The Bookbyte Blog
The 10 Essential Soft Skills List: 3 – Problem Solving
Some of the hardest and highest paying jobs in the world involve very little output or physical exertion. The performance and success of these jobs are measured not by the volume of output but by the quality. Enter the problem solver’s advantage.
Employers need problems solved and if a candidate displays strong problem-solving skills during their interview—and/or on their resume—you can bet that candidate will climb to the top of an employer’s shortlist of people they plan to vet further. Fortunately, being a good problem solver isn’t a gift so much as it is a skill that’s developed over time. Follow our recommended problem-solving process, below, to make sure you’re not skipping over an important part of your own process. Plus, check out the course recommendations at the bottom, hand-selected to help set you apart from the competition.
Step 1: Understanding the problem
Throughout your career, problems will arise, time and time again, and you need to be ready to conquer each one with grace. You’ll need to properly vet each problem and understand that much of the time, what you think is the problem is actually the causality of a bigger, underlying problem. Make sure to do your due diligence and track down the real culprit before moving on.
When you feel confident you’ve found it, you’re ready to begin vetting (or carefully examining) it. Gathering as much information as possible about the problem now is going to help you out later. You should begin looking for answers to questions like:
What is the problem?
Yes, this is a given at this point—you know what the problem is—but you should still frame it in a statement. If you can’t easily articulate the problem, then that’s a good indicator that you don’t quite have your finger on the problem.
What causes the problem?
Spare no detail here. Your level of thoroughness will help you find any holes in your presumptions.
What’s affected by the problem?
Again, be extremely thorough; consider every relationship, direct and indirect.
Look for both answers to why the problem is caused and why it affects other areas. And, after you’ve taken the time to gain a deeper understanding of the problem, you can begin to define your constraints.
Step 2: Defining the constraints
A constraint is a limit or restriction your solution will need to honor. You will need to exercise your critical thinking skills and work to understand what constraints exist so your ultimate solution fits within them. You’ll need to factor in constraints like:
Barriers or scope. These can be operations, systems, or protocols you need to work within and/or avoid completely.
Time available to work on a solution with respect to day-to-day responsibilities.
Funds Available to spend on a solution. (this can and should include FTE labor hours).
Resources (and/or bandwidth) available to devote to a solution.
Expertise required to execute such.
Knowing your constraints does limit you but it will also save you from wasting valuable time exploring unlikely solutions that just don’t work. Doing this groundwork now lays a good foundation for forming a strong, lasting solution.
Step 3: Forming your solution
Now that you’ve done the adequate groundwork, you can focus on coming up with a bulletproof solution. You have a deep understanding of the problem; you know its reach; you understand how it surfaces, and you know why it exists. Use this knowledge to tell a story—literally. Consider using something like the paragraph statement below.
The problem is __________. __________ causes the problem and this is because of (or due to) ___________. As a result of this problem, __________ is also affected which happens because of (or due to) ___________.
Fill in the blanks as is or tweak the sentences and then re-read aloud a couple of times to see what kind of rough solutions immediately come to mind. List them. Repeat this a few more times and try to gather 2-5 options if possible. This exercise is purely for idea generation and can help make the brainstorming process a little less intimidating—so give it a try! After you have several possible solutions, take each one and filter it through your defined constraints.
Does solution A work within the defined barriers and scope? How much time would solution A take to implement, and can it be re-prioritized? (There are exceptions here as it really all depends on how critical a problem is and how urgently a solution is needed.) How costly is solution A and do we have the funds available in our budget? What resources does solution A require and can we devote them? What expertise is needed to correctly implement solution A? Lastly, and this is important, is solution A sustainable and is it proactive—preventing future related problems?
When you feel you have a solution that really works, and honors the constraints, you’re ready to begin implementing it.
Step 4: Implementation
Because you took the time to thoroughly vet the problem and define the constraints—all before thinking about the solution—you have essentially mapped out your approach. You’ve produced a solution that remedies and future-proofs the problem, and you’ve ran it through your constraints criteria to make sure it’s feasible. Now, you’re ready to lean on your other soft skills to get the solution in place, on time, on budget, with the devoted resources, and required expertise. Job well done!
In the real world, every problem you encounter will be different. Some will have quick fixes that don’t require much critical thinking, and others will seem unsolvable. Additionally, there will be times you won’t have a real solution that adheres to all the constraints and you’ll be forced to pick the best option—sad but true.
If there’s anything you take away from this blog, it’s that being a good problem solver really requires you to slow down and look at the bigger picture before deciding anything. Elevate yourself and start thinking about ways you can improve your own problem-solving skills.
Courses you can take
Coursera | Effective Problem-solving and Decision-making
Estimated time to complete: 5 hours.