“Start from the Start” with 4 Problem-Solving Methods

Problem Solving MethodsStart from the start: It’s such an obvious statement it’s easy to dismiss. But how many of us have brainstormed solutions for problems, only to find out we didn’t solve the right problem?

In this post, we’ll discuss four ways to define the real problem. From there, you can start troubleshooting and solving. Keep in mind these methodologies may be better suited for some situations than others.


5 Whys

The ever-popular “5 Whys” is a simple iterative question-asking technique used to drill down to the real cause of a defect or problem. For example, if the issue was a software project being behind schedule, the analysis might be the following:

Why (is the software project behind schedule)?
Because we couldn’t deploy the software on time
Because we had integration errors in three components
Because they weren’t integration tested
Because we don’t have the proper testing environment
Because the email ordering the machines wasn’t sent on time

From there a the root cause of the problem is identified and a solution can be created.


Method of Doubt / First Principles

René_DescartesRené Descartes, the mathematician and father of modern philosophy, used a method of systematically doubting everything he could until he was left with what he saw as a purely indubitable truth:

Cogito ergo sum” / I think therefore I am

From this ultimate starting point he went on to deduce a seminal system of knowledge called the Meditations.


Kepner-Tregoe (KT) Process

Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making (PSDM), commonly called as KT Process, is a structured methodology for gathering information and prioritizing and evaluating it. The basic four step process is meant to draw attention away from thinking solutions and outcomes (too early) and for making unbiased decisions.

See Decision Making Confidence for more information on the Kepner Tregoe Process and it’s pros and cons.


Pareto Analysis

Speed limit 80Pareto analysis is used to reduce a large list of identified risks down to the most important ones using a simple method. It’s based on the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) that states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Using Pareto Analysis is easy:

  • Use some simple ranking scheme to rank all of the identified risks
  • Discard the last 80% of the risks from further analysis
  • The final 20% of the risks can be used either in final analysis or passed on to the next stage


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