9 essential problem solving tools: the ultimate guide
By: Leanne Armstrong
Some studies have suggested that the average business professional spends 3 hours every week solving work-related problems!
Problem solving may unfold differently depending on the industry, or even the department you work in. But most of us will agree that before you can fix any issue, you need to be clear on what it is, why it’s happening, and what your ideal long-term solution will achieve.
Understanding both the nature and the cause of a problem is the only way to figure out which actions will help you resolve it.
And given that most problem-solving processes are part inspiration, part perspiration, you’ll be more successful, more often, if you can reach for a problem solving tool that facilitates collaboration, encourages creative thinking, and makes it easier to implement the fix you devise.
We’ve put together this roundup of versatile problem solving tools and software to help you and your team map out and repair workplace issues as efficiently as possible. The problem solving tools include three unique categories: problem solving diagrams, problem solving mind maps, and problem solving software solutions. They include:
- Fishbone diagrams
- Strategy maps
- Mental maps
- Idea maps
- Concept maps
- Layered process audit software
- Charting software
Let’s get started!
Problem solving diagrams
Mapping your way out of a problem is the simplest way to see where you are, and where you need to end up.
Not only do visual problem maps let you plot the most efficient route from Point A (dysfunctional situation) to Point B (flawless process), problem mapping diagrams make it easier to see:
- The root cause of a dilemma
- Steps, resources, and personnel associated with each possible solution
- The least time-consuming, most cost-effective options
A visual problem solving process help to solidify understanding and are a great way for you and your team to transform abstract ideas into a practical, reconstructive plan.
Here are three examples of common problem mapping diagrams you can try with your team.
1. Fishbone diagrams
Fishbone diagrams are a common problem solving tool so-named because, once complete, they resemble the skeleton of a fish.
With the possible root causes of an issue (the ribs) branching off from either side of a spine line attached to the head (the problem), dynamic fishbone diagrams let you:
- Lay out a related set of possible reasons for an existing problem
- Investigate each possibility by breaking it out into sub-causes
- See how contributing factors relate to one another
Fishbone diagrams are also known as cause and effect or Ishikawa diagrams.
A flowchart is an easy-to-understand diagram with a variety of applications. But you can use it to outline and examine how the steps of a flawed process connect. Made up of a few simple symbols linked with arrows indicating workflow direction, flowcharts clearly illustrate what happens at each stage of a process – and how each event impacts other events and decisions.
3. Strategy maps
Frequently used as a strategic planning tool, strategy maps also work well as problem mapping diagrams. Based on a hierarchal system, thoughts and ideas can be arranged on a single page to flesh out a potential resolution. Once you’ve got a few tactics you feel are worth exploring as possible ways to overcome a challenge, a strategy map will help you establish the best route to your problem-solving goal.
Problem solving mind maps
Problem solving mind maps are especially valuable in visualization. Because they facilitate the brainstorming process that plays a key role in both root cause analysis and the identification of potential solutions, they help make problems more solvable.
Mind maps are diagrams that represent your thinking. Since many people struggle taking or working with hand-written or typed notes, mind maps were designed to let you lay out and structure your thoughts visually so you can play with ideas, concepts, and solutions the same way your brain does.
By starting with a single notion that branches out into greater detail, problem solving mind maps make it easy to:
- Explain unfamiliar problems or processes in less time
- Share and elaborate on novel ideas
- Achieve better group comprehension that can lead to more effective solutions
Mind maps are a valuable problem solving tool because they’re geared toward bringing out the flexible thinking that creative solutions require. Here are three types of problem solving mind maps you can use to facilitate the brainstorming process.
4. Mental maps
A mental map helps you get your thoughts about what might be causing a workplace issue out of your head and onto a shared digital space. Because mental maps mirror the way our brains take in and analyze new information, using them to describe your theories visually will help you and your team work through and test those thought models.
5. Idea maps
Idea maps let you take advantage of a wide assortment of colors and images to lay down and organize your scattered thought process. Idea maps are ideal brainstorming tools because they allow you to present and explore ideas about the best way to solve a problem collaboratively, and with a shared sense of enthusiasm for outside-the-box thinking.
6. Concept maps
Concept maps are one of the best ways to shape your thoughts around a potential solution because they let you create interlinked, visual representations of intricate concepts. By laying out your suggested problem-solving process digitally – and using lines to form and define relationship connections – your group will be able to see how each piece of the solution puzzle connects with another.
Problem solving software solutions
Problem solving software is the best way to take advantage of multiple problem solving tools in one platform. While some software programs are geared toward specific industries or processes – like manufacturing or customer relationship management, for example – others, like MindManager, are purpose-built to work across multiple trades, departments, and teams.
Here are three problem-solving software examples.
7. Layered process audit software
Layered process audits (LPAs) help companies oversee production processes and keep an eye on the cost and quality of the goods they create. Dedicated LPA software makes problem solving easier for manufacturers because it helps them see where costly leaks are occurring and allows all levels of management to get involved in repairing those leaks.
8. Charting software
Charting software comes in all shapes and sizes to fit a variety of business sectors. Pareto charts, for example, combine bar charts with line graphs so companies can compare different problems or contributing factors to determine their frequency, cost, and significance. Charting software is often used in marketing, where a variety of bar charts and X-Y axis diagrams make it possible to display and examine competitor profiles, customer segmentation, and sales trends.
No matter where you work, or what your problem-solving role looks like, MindManager is a problem solving software that will make your team more productive in figuring out why a process, plan, or project isn’t working the way it should.
Once you know why an obstruction, shortfall, or difficulty exists, you can use MindManager’s wide range of brainstorming and problem mapping diagrams to:
- Find the most promising way to correct the situation
- Activate your chosen solution, and
- Conduct regular checks to make sure your repair work is sustainable
MindManager is the ultimate problem solving software.
Not only is it versatile enough to use as your go-to system for puzzling out all types of workplace problems, MindManager’s built-in forecasting tools, timeline charts, and warning indicators let you plan, implement, and monitor your solutions.
By allowing your group to work together more effectively to break down problems, uncover solutions, and rebuild processes and workflows, MindManager’s versatile collection of problem solving tools will help make everyone on your team a more efficient problem solver.
Lean Six Sigma is one powerful problem solving and efficiency auditing technique that can be accomplished using MindManager. Watch this webinar for a full overview of what Lean Six Sigma is, and how MindManager fits into the process.