The Seven most Common Problem Solving Methods

Posted on Nov 02, 2014 by Norma Simons

 problem_solving-_7_types-271592-editedEveryone has the ability to solve problems. However, problems which arise from the repetitive actions or processes during manufacturing or business processes need an entirely different approach.

In “The Global Achievement Gap’ written by Tony Wagner, the need for critical thinking and problem solving skills was listed as one of the seven survival skills required to close the gap between what learners are learning in schools and colleges and the ability of these learners to apply and solve problems in the workplace.

In this information age the proper use and knowledge of problem solving is required by all employees at all levels and in all industries. No longer are instructions and problem solving information given from the top of the organization. Problems are resolved not in the boardroom but instead on the shop-floor or at the location where they are identified. Organizations that do not promote or encourage problem solving skills rely on the skills and knowledge of a few people and as such are unable to make the progress that they are capable of making.

In a study performed by The Conference Board to evaluate the readiness of US workers, it was discovered that “57.5 percent of employer respondents say Critical Thinking/Problem Solving is “very important” for high school graduates; 72.7 percent for two-year college graduates, and 92.1 percent for college graduates”.

The following list outlines the seven most common problem solving methods:

  1. The Deming- Shewart Cycle. This is based on Plan, Do, Check and Act with the overall aim of process improvement. In some instances the Check phase is replaced by Study. The concept behind this approach is that problem solving and process improvement is a continuous process.
  2. The Eight Discipline Methodology  (8D)This system is a team based approach to solving product and process problems It is used to correct and identify recurrent problems by using statistical methods to initiate data collection, root cause analysis, and problem resolution.
  3. Five Why Methodology. This is a system of asking “why” five times until the root cause of the problem is uncovered. It is also important to apply critical thinking principles during use of this method in order to eliminate irrelevant assumptions and logic traps. The Toyota Motor company has used this method successfully to solve manufacturing problems.
  4. Appreciative Inquiry. Unlike the traditional problem solving methods of breaking problems into manageable smaller units analyzing the problem, this method looks at what works in an organization identifying the positive and stating what can be done to do more of the same. It is based on Discover, Dream, Design and Destiny.
  5. Kepner-Tregoe Decision Analysis. This is a rational system based on unbiased decisions. It is also a structured analysis for gathering information, prioritizing and evaluating data. There are four steps to this analysis -, situation appraisal, problem analysis, decision analysis and potential problem analysis .The overall aim is to minimize the risk of problems.
  6. Kaizen. This is a team based method of problem solving oriented to continuous and incremental improvement at all levels of the organization. The line operators, middle level managers and the CEO are to be invested in this method if the goals of continuous improvement are to be achieved
  7. Lean Six Sigma. This methodology uses the approach of Design Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control and focuses on the use of data, root cause analysis, implementing improvement actions and implementing system actions to sustain improvements. Lean Six Sigma emphasizes the use of statistical tools, project selection and project management.

Every approach to problem solving outlines a structure which describes a thought process required to reach to problem resolution. I have found that companies are all in search of the one tool or set of skills that are required to help employees solve problems. The issue however, behind problem solving is not the methodology but the ability of employees to be skilled and apply the problem solving methodology in an objective manner that can yield results. With this said, the ability of employees to resolve problems also rests with the culture of the organization. That is, how it is structured, how problem solving skills are encouraged or rewarded, whether or not employees are allowed to think freely and whether the use of data is at the center of decision-making.


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