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Finding solutions to problems involves several different processes.

Identifying, selecting and implementing solutions

Deciding which solution best addresses your problem involves a number of steps. In this article Nick Patterson describes the process of identifying, selecting and implementing solutions to problems.

In the previous steps we have framed our problem, analysed it and identified the root cause. Now we are going to consider the final steps in solving a problem.

To do this, let’s break this process down into three steps:

  1. Identifying potential solutions
  2. Selecting the right solution
  3. Implementing the solution.

(Note: We won’t be going into a thoroughly detailed account of this process, but this article should provide ideas for further study if you wish to learn more.)

1. Identifying potential solutions

As we’ve discovered, finding a solution is not always an easy process but it should start with a conscious decision to generate a set of options before reviewing them all and selecting one.

In other words, it’s important to consider a range of alternatives, rather than simply selecting the first option that pops into your mind. Consider this figure, for example:

imageSelect the image to open the accessible PDF version

Source: Based on Figure 5.3 from Chevallier, A 2016, Chapter 5: Identify potential solutions, Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, Oxford Scholarship Online, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190463908.001.0001


We can avoid jumping from problems to solutions – and in doing so, minimise the risk of selecting the wrong solution – by ensuring that we follow a clear and methodical process.

One of the ways we can do this is by using something called a ‘solution definition card’ (see example below).

A definition card details the situation at hand, including any complications, symptoms or consequences; the key question you want to answer; who has authority to direct your project; anyone who can influence your project; any main goals, budget, deadlines; and any actions under your control which you choose to take.

imageSelect the image to open the accessible PDF version

Source: Based on Figure 5.1 from Chevallier, A 2016, Chapter 5: Identify potential solutions, Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, Oxford Scholarship Online, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190463908.001.0001


After working through each step in the definition card, you can then develop a solutions map to outline a range of alternatives. The purpose of a solutions map is to identify various alternative solutions before we settle on a final solution.

Like other problem-solving tools, a solution map can take many forms. However, the key objective of this process is not to just outline a sequence of steps, but to identify a range of alternatives.

For example, consider the range of alternatives in this diagram.

imageSelect the image to open the accessible PDF version

Source: Based on Figure 5.5 from Chevallier, A 2016, Chapter 5: Identify potential solutions, Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, Oxford Scholarship Online, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190463908.001.0001 Image Source: Getty Images


2. Selecting the solution

Once we’ve figured out how to identify the options available, we next need to choose the right one to implement.

Selecting a solution can be a difficult task. We can be very good at fooling ourselves into believing that we are intuitive decision-makers when, in reality, we are influenced by a variety of unique factors.

To avoid the human-centred issue of not making good intuitive decisions, we ideally want to have a structured decision-making approach for managing complex problems and selecting their solutions.

The approach used and shown has just two steps. These focus on getting rid of any options which are just not feasible before doing a cross-comparison to see which of the remaining options is the best.

  • Step 1: eliminate unsuitable options by passing them through a screening process
    In this process we need to identify if the solutions meet all the necessary and sufficient conditions, and if they are feasible or not.

  • Step 2: compare remaining solutions to figure out which should be implemented
    A simple way to tackle this can be to choose one that will preclude you from choosing another (eg if I choose to drive my car to work, it means I can’t take a helicopter to work).

Overall, you should try to choose the solution that gives you the best chance of success based on the criteria you will use to measure the outcome (eg cost, time, profitability etc). For example, if two options are both feasible, is the solution that is more cost-effective a better option than the solution that is more time-effective?

3. Implementing the solution

If you are at this stage, you have chosen a solution and are ready to implement it as a project. There are a few steps to this process:

  • Develop a project plan which helps to validate with your stakeholders the project scope, objectives, deliverables, risks, and deadlines.
  • Manage the project, including stakeholders and people involved as well as any political, cultural and cognitive dimensions which the project may bring with it.
  • Select and monitor the key elements to measure about the project and the solution you implement (these will help you to identify any issues early on and make corrections, as well as determine if your solution has been effective once it is implemented).

Following this list of procedures and processes will help you to implement your solution and then and measure it. This means you will have test data to prove at the end of the process whether or not the implemented solution was effective.

Your task

Reflect on the processes outlined in this article. How would you apply them to our scenario? What solution do you propose and how would you go about implementing it?

Use the comments to discuss your thoughts and compare and contrast the posts of other learners.

Are there any other methods for identifying, selecting and implementing solutions that you’ve used in the past? If so, what were they and how do they compare the processes we’ve looked at here? Would they have helped you arrive at different conclusions?

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Career Credentials: Evidence Your Expertise in Problem Solving

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