Problem solving essentials

We’ve all faced obstacles on the job. What makes you shine is how you handle them.

Problem solving essentials

Follow these six steps to a solution.

Strong problem-solving skills will make you a highly valued employee and are worth boasting about in your next job interview. Whether you’re working in a customer service job or as a nurse practitioner, you’ll inevitably face an obstacle. You might be tempted to follow your gut or figure it out on the fly, but the most effective way to solve any problem can be summarized in six stages.

1. Define the problem

The better you understand and can clearly communicate the concern, the more successful the solution. What type of problem is it? Is it the result several factors or a single issue? Summarize the problem in a few sentences.

For example, imagine you’re on the team that develops your organization’s weekly email to customers. The email is supposed to be sent every Monday by 3 p.m. But most weeks, you must stay late and it’s not sent until 7 p.m. You define the problem by saying, “Our weekly email is regularly sent late.”

2. Analyze the problem

It’s important to dig into the details at this stage. Ask yourself—and your colleagues, if appropriate—a series of quantitative questions: 

  • How often does the problem occur?
  • When does it happen—and when doesn’t it?
  • Who tends to be involved when the issue takes place?

Confirm or update your original problem statement.

In the case of the delayed email, you compile a history of send times and speak with your co-workers. You notice a pattern: Missed deadlines started when a new hire joined your management team. This person is responsible for reviewing the communication in a raw text format, before it’s placed into the email format.

3. Explore solutions

With the details of the problem in mind, brainstorm all possible resolutions. Encourage creative thinking and explore all the angles. Look to other organizations or departments for advice on how they’ve solved similar problems. 

With the help of your team, you identify a few ways forward—which include meeting with the new hire to talk about procedures or sending the email to him later in the workflow.

4. Select your solution

Weigh the pros and cons of each resolution. Plan out the details and anticipate possible obstacles.

You and your team decide the best way forward is scheduling a meeting with the new hire. You’ll present your process and procedures, making sure he understands his role as well as the deadlines and expectations.

5. Implement the solution

Finalize the details of your plan, including measurements for success, and then carry out the solution. Depending on the nature of your problem, you may wish to execute your plan as a trial or pilot program.  

You present the email process to the new hire, making sure he knows the deadlines. You clarify what he should focus his review on.

6. Evaluate and review

Was your problem-solving solution successful? Monitor and record the results. Ask for feedback. Identify unexpected outcomes or side effects. If needed, revise your solution and repeat. Once your solution is finalized, be sure to document any new procedures and incorporate them throughout your organization.

During the next email issue, you notice that the new hire delivers his feedback promptly, giving you and your colleagues valuable time to meet your deadline.

No matter what industry or position you’re in, being able to methodically solve a problem and gain buy in from colleagues is a must-have job skill. Could you use some more help sharpening your skills? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice and job-search tips send directly to your inbox. From learning how to optimize keywords on your resume to understanding the finer points of leadership, Monster can show you the steps to take to reach your full potential at every stage of your career.