Problem Solving Tips

By Kenneth Surbrugg, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Missouri Southern State University

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” – Henri Kaiser

Business owners and managers are faced with many problems and make many decisions each day. Given the competitive business environment facing each company, the ability to analyze each situation and come up with a game plan is paramount. Considering the competitive environment, government regulations, new technology, globalization, innovations, and an array of other uncertainties business owners face, it can be quite challenging to deal with the many unforeseen problems that appear.

Being able to creatively solve problems is a valuable skill to master, and it can make the future of your business more stable. Oftentimes in business, it’s hard to see “the forest for the trees.” A situation may exist in which you can’t figure out the real problem or a viable solution. Following are some tips to help you with problem solving in business:

  1. Carefully define and clarify the problem. Ask yourself why you see the current situation as a problem. What are the circumstances of the situation? How did this happen? When and where is this problem occurring? Why do you think there is a problem? Is this part of a trend or a larger situation?
  2. Consider the possibility that the situation you are dealing with may not actually be a problem after all; it may be an opportunity in disguise. Oftentimes our view of the world makes us see certain situations in a negative light. Clearly look at the situation for what it is. Challenge your preconceived ideas.
  3. Examine the potential cause of the problem. This can be useful when you are trying to find a good solution. What is the root cause of the problem? Seek advice and input from other people as to the potential causes of the problem so that you can see the situation from other points of view. As Peter Drucker said, “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”
  4. Brainstorm and generate ideas to find as many solutions to the problem as possible. Once again, make certain to get the input of others so that you can have as many ideas as possible to choose from. Make certain to not discount any ideas at first; you will want to have many alternatives. Write down all ideas.
  5. Evaluate ideas and prioritize potential solutions to the problem. Which solution is the most realistic choice that will not only solve the problem now, but have the best long-term effect on your company? Which solution is the most affordable, feasible, and realistic solution that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time?
  6. Select the best solution (or solutions) to your problem and develop a plan to implement it. You will need to communicate with other people to assist you in this effort to complete your plan. You will need to examine the resources needed, and your proposed time frame, in order to accomplish your plan.
  7. Implement your plan. If you are not the only person working on the resolution of the problem, then you will need to assign responsibility to individuals and effectively communicate your plans and expectations.
  8. Monitor and measure the implementation of your plan to solve the problem. Remember, you will need to continue to observe whether your plan is working and to get regular feedback about the process. Ask yourself: is the solution solving the problem in the way I thought it was going to be solved?

Companies face a variety of problems on a daily basis. Having a systematic method of trying to solve problems can help you clarify the real issues and develop workable solutions.

Remember, what starts out as a problem may actually be an opportunity. A new competitor may result in your company revising its outdated marketing plan and thereby increasing sales. Declining sales may encourage managers to look at their product offerings and start selling new, profitable lines. A virus outbreak may force you to explore new markets and selling channel that you may have not even considered.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

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