Define the Problem What prevents you from reaching
You may need to state the problem in broad terms since
the exact problem may not be obvious.
you may lack information to define it
you can confuse symptoms with underlying causes
Prepare a statement of the problem and find someone
you trust to review it and to talk it over. If the
problem is a job situation, review it with your
supervisor or the appropriate committee or resource.
Consider these questions:
What is the problem?
Is it my problem?
Can I solve it? Is it worth solving?
Is this the real problem, or merely a symptom of a
If this is an old problem, what's wrong with the
Does it need an immediate solution, or can it wait?
Is it likely to go away by itself?
Can I risk ignoring it?
Does the problem have ethical dimensions?
What conditions must the solution satisfy?
Will the solution affect something that must remain
problem solving, identify the causes of the problem in order to solve it.
Identify causes of your problem Look at the current situation, rather than its history
Do not consider the "trouble" it
creates whether now or in the future.
Similar to the practice of concept mapping and brainstorming,
"cause" along a line that ends in a box identifying a problem creating your
very own fishbone diagram.
At the beginning brainstorm and identify
all the possible causes. One strategy is to use post-it notes
for each cause, then paste them into your "graph" along the "spine" for a
visual representation, either on a whiteboard, flipchart, or other large
surface that can be modified.
If some causes relate to others, you can
develop layers connecting and extending out from the first rays. As you
develop your diagram, arrange the causes toward the fishhead/problem to indicate importance.
Identify/map all the
causes before considering solutions to the problem.
are examples of causes of the problem?
People Are there enough participants to help? Are the
skills adequate? Are some participants perceived as not
Resources Are there enough, for example funding?
Are some not identified? Are some not used effectively, or
Environment Is it conducive to problem solving?
Is there too much stress? Is the power structure (administration or
line of authority) supportive? Is the power structure (administration
or line of authority) aware of the problem?
Processes, procedures and rules Are they
understood, or badly defined? Are they perceived as an obstacle?
Vocabulary/terminology/concepts Is there an agreed-upon vocabulary,
and understanding of their meanings and definitions? Are some "hidden"?
Working with the diagram:
Consider all the causes and rank them in importance either on
their post-its, or by circles with numbers etc.
Examine relationship Drop some causes to secondary levels, or off the chart to indicate
Stakeholders Individuals, groups, organizations
that are affected by the problem, or its solution.
Begin with yourself. Decision makers and those close to us
are very important to identify.
Facts & data
Results from experimentation and studies
Interviews of "experts" and trusted sources
Observed events, past or present, either personally
observed or reported
Boundaries The boundaries or constraints of the
situation are difficult to change. They include lack of
funds or other resources. If a solution is surrounded by too
many constraints, the constraints themselves may be the
Opinions and Assumptions Opinions of decision
makers, committees or groups, or other powerful groups will
be important to the success of your decision. It is
important to recognize truth, bias, or prejudice in the
opinion. Assumptions can save time and work since is
often difficult to get "all the facts." Recognize that some
things are accepted on faith. Assumptions also have a risk
factor, must be recognized for what they are, and should be
discarded when they are proven wrong.
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