Problem solving:What to do when you cant figure out what to fix
Agenda ● Overview ● An attempt at a definition ● Example ● Exercise ● Discussion ● Problem solving strategies ● Things to remember ● References
OverviewWe solve problems all the time and much of the time we dont even thinkvery much about it. However, we all tend to rely on certain techniques thatmay not be effective with unfamiliar problems. Under pressure, our problemsolving skills often seriously deteriorate often when we need them to be attheir peak.This Lunch and Learn is not meant to be definitive. Learning how to solveproblems is an on-going process and I expect we will all learn something ittoday.While focused on immediate problems, similar techniques are applicable tolarger, more extensive issues.
What is problem solving?My attempt at a definitionProblem solving is a deliberate, conscious methodology to improve some undesirablesituation.This implies you can recognize both the undesirable situation and what the desired one is.
ExampleSunday morning, I decided to wash some laundry so put a load in thewashing machine and turned it on. When I returned an hour later to put theclean clothes in the dryer, there was water on the basement floor comingfrom under the washing machine.1. Define the problem.a) I looked under the washing machine and behind it and determined thatwater had backed up from a floor drain and did not come out of the washingmachine.b) What did I know? Water had been pumped out of the washing machineinto our sewer line but then came back into the house.c) I concluded there was a blockage in our sewer line below the junction ofthe floor drain and washer drain.
Example (continued)2. Was there any missing information? I figured Id try boring through theblockage with a drain snake so went to Uncle Google to see if there wereany hints on technique.3. Did I have what I needed to remove the blockage? I had an old snakewhich was pretty kinked. I tried it but it was useless and tied itself into atangle. So off to the hardware store (nothing appropriate) and then HomeDepot. Serendipity struck and not only did an employee offer to help but hewas a journeyman plumber! He also suggested additional ideas.4. How did I remove the blockage? Remember, thats the problem I want tosolve! I decided to snake out each drain line on the way to the main houselateral until I found and removed the blockage.
Exercise ● Break into pairs ● Each of you gets your own "problem" to solve ● Each pair has 15 minutes to think about your problem and describe how you would (attempt to?) solve the problem ● Do not focus on the what you would do but how you would ○ Less interesting that I Googled for snaking drains but more that I decided to get more information ● Well talk about these when we resume
Exercise results ● What techniques did you use? ● Why? ● Could you use others?
Strategies1. Abstraction - solving the problem in a model of the system2. Analogy - using a solution that solved an analogous one3. Brainstorming - suggesting a large number of ideas4. Divide and conquer - breaking down a problem into smaller ones5. Hypothesis testing - assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to (dis-) prove6. Lateral thinking - approaching solutions indirectly and creatively7. Trial and error - testing possible solutions until the right one is found8. Root cause analysis - eliminating the cause of the problem
Things to remember1. Deep breath2. Make sure you know what you think you know and are not being misled (this may lead to sub-problems to solve)3. Do you know enough (or have enough tools) to proceed or do you need outside help4. Keep track of what youve tried and what happened5. Always check your assumptions (see #2). ○ It is easy to use the wrong technique if you think you know what the problem is. ○ It is easy to test the wrong thing (this is more focused on websites)
George Pólya: "How to solve it"Written in 1945 on how to solve mathematics problems (a majorfocus of his). 1. Understand the problem. Do you have enough information? Do you need to ask questions? Can you restate the problem? 2. Make a plan. Use one of the strategies mentioned earlier. 3. Follow the plan. If it continues to not work, devise another (# 2) 4. Review. What worked and what didnt.
References ● http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Solve_It ● Edmunds: http://www.problemsolving.net/ ● Business related and mostly focused on decisions: http://www. businessballs.com/problemsolving.htm ● http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_solving ● Off topic but interesting: www.businessballs. com/ethical_management_leadership.htm