effective solutions.
1. User-centered approach that helps ensure solutions are grounded in real-world needs and insights.
2. Helps generate a large number of creative and unconventional ideas.
3. Fosters collaboration and innovation.
1. Can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
2. May be difficult to quantify the results of the process.
3. May be limited in scope if only user needs are considered, without considering feasibility and practicality.
A four-step problem-solving method that involves understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution.
1. Simple and straightforward approach to problem solving.
2. Can be applied to a wide range of problems.
3. Helps develop critical thinking skills.
1. May be too simplistic for complex problems
2. May not adequately address the root causes of a problem.
3. May not take into account multiple perspectives or consider unconventional solutions.
Root Cause Analysis
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method that is used to identify the underlying cause(s) of a problem or issue.
The goal of RCA is to identify the root cause(s) of a problem so that it can be effectively addressed and resolved. This method is commonly used in a variety of industries and applications, including quality control, incident investigation, and process improvement.
RCA typically involves several steps, including:
Problem definition: Clearly defining the problem or issue that needs to be addressed.
Data collection: Gather relevant data and information about the problem, including its symptoms, context, and any contributing factors.
Cause-and-effect analysis: Examining the data collected to identify relationships between the problem and its contributing factors. This can be done using tools such as fish bone diagrams, fault trees, or flow charts.
Root cause identification: Identifying the root cause(s) of the problem, which are typically defined as the underlying cause(s) that, if addressed, will prevent the problem from occurring in the future.
Solution development: Develop a plan to address the root cause(s) of the problem and prevent it from occurring in the future.
Implementation and follow-up: Implementing the solution and monitoring its effectiveness over time.
By identifying and addressing the root cause of a problem, organizations can make more meaningful and lasting improvements in their processes and systems.
Design Thinking Method
The steps of Design Thinking typically include:
Empathy: This step involves understanding and empathizing with the user’s needs, wants, and pain points. This can be done through various research methods such as interviews, surveys, and observations. The goal is to gain a deep understanding of the user’s perspective, and to identify the underlying motivations and needs that drive their behavior.
Definition: In this step, the problem is framed and defined based on the insights and understanding gained in the empathy step. The goal is to identify the root cause of the problem and articulate it in a way that is clear and actionable.
Ideation: This phase involves generating a large number of ideas for solutions to the problem. The goal is to come up with as many creative and unconventional ideas as possible, without focusing on feasibility or practicality. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, and other ideation techniques can be used to generate a wide range of ideas.
Prototyping: In this step, the ideas generated in the ideation step are turned into tangible representations of the solution, such as sketches, models, or simulations. The goal is to bring the ideas to life and test them in a low-cost, low-risk environment. The prototypes are then evaluated and refined based on feedback from users.
Testing: This phase requires testing the prototypes with real users, and evaluating their effectiveness in solving the problem. Feedback from users is used to refine and improve the solution. The goal is to validate or invalidate the assumptions made in the ideation step, and to identify any unexpected insights that can inform the next iteration of the process.
This process is iterative and can be repeated multiple times until a solution that meets the needs of the users is reached. By following this process, Design Thinking helps ensure that solutions are grounded in real-world needs and insights, and are therefore more likely to be successful in the market.
In problem-solving, I mostly used Polya’s model or a modern variation of it. The four steps feel natural and seem to fit nicely in the processes we used at schools I worked. The steps are:
Understanding the problem: Read and comprehend the problem statement, and identify what information is given and what information is being asked for.
Devising a plan: Use logic, intuition, and experiences to come up with a plan to solve the problem.
Carrying out the plan: Execute the plan and carry out the necessary steps to solve the problem.
Evaluating the solution: Check the solution for accuracy and consider whether there is a more efficient or elegant solution to the problem.
Here is a table of the steps and tips you can use:
1. Understanding the problem
Read and comprehend the problem statement, and identify what information is given and what information is being asked for.
– Read the problem several times to make sure you understand it fully.
2. Devising a plan
Use logic, intuition, and past experiences to come up with a plan to solve the problem.
– Brainstorm multiple solutions and compare their pros and cons.
3. Carrying out the plan
Execute the plan and carry out the necessary steps to solve the problem.
– Follow the plan systematically, and keep track of your progress.
4. Evaluating the solution
Check the solution for accuracy and consider whether there is a more efficient or elegant solution to the problem.
– Confirm that the solution is correct and satisfies the requirements of the problem.
By following these steps, you can maximize the chances of finding a solution that is accurate, efficient, and effective. It’s also important to keep in mind that problem-solving is a continuous process and that you can always learn and improve your approach with each problem you solve.
Modern variations of the Polya Model
Polya’s Problem-Solving Model, introduced in 1945, has been widely used as a framework for teaching problem-solving skills for over seven decades. While the core principles of the model remain relevant, some modern variants have been developed to reflect the changing nature of problem-solving in a rapidly evolving world.
One such modern variant is the Polya’s 4C/ID Model, which adds two additional steps to the original four steps. The 4C/ID Model includes the following steps:
- Comprehend: Understand the problem and what information is given.
- Create: Develop a plan for solving the problem.
- Carry out: Implement the plan and solve the problem.
- Check: Evaluate the solution and check for accuracy.
- Identify: Identify patterns or relationships that can be used to solve similar problems in the future.
- Develop: Use the information gained from the previous steps to further develop problem-solving skills and strategies.
Another modern variant of Polya’s Model is the Polya’s Problem-Solving Framework, which is designed for use in a more collaborative and group-based setting. The framework includes the following steps:
- Definition: Define the problem and its context.
- Analysis: Analyze the problem and its causes.
- Generation: Generate potential solutions.
- Selection: Select the best solution.
- Implementation: Implement the solution.
- Evaluation: Evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.
These modern variants of Polya’s Model add steps that focus on critical thinking, collaboration, and the development of problem-solving skills, making them well-suited for use in a wide range of settings. However, the core principles of Polya’s Model remain unchanged, and the original four steps continue to be widely used and recognized as a classic framework for teaching problem-solving skills.
One book that I highly recommend for learning about Root Cause Analysis is “Root Cause Analysis: Improving Performance for Bottom-Line Results” by Robert J. Latino. This book provides a comprehensive overview of the Root Cause Analysis process, including its history, purpose, and benefits.
In this book, the author explains how Root Cause Analysis can be used to identify the underlying cause of problems in various industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, and service industries. He emphasizes the importance of using a systematic approach to Root Cause Analysis, and provides a step-by-step guide to help readers implement the process effectively.
A book I would recommend for learning about design thinking is “Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work” by Nigel Cross.
This is a comprehensive and accessible guide to the design thinking process, and is suitable for anyone interested in learning more about how to use design thinking to generate creative solutions to complex problems. The author’s clear and concise writing style, along with practical examples and case studies, makes this book a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their problem-solving skills and achieve better results in their organization.
If you would like te know more about Polya’s model, I would recommend “How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method” by George Polya. This classic book provides a comprehensive overview of the Polya’s Model and its application in solving mathematical problems.
In this book, the author explains how to apply Polya’s four-step problem-solving process to mathematical problems: understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution. He emphasizes the importance of a systematic approach to problem-solving and provides practical tips and tools to help readers improve their problem-solving skills.