Identify solutions

After diagnosing your problem, identify solutions.

After diagnosing your problem, identify solutions.

You have identified the problem and understood its root causes. Congratulations!

Identifying solutions is a three-step process that includes generating solutions, evaluating them, and selecting one (or several).

Next, you need to identify solutions. Here, as in the diagnostic phase, you can leverage logic trees to support your making a decision.

Identifying solutions is an iterative process: you start by generating hypotheses about how you think you can solve your problem. Then you structure these hypotheses in a how issue tree / issue map. Next, decide which hypothesis you want to test first before conducting the actual testing. Finally, conclude: did you find an appropriate solution? If not, go back to generating hypotheses and analyze them.

To identify solutions, use an iterative process centered around a how issue tree / issue map

To identify solutions, use an iterative process facilitated by a how issue tree / issue map.

Identify solutions, step 1: Generating solutions

As in framing the problem and diagnosing it, identifying solutions requires you to combine creative and critical thinking, using inductive, deductive, and abductive logic and keeping all relevant information accessible. To help sharpen your thinking, you may want to use an issue tree / issue map as a way to consider all possible solutions exactly once (that is, using a MECE structure to organize answers that may only be ICE) and organize them in an insightful way.

If you’re lucky, your problem is not so new and there might already be an existing framework than can provide structure to your logic tree. Alternatively, you may get a head start from a similar problem that you know how to solve, or a simpler one. In any case to truly add value you’ll have to go further than obvious responses, which requires you to diverge effectively in your thinking, and simplify as much as possible.

As always in problem-solving, practice enough, embrace constraints, reframe your problem if needed, and leverage the collective wisdom by enlisting a diverse team—that may include both experts and novices and both proponents and opponents—in generating solutions through using an adaptive leadership style.

Identify solutions, step 2: Evaluating solutions

Evaluating solutions properly can be harder than it looks. You’ll need to check your assumptions and manage various biases, such as confirmation bias—the tendency to search for and favor evidence that support our prior beliefs. You’ll also need to question your intuition and remember your limitations.

Evaluating solutions requires you to conduct the right analysis to identify if each of your hypotheses is valid. This, in turn, requires you to identify what information to look for, search for both confirming and disconfirming evidence, at times triangulate on answers, and conclude carefully. Ensure you understand the “so what?” of your findings and you adapt your confidence to the circumstances.

Identify solutions, step 3: Selecting solutions

Decision making is an integral part of problem solving but it should only come now that you have carefully framed your problem (and perhaps reframed it), diagnosed it and identified various alternatives to solve it. As before, carefully assess your inclinations and use tools to support your decision making process.

To identify solutions effectively, you need to balance carefully optimizing and satisficing, for instance by following the Pareto principle. Ideally, you’ll also recognize and capture quick wins along the way.

To illustrate, you may want to look at case studies. This one looks at various ways to recover a lost dog and a decision tool to help you choose which to implement. You may also want to look at a profitability issue tree / issue map. A third case is on cables negotiation (and part 2).

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