How Good is Your Problem Solving?

Test Your Problem Solving Skills

Use a systematic approach.

© iStockphoto/RBFried

Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career.

But problems are something that we don't particularly like.

They're time-consuming.

They muscle their way into already packed schedules.

They force us to think about an uncertain future.

And they never seem to go away!

That's why, when faced with problems, most of us try to eliminate them as quickly as possible. But have you ever chosen the easiest or most obvious solution – and then realized that you have entirely missed a much better solution? Or have you found yourself fixing just the symptoms of a problem, only for the situation to get much worse?

To be an effective problem-solver, you need to be systematic and logical in your approach. This quiz helps you assess your current approach to problem solving. By improving this, you'll make better overall decisions. And as you increase your confidence with solving problems, you'll be less likely to rush to the first solution – which may not necessarily be the best one.

Once you've completed the quiz, we'll direct you to tools and resources that can help you make the most of your problem-solving skills.

How Good Are You at Solving Problems?

Instructions:

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

   16 Statements to Answer

Not
at All
Rarely Some
times
Often Very
Often
1 Once I choose a solution, I develop an implementation plan with the sequence of events necessary for completion.
2 After a solution has been implemented, I immediately look for ways to improve the idea and avoid future problems.
3 To avoid asking the wrong question, I take care to define each problem carefully before trying to solve it.
4 I strive to look at problems from different perspectives and generate multiple solutions.
5 I try to address the political issues and other consequences of the change I’m proposing so that others will understand and support my solution.
6 I evaluate potential solutions carefully and thoroughly against a predefined standard.
7 I systematically search for issues that may become problems in the future.
8 When I decide on a solution, I make it happen – no matter what opposition I may face.
9 I find that small problems often become much bigger in scope, and thus very difficult to solve.
10 I ask myself lots of different questions about the nature of the problem.
11 After my solution is implemented, I relax and focus again on my regular duties.
12 I focus on keeping current operations running smoothly and hope that problems don’t appear.
13 I evaluate potential solutions as I think of them.
14 When I need to find a solution to a problem, I usually have all of the information I need to solve it.
15 When evaluating solutions, I take time to think about how I should choose between options.
16 Making a decision is the end of my problem-solving process.
Calculate My Total
Total = 0

Score Interpretation

Score Comment
16-36 You probably tend to view problems as negatives, instead of seeing them as opportunities to make exciting and necessary change. Your approach to problem solving is more intuitive than systematic, and this may have led to some poor experiences in the past. With more practice, and by following a more structured approach, you'll be able to develop this important skill and start solving problems more effectively right away. (Read below to start.)
37-58 Your approach to problem solving is a little "hit-and-miss." Sometimes your solutions work really well, and other times they don't. You understand what you should do, and you recognize that having a structured problem-solving process is important. However, you don't always follow that process. By working on your consistency and committing to the process, you'll see significant improvements. (Read below to start.)
59-80 You are a confident problem solver. You take time to understand the problem, understand the criteria for a good decision, and generate some good options. Because you approach problems systematically, you cover the essentials each time – and your decisions are well though out, well planned, and well executed. You can continue to perfect your problem-solving skills and use them for continuous improvement initiatives within your organization. Skim through the sections where you lost points below, and sharpen your skills still further! (Read below to start.)

Answering these questions should have helped you recognize the key steps associated with effective problem solving.

This quiz is based on Min Basadur's Simplex   problem-solving model. This eight-step process follows the circular pattern shown below, within which current problems are solved and new problems are identified on an ongoing basis.

Figure 1 – The Simplex Process

Simplex Process Diagram

Below, we outline the tools and strategies you can use for each stage of the problem-solving process. Enjoy exploring these stages!

Step 1: Find the Problem

(Questions 7, 12)


Some problems are very obvious, however others are not so easily identified. As part of an effective problem-solving process, you need to look actively for problems – even when things seem to be running fine. Proactive problem solving helps you avoid emergencies and allows you to be calm and in control when issues arise.

These techniques can help you do this:

  • PEST Analysis   helps you pick up changes to your environment that you should be paying attention to. Make sure too that you're watching changes in customer needs and market dynamics, and that you're monitoring trends that are relevant to your industry.
  • Risk Analysis   helps you identify significant business risks.
  • Failure Modes and Effects Analysis   helps you identify possible points of failure in your business process, so that you can fix these before problems arise.
  • After Action Reviews   help you scan recent performance to identify things that can be done better in the future.
  • Where you have several problems to solve, our articles on Prioritization   and Pareto Analysis   help you think about which ones you should focus on first.

Step 2: Find the Facts

(Questions 10, 14)


After identifying a potential problem, you need information. What factors contribute to the problem? Who is involved with it? What solutions have been tried before? What do others think about the problem?

If you move forward to find a solution too quickly, you risk relying on imperfect information that's based on assumptions and limited perspectives, so make sure that you research the problem thoroughly.

Step 3: Define the Problem

(Questions 3, 9)


Now that you understand the problem, define it clearly and completely. Writing a clear problem definition forces you to establish specific boundaries for the problem. This keeps the scope from growing too large, and it helps you stay focused on the main issues.

A great tool to use at this stage is CATWOE  . With this process, you analyze potential problems by looking at them from six perspectives, those of its Customers; Actors (people within the organization); the Transformation, or business process; the World-view, or top-down view of what's going on; the Owner; and the wider organizational Environment. By looking at a situation from these perspectives, you can open your mind and come to a much sharper and more comprehensive definition of the problem.

Cause and Effect Analysis   is another good tool to use here, as it helps you think about the many different factors that can contribute to a problem. This helps you separate the symptoms of a problem from its fundamental causes.

Step 4: Find Ideas

(Questions 4, 13)


With a clear problem definition, start generating ideas for a solution. The key here is to be flexible in the way you approach a problem. You want to be able to see it from as many perspectives as possible. Looking for patterns or common elements in different parts of the problem can sometimes help. You can also use metaphors   and analogies to help analyze the problem, discover similarities to other issues, and think of solutions based on those similarities.

Traditional brainstorming   and reverse brainstorming   are very useful here. By taking the time to generate a range of creative solutions to the problem, you'll significantly increase the likelihood that you'll find the best possible solution, not just a semi-adequate one. Where appropriate, involve people with different viewpoints to expand the volume of ideas generated.

Tip:

Don't evaluate your ideas until step 5. If you do, this will limit your creativity at too early a stage.

Step 5: Select and Evaluate

(Questions 6, 15)


After finding ideas, you'll have many options that must be evaluated. It's tempting at this stage to charge in and start discarding ideas immediately. However, if you do this without first determining the criteria for a good solution, you risk rejecting an alternative that has real potential.

Decide what elements are needed for a realistic and practical solution, and think about the criteria you'll use to choose between potential solutions.

Paired Comparison Analysis  , Decision Matrix Analysis   and Risk Analysis  are useful techniques here, as are many of the specialist resources available within our Decision-Making section. Enjoy exploring these!

Step 6: Plan

(Questions 1, 16)


You might think that choosing a solution is the end of a problem-solving process. In fact, it's simply the start of the next phase in problem solving: implementation. This involves lots of planning and preparation. If you haven't already developed a full Risk Analysis   in the evaluation phase, do so now. It's important to know what to be prepared for as you begin to roll out your proposed solution.

The type of planning that you need to do depends on the size of the implementation project that you need to set up. For small projects, all you'll often need are Action Plans   that outline who will do what, when, and how. Larger projects need more sophisticated approaches – you'll find out more about these in the Mind Tools Project Management section. And for projects that affect many other people, you'll need to think about Change Management   as well.

Here, it can be useful to conduct an Impact Analysis   to help you identify potential resistance as well as alert you to problems you may not have anticipated. Force Field Analysis   will also help you uncover the various pressures for and against your proposed solution. Once you've done the detailed planning, it can also be useful at this stage to make a final Go/No-Go Decision  , making sure that it's actually worth going ahead with the selected option.

Step 7: Sell the Idea

(Questions 5, 8)


As part of the planning process, you must convince other stakeholders that your solution is the best one. You'll likely meet with resistance, so before you try to “sell” your idea, make sure you've considered all the consequences.

As you begin communicating your plan, listen to what people say, and make changes as necessary. The better the overall solution meets everyone's needs, the greater its positive impact will be! For more tips on selling your idea, read our article on Creating a Value Proposition   and use our Sell Your Idea Bite-Sized Training session.

Step 8: Act

(Questions 2, 11)


Finally, once you've convinced your key stakeholders that your proposed solution is worth running with, you can move on to the implementation stage. This is the exciting and rewarding part of problem solving, which makes the whole process seem worthwhile.

This action stage is an end, but it's also a beginning: once you've completed your implementation, it's time to move into the next cycle of problem solving by returning to the scanning stage. By doing this, you'll continue improving your organization as you move into the future.

Key Points

Problem solving is an exceptionally important workplace skill.

Being a competent and confident problem solver will create many opportunities for you. By using a well-developed model like Simplex for solving problems, you can approach the process systematically, and be comfortable that the decisions you make are solid.

Given the unpredictable nature of problems, it's very reassuring to know that, by following a structured plan, you've done everything you can to resolve the problem to the best of your ability.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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Comments (21)
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Great Robert. Do you know in which areas you can improve your problem-solving?

    Yolande
  • Robert wrote This month
    My score was a 53
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Learning to be more assertive may help you deal with problems and not avoid it. Have a look at our article http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/Assertiveness.php
    I think it's hit & miss for all of us at some point.

    Yolande
  • Thea wrote This month
    Yes, I can see very much of this hit or miss problem solver. I can say that normally I would just avoid the problem all together. I tend to be non-confrontational as much as possible.
  • Williamksmith75 wrote This month
    My problem solving score was a 50. Which means sometime I hit and miss.
  • quentin wrote This month
    I definitely didn't like the outcome of this particular assessment.
  • Tonya wrote This month
    Stop, And plan ahead and find better answers, Make better communicating plans.
  • DannyRubianes wrote This month
    Problem solving for me really depends on the situation. I find it easier for me to find solutions to problems I am familiar with.
  • Midgie wrote This month
    Hi Serena,
    One of the things I love about quizzes is that it gives me pointers of areas for development. Where I've got lower score, that tells me that I need to pay some attention.

    So, what areas could you improve upon? There are so many resources on this site that can help so let us know if you are looking for something specific.

    Midgie
  • Serena wrote This month
    My score for was 47 wow. it could be better I think.
Show all comments

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