What Is Problem Solving in Business?

Problem-solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic business goals.

In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes. In addition, a true problem typically does not have an immediately obvious resolution.

Business problem-solving works best when it is approached through a consistent system in which individuals:

  • Identify and define the problem
  • Prioritize the problem based on size, potential impact, and urgency
  • Complete a root-cause analysis
  • Develop a variety of possible solutions
  • Evaluate possible solutions and decide which is most effective
  • Plan and implement the solution

Why Is Problem-Solving Important in Business?

Understanding the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace will help you develop as a leader. Problem-solving skills will help you resolve critical issues and conflicts that you come across. Problem-solving is a valued skill in the workplace because it allows you to:

  • Apply a standard problem-solving system to all challenges
  • Find the root causes of problems
  • Quickly deal with short-term business interruptions
  • Form plans to deal with long-term problems and improve the organization
  • See challenges as opportunities
  • Keep your cool during challenges

How Do You Solve Business Problems Effectively?

There are many different problem-solving strategies, but most can be broken into general steps. Here is a six-step method for business problem solving:

1) Identify the Details of the Problem: Gather enough information to accurately define the problem. This can include data on procedures being used, employee actions, relevant workplace rules, and so on. Write down the specific outcome that is needed, but don’t assume what the solution should be.

  • Use the Five Whys: When assessing a problem, a common strategy is to ask “why” five times. First, ask why the problem occurred. Then, take the answer and ask “why” again, and so on. The intention is to help you get down to the root cause of the problem so you can directly target that core issue with your solution.

2) Creatively Brainstorm Solutions:  State every solution you can think of. Write them down. Seek input from those who possess in-depth knowledge of or experience with the problem you’re trying to solve. These insights will provide you with valuable perspectives you can transform into tangible and impactful solutions.

3) Evaluate Solutions and Make a Decision:  Assess the feasibility of each solution. Is the deadline realistic? Are there readily available resources you can leverage to successfully implement the solution? What is the return on investment of each solution? If necessary, come up with alternative solutions or adjust the initial ones you brainstormed in step 2.

4) Make a Decision: Finally, make a firm decision on one solution. This final solution should clearly address the root cause of the problem.

  • Perform a SWOT Analysis: You can use a SWOT analysis to help you decide on the best solution. A SWOT analysis involves identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats linked to a specific decision. With this framework, your team can assess a decision from various angles, thereby gaining a holistic view of it.

5) Take Action:  Write up a detailed plan. This involves developing a comprehensive roadmap that outlines the steps required to implement your solution. The steps should specify milestones, deadlines, roles, and how to obtain the necessary approvals. To ensure accountability, your entire team should have access to this action plan. Each team member should be able to track and share their progress with the group.

6) Gather and Share Feedback: Problem-solving is not a “set it and forget it” process. It’s a dynamic journey that necessitates ongoing attention, deliberation, and refinement to achieve optimal results. Thus, periodic feedback is critical in validating whether the chosen solution creates the desired impact. It allows key stakeholders to check in and make any necessary changes.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are specific procedures that can be used to complete one or more of the six general steps of problem-solving (discussed above). Here are five important examples:

Using Emotional Intelligence: You’ll solve problems more calmly when you learn to recognize your own emotional patterns and to empathize with and guide the emotions of others. Avoid knee-jerk responses and making assumptions.

Researching Problems: An effective solution requires an accurate description of the problem. Define simple problems using quick research methods such as asking, “What? Where? When? and How much?.” Difficult problems require more in-depth research, such as data exploration, surveys, and interviews.

Creative Brainstorming: When brainstorming with a group, encourage idea creation by listening attentively to everyone, and recognizing everyone’s unique contributions.

Logical Reasoning: Develop standard logical steps for analyzing possible solutions to problems. Study and apply ideas about logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, and other areas of analytical thought.

Decisiveness: Use an agreed-upon system for choosing a solution, which can include assigning pros and cons to solutions, identifying mandatory results, getting feedback about solutions, choosing the decision-maker(s), and finishing or repeating the process.

How Can You Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills?

Learning how to solve business problems takes time and effort. Though some people appear to have been born with superior problem-solving skills, great problem-solvers usually have taken the time to refine their abilities. You can develop high-level skills for solving problems too, through the following methods:

Ask and Listen: Don’t expect to solve every problem alone. Ask for advice, and listen to it carefully.

Practice Curiosity: Any time you’re involved in solving a problem, practice researching and defining the problem just a little longer than you would naturally.

Break Down Problems: Whenever possible, break large problems into their smallest units. Then, search for solutions to one unit at a time.

Don’t Label Yourself Negatively: Don’t allow a problem to mean something negative about you personally. Separate yourself from it. Look at it objectively and be part of the solution.

Enhance Your Problem-Solving Skills with CMOE

Problem-solving skills in business are not developed overnight. Developing then takes ongoing practice and the right guidance to get right. We encourage you to leverage CMOE’s Problem-Solving and Decision Making in the Workplace workshop to further develop your skills. We’ll help you identify new ways to solve problems methodically so you can create greater impact.

Learn business problem solving