You are currently viewing Creative Problem Solving and Decision Making

Creative Problem Solving and Decision Making

How do you solve big problems?  Do you have a systematic approach or do you just wing it?

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to find and implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The six steps are:

  • Define the Problem
  • Perform a Gap analysis
  • Generate Possible Solutions
  • Evaluate Possible Solutions
  • Select and Implement the Best Solution
  • Follow up and Evaluate Progress

Step 1 – Define the Problem

When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. You must understand the problem before you spend time or money implementing a solution.

It is important to take care in defining the problem. The way that you define your problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. You must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process in order to achieve a successful solution. You may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.  You must get to the root of the problem and not only treat the symptoms.

For example, if the battery in my car is dead, I may define the problem as a dead battery.  This may only be a symptom of a bigger problem.  The problem could be a bad alternator which is failing to charge my battery. If I replace the battery without addressing the alternator, I will have addressed the symptom and the problem will remain.

Step 2 – Perform a Gap Analysis

A Gap Analysis compares the present state with your desired future state.  To do this, write a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then you write a statement of what you would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. Refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.


Step 3 – Generate Possible Solutions

Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the process. It is important to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. Depending on your situation, you may try brainstorming, brainwriting, or mindmapping.  You may also choose to adopt a method created and popularized by Dr. Edward de Bono called the Six Thinking Hats.  More on these methods in a future post.


Step 4 – Evaluate Possible Solutions

Once you have generated a good number of possible solutions, it’s time to evaluate them for effectiveness.  Consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem. When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, also consider the following:

  • Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
  • Think about what you want the solution to do or not do.
  • Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for your goals or problem-solving criteria.

Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:

  • Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences for delaying action?
  • Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
  • Impact – Is the problem serious?

Step 5 – Select and Implement the Best Solution

The next step in the process is to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, you will have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a short list of possibilities, you can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem.

In this step, you can use such decision-making tools as the Low Hanging Fruit matrix or the paired comparison analysis.  We’ll discuss each of these in a future post.

You will also need to analyze for potential problems.  This is done by asking how serious and how likely any potential problems may be.

Once you have decided on the best solution, create an action plan and implement it.  Your action plans should include all necessary tasks and resources required to fully implement the proposed solution.

Step 6 – Follow up and Evaluate Progress

As part of the implementation process, you will also continue to evaluate the solution(s). It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary, based on the evaluation of the solution’s effectiveness at solving the problem. You may need to adjust the plan as new information about the solution comes to light.

Here are some sample questions you can ask to evaluate the implementation of the solution:

  • Does the solution solve the real problem and not just treat a symptom?
  • Is the problem going to be solved permanently?
  • Have all the positive and negative consequences been examined?

We’ll look a little closer at some of the steps we covered here in future posts.  For now, focus on utilizing a systematic and organized approach the next time you are faced with an issue that calls for creative problem solving.

American Water College provides online and onsite technical and management training for water and wastewater professionals. Click on the link for more information about our Effective Utility Management training program.  Or check out our Classroom Training Schedule for dates and locations of our upcoming events.  We also have a complete training library available to your organization.  Click here  or call us at (661) 874-1655 to find out how you can gain access to this industry specific training for your utility.