Problem Solving Strategies

  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Huddle
  • Brainstorming
  • Methods of Communication
  • Guess and check
  • Make a table or chart
  • Draw a picture or diagram
  • Act out the problem
  • Find a pattern or use a rule
  • Check for relevant or irrelevant information
  • Find smaller parts of a large problem
  • Make an organised list
  • Solve a simpler problem
  • Work backwards
  • Guess (this includes guess and check, guess and improve)
  • Act It Out (act it out and use equipment)
  • Draw (this includes drawing pictures and diagrams)
  • Make a List (this includes making a table)
  • Think (this includes using skills you know already)
  • Algorithms
  • Heuristics
  • Trial and Error
  • Insight
  • Team building
  • Group Discussion

The following techniques are usually called problem-solving strategies:

  • Abstraction: solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
  • Analogy: using a solution that solves an analogous problem
  • Brainstorming: (especially among groups of people) suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until an optimum solution is found
  • Critical thinking
  • Divide and conquer: breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
  • Hypothesis testing: assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
  • Lateral thinking: approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
  • Means-ends analysis: choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
  • Method of focal objects: synthesizing seemingly non-matching characteristics of different objects into something new
  • Morphological analysis: assessing the output and interactions of an entire system
  • Proof: try to prove that the problem cannot be solved. The point where the proof fails will be the starting point for solving it
  • Reduction: transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
  • Research: employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
  • Root cause analysis: identifying the cause of a problem
  • Trial-and-error: testing possible solutions until the right one is found
MethodDescriptionExample
Trial and errorContinue trying different solutions until problem is solvedRestarting phone, turning off WiFi, turning off bluetooth in order to determine why your phone is malfunctioning
AlgorithmStep-by-step problem-solving formulaInstruction manual for installing new software on your computer
HeuristicGeneral problem-solving frameworkWorking backwards; breaking a task into steps

Over Fifty Problem-Solving Strategies Explained

  • Strategies to help you understand the problem
    • Clarify the problem
    • Identify key elements of the problem
    • Visualize the problem or a relevant process or situation
    • Draw a picture or diagram of the problem or a relevant process or situation
    • Create a model of the problem or a relevant process
    • Imagine being the problem, a key process, or the solution
    • Simulate or act out a key element of the problem
    • Consider a specific example
    • Consider extreme cases
    • Acquire knowledge of relevant domains
    • Change perspective
    • Consider levels and systems
  • Strategies to help you simplify the task
    • Solve one part at a time
    • Redefine the problem
  • Strategies to help you determine the cause of the problem
    • Collect information about what happens before, during, and after the problem
    • Organise information into a table, chart, or list and look for a pattern
    • Try to make the problem worse
    • Compare situations with and without the problem
    • Consider multiple causes and interactions
    • Consider non-linear effects
  • Strategies involving the use of external aids to help you identify possible solutions
    • Ask someone, especially an expert
    • Seek the answer in written material
    • Use a tool or technology
    • Apply a theory
    • Apply the scientific method
    • Use mathematics
    • Use a formula
  • Strategies involving the use of logic to help you identify possible solutions
    • Reason by analogy in using what you have learned about similar problems
    • Use deductive reasoning
    • Use inductive reasoning
    • Question assumptions
  • Strategies using a possible solution as a starting point to help you solve a problem
    • Guess, check, and adjust
    • Work backward
  • Strategies to help you determine which possible solution is best
    • Estimate the likely costs and benefits of possible solutions
    • Choose one or more options to implement
    • Implement the best solutions and collect information about the effects of it
  • Strategies using geometry for problem solving
    • Do the opposite of what you have been doing
    • Try a totally different approach
  • Strategies to help you function optimally while problem solving
    • Think of options without immediately evaluating them
    • Set a goal with a purpose you value
    • Avoid distraction
    • Work in a new setting
    • Adjust time limit to optimum
    • Work with someone
    • Create a positive mood with an optimum arousal level
    • Think of the problem as a challenge or opportunity
    • Think confidently
    • Take a break
    • Persist
  • Strategies to help you solve multiple problems
    • Adopt a problem solving orientation
    • Apply triage
    • Solve one problem at a time

John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D