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Professionals have to learn to differentiate between problems and symptoms.

Let’s take the common incidence of a patient suffering from fever.

A commoner will assume that the problem here is the fever, but a doctor will know that the fever is only a symptom and the underlying problem can be something else, say, an infection.
There is a big gap between what is taught in the business schools and the implementation of those learning to solve the problems in the workplace. 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.

The problem solving skills of the team members also plays an important role.

Let’s have a look at some of the most successful problem solving techniques.


A. Brainstorming

Alex F Osborn documented this technique in the late 1930s.

In brainstorming a group will discuss the different ways of arriving at a solution, under the guidance of a facilitator.

Every member is encouraged to give his point of view. All points are noted down. Finally a decision is arrived, based on the different points discussed.

Guiding rules

All ideas, including unusual, creative ideas are welcomed and noted

Criticism and judgement is not done during the brainstorming

Quantity is more important than quality, i.e. more ideas are better than good ideas

Synergy of ideas is practised, i.e. 1+1 will result in 3 (and not just 2)

B. The 5 Whys process

This technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution, in the 1930s. His method became popular in the 1970s, and Toyota uses it.

The following are the steps:-

  • Form a team
  • Define the problem
  • Ask why 5 times
  • Find out the problem
  • Take corrective actions


The following is an example from Toyota, on implementing the technique.

Sometimes the solution is found even before all the “5 Whys” are answered.

This technique must follow a logical path. One method to check this is to read the causes in reverse order. Even in the reverse order they should follow a logical progression to the problem statement.

C. Deming’s ‘Shewhart’ cycle?


This approach has four steps:

  1. Plan – decide on desirable changes and evaluate existing data, and consider if new information is required.
  2. Do – make changes decided upon, preferably in a small, experimental way.
  3. Check – evaluate the effects of the experiment.
  4. Act – implement the required changes.

This is also known as known by other name like

# Plan do check act (PDCA) Cycle and

# Plan do study act (PDSA) Cycle

This technique is useful in the following cases:-

  • For continuous improvement.
  • For starting a new improvement project.
  • For developing a new product or service.
  • For defining a repetitive work process.
  • For verifying root causes.
  • For implementing any change.

D. The Eight Discipline Methodology (8D)

This is a team based approach to solving product and process problems.
It is used to correct and identify recurrent problems by using statistical methods.

The following are the 8 steps:-

  1. Establish the team ( Select team leaders and define goals)
  2. Make a problem statement (include tools for problem description)
  3. Contain the symptom ( determine when and how to do it)
  4. Analyse the root cause (data collection for finding the root cause)
  5. Choose corrective actions (decision making)
  6. Implement corrective actions ( verification and implementation )
  7. Prevent recurrence ( update documentation)
  8. Document learning ( congratulate team)


There are so many problem solving techniques available.

We have to train the team in problem solving skills, choose the best technique, implement it, verify the results and take the necessary actions.

1 thought on “Problem Solving Techniques”

celana sirwal · February 19, 2018 at 10:16 am

Greetings! I’ve been following your web site for some time now and
finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout
out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent work!

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