Problem Solving

  • Anticipates, identifies, and defines problems
  • Seeks root causes
  • Develops and implements practical and timely solutions.
Proficiency Levels – What it looks like
Being Developed
Asks questions and looks for data that helps to identify and differentiate the symptoms and root causes of every day, defined problems Investigates defined issues with uncertain cause Applies problem-solving methodologies and tools to diagnose and solve operational and interpersonal problems Diagnoses problems using formal problem-solving tools and techniques from multiple angles and probes underlying issues to generate multiple potential solutions Anticipates problem areas and associated risk levels with objective rationale
Suggests remedies that meet the needs of the situation and those directly affected Solicits input in gathering data that help identify and differentiate the symptoms and root causes of defined problems Determines the potential causes of the problem and devises testing methodologies for validation Proactively anticipates and prevents problems Uses formal methodologies to forecast trends and define innovative strategic choices in response to the potential implications of multiple integrated options
Resolves problems and escalates issues appropriately Suggests alternative approaches that meet the needs of the organization, the situation, and those involved Shows empathy and objectivity toward individuals involved in the issue Devises, facilitates buy-in, makes recommendations, and guides implementation of corrective and/or preventive actions for complex issues that cross organizational boundaries and are unclear in nature Generates and solicits the approval of senior leadership prior to defining critical issues and solutions to unclear, multi-faceted problems of high risk which span across and beyond the enterprise
Resolves problems and escalates issues with suggestions for further investigation and options for consideration as required Analyzes multiple alternatives, risks, and benefits for a range of potential solutions Identifies potential consequences and risk levels
Recommends resource requirements and collaborates with impacted stakeholders Seeks support and buy-in for problem definition, methods of resolution, and accountability

What it Doesn’t Look Like

  • Addressing symptoms instead of the problem
  • Driving to solution without properly defining the problem or completing a thorough analysis
  • Using only one tool or approach to solve all problems
  • Looking at the issue from only one perspective
  • Committing to solutions too early

Questions to Consider

  • Have I clearly and accurately defined the problem?
  • Is my problem statement really a solution?
  • What techniques can I use to sort through this mess of interrelated issues?
  • What would an appreciative inquiry approach to solving this problem look like?
  • Would it be helpful to use the Simplex Process with it’s eights steps to ensure our problem is accurately defined and solution is creative, robust and complete?

Learning and Development Activities

Choose one or two activities that support your preferred learning style

Select activities by learning style
Doing Listening Observing Training Reading

(By clicking on the symbol, those activities relating to the learning style will appear)


Suggestions for activities you can do on the job


  • Select a relatively simple problem. Use the Five Whys technique to get to the root of the problem quickly. i.e. Why is….? Why were…? Why did…? Why did…? Why didn’t…?
  • For the next problem that you are required to solve try using this four step approach:
    1. Define the problem
    2. Generate alternatives
    3. Evaluate and select alternatives
    4. Implement solutions.
  • Complete a structured root cause analysis following these steps:
    1. Identify the Problem
    2. Record observations (is) answering questions i.e. What is the process effected? Where do we see the problem? When did the problem occur? How big is the problem?
    3. Record comparisons (is not) i.e. What other similar parts could be affected but are not? Where else could I expect to see this problem? When else could the problem have occurred? How big could it be?
    4. Identify likely causes
    5. Test, if a likely cause does not explain the is vs. is not data, it is not the cause
  • Use an Affinity diagram to organize different elements of information into common themes, then identify the relationship between elements

With Peers

  • Use CATWOE problem solving technique with peers to stimulate thinking about a problem and/or implementing a solution. For each category come up with 3-4 questions, then work through responses to the questions together.
    • Customers
    • Actors
    • Transformation Process
    • World View
    • Owner
    • Environmental Constraints
  • Work with a peer or group using a Cause and Effect Diagram to generate viable solutions to a problem which you already know the cause of.
  • For a business process problem, create together a Flow Chart, Swim Lane Diagram or Systems Diagram to visualize and help determine how the various activities and inputs interact. Look for missing elements and bottlenecks that may be causing the problem.

With your Manager/Team Lead

  • Work together using the Drill Down technique to separate your complex problem into smaller units, which can be solved appropriately as you uncover the factors contributing to the problem.
Listening and Observing

Here are some ideas that can be pursued on the job, with some coordination. Use these reflective questions to gain more from your learning experience:

  • What are three key things I have learned from this experience?
  • What will I do differently in my work as a result of this experience?
  • Over the next month, attend three problem solving meetings where different techniques are used. Was the technique selected effective? What worked well? How could the problem solving process have been enhanced?
  • Identify someone who is good at problem solving. Ask them to walk you through the process they use from start to finish on two different problems. What did they do that was particularly effective?
Training Programs

UBC Training Programs offered through Organization Development and Learning

  • Thinking Outside the Box: Connecting with the Creative Subconscious
  • Shift Happens
  • Mind Mapping

For UBCO course offerings, please visit the Events page.

Consider working with a coach following training, to aid in anchoring your learning:


Choose to read one or two of the books listed below. Consider the reflective questions to enhance your learning:

  • What are the key points the author is making?
  • What are three key things I have learned from this reading?
  • What will I do differently in my work as a result of gaining this knowledge?


  • The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures; (2009), D. Roam; Portfolio Hardcover. There is no more powerful way to see hidden solutions than to pick up a pen and draw out the pieces of our problem. This book teaches how to clarify any problem or sell any idea using a simple set of tools. It shows how thinking with pictures can help you discover and develop new ideas, solve problems in unexpected ways, and dramatically improve your ability to share your insights.
  • The Memory Jogger Two; (2010), M. Brassard & D. Ritter; GOAL/QPC. An easy to use compact reference guide of tools that are useful in the problem solving process. Suggests when each tool would be most effective and provides an easy to follow example.
  • Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People; (2009), K. Watanabe; Portfolio Hardcover. teaches us to recognize the common elements in the decisions we face every day, and how to think carefully about them. It offers tricks and tips for all from Students to business leaders. The author uses sample scenarios to illustrate his techniques, which include logic trees and matrixes.

Managers/Team Leads

  • Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity; (2010), D. Sibbet; Wiley. Use eye-popping visual tools to energize your people! Just as social networking has reclaimed the Internet for human interactivity and co-creation, the visual meetings movement is reclaiming creativity, productivity, and playful exchange for serious work in groups. The book explains how anyone can implement powerful visual tools, and how these tools are being used in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to facilitate both face-to-face and virtual group work.

Additional Questions

Please contact your Human Resources Representative with any additional questions.

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