You have framed your perceived problem, in the form of a SCQ sequence. Next, you’ve diagnosed it and understood its root causes. This might have led you to update your SCQ to reflect the new insights that you uncovered in the diagnosis. At any rate, these aren’t trivial progress, so congratulations! You’re now ready to move actively identify solutions, or options.

This is a two-step process that includes exploring solutions and evaluating them to select which to implement.

To explore solutions, as in the diagnostic phase, you may want to use a question map, this time a how map. You’ll then need to make a decision.

Identifying solutions is an iterative process: Start by generating hypotheses about how you think you can solve your problem. Then, structure these hypotheses in a how 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.

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 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. (Note: question maps are close cousins of issue trees, logic trees, and decision trees but obey slightly different rules.)

If you’re lucky, your problem is not so new and there might already be an existing framework than can provide structure to your question map. 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 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 an appropriate 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 supporting and opposing 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 alternative options 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 help you gain some practice, 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 question map / issue map. A third case is on cables negotiation (and part 2).