The 7 Steps in Problem Solving

The MDMP (Military Decision Making Process) and TLPs (Troop Leading Procedures) are both based on the Army Problem Solving Process, which is described in FM 22-100.  In this article, we will explore the sequence of steps that will help any leader work through a problem.  Here are the 7 Steps in Problem Solving.

#1. ID the Problem: This involves recognizing what the root problem really is and defining that problem precisely.  It is often easy to be distracted by the symptoms of a problem but it is essential to determine the root cause.  You can define the problem by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is affected?
  • What is affected?
  • When did it occur?
  • Where is the problem?
  • Why did it occur?

Also, consider the end state that you want.  How will things look when everything is done?

#2. ID Facts and Assumptions: Get whatever facts you can in the time you have.  Remember, facts are what you know about the situation.  Some good resources for facts are ARs, policies, and doctrine.  Assumptions are what you believe about the situation but do not have facts to support.  As a general rule, try to assume as little as possible.  Analyze the facts and assumptions you ID to determine the scope of the problem.

The 7 Steps in Problem Solving

The 7 Steps in Problem Solving

#3. Generate Alternatives: This is where you develop the ways to solve the problem.  Always try to develop more than one approach.  You can’t possibly ID the best solution without considering more than one alternative and these alternatives should have significant differences.  Sometimes, if time permits, include input from your peers and subordinates.  This brainstorming promotes a faster free flow of ideas and generally can avoid rejecting promising alternatives.

#4. Analyze the Alternatives:  Obvious, right?  However, many fail to ID the intended and unintended consequences, resources and other limitations and each alternative’s advantages and disadvantages.  Be sure to consider all your alternatives according to your screening and evaluation criteria (i.e. factors that a solution must have for you to consider it a feasible option).  If a COA fails to meet your screening criteria, reject it, regardless of its other advantages.

#5. Compare Alternatives: Evaluate each alternative’s cost and benefit of success.  Think past the immediate future.  How will this decision change things tomorrow?  Next week? Next year?  Compare your alternatives simultaneously if you can.  Try utilizing a table or matrix that will lay out each COA and how each compares to the evaluation criteria.

#6. Make and Execute Your Decision: To help you make a decision, it may be helpful to assign a numerical value to your criteria as a way of ranking them.  For most decisions, a quick review of the weighted criteria will be enough to reveal the best solution.  Make your decision, prepare a plan of action and put it into motion!

#7. Assess the Results: It isn’t over just because you made a decision.  After all, we all make mistakes.  You will need to monitor the execution of your plan and be prepared to change it as necessary.  This step can be made easier by establishing critical steps or milestones that must take place on time in order to guarantee success.  Follow up on results and make further adjustments as needed.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Think of a decision you have made recently.  Did you follow all these steps?  Would your decision have been different if you had?

Leave your comments below. If you have any questions, you can ask those here too.

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3 thoughts on “The 7 Steps in Problem Solving”

  1. When problems arise it’s easy to panic and throw caution to the wind. An organized list like this can help you analyze the situation and make the best possible decisions. Keeping a rational mind is important and thinking of all the possible outcomes will help identify the risk vs. reward ratio.

  2. This process makes solving problems so much simpler. I use the 7 Steps in Problem Solving in my business and civilian life too. It works great.

    Thanks for the post.

    Chuck

  3. Justin,

    This is a good summary about the problem solving process. One of the major issues I have observed with regard to leaders involved in the problem solving process is that leaders fail to understand or analyze the unintended consequences of their actions. Our military is currently experiencing a major downsizing. As a result Soldiers are being separated from service for issues that previously would have been seen as an honest mistake or as a learning experience for an immature Soldier. In paragraph one you state:

    “How will things look when everything is done?” When Leaders ask themselves this question they must also understand that their actions or recommendations could result in the issue being removed from their level of responsibility. Let’s say a Soldier is consistently late to formation. In the past the leader may have recommended an Article 15 to get the Soldier’s attention. Previously a Soldier could survive an Article 15 and go on to have a successful and productive career.

    Recommending an Article 15 in today’s environment is almost a guarantee the Soldier will be separated from service. Therefore it is incredibly important the leader understand the unintended consequences of their decisions. When they ask themselves “How will things look when everything is done?” If that visions includes the Soldier being retained in service they must seek other alternatives to correcting substandard performance such as: verbal counseling, written counseling, corrective training, revocation of privileges, local letters of reprimand, etc.

    Fully understanding the consequences of your decisions and how they impact your subordinates ensures you are making a decision that is in the best interest of the Soldier and the Army. For more information on revocation of privileges read The Mentor- Everything you need to know about leadership and counseling. It is available at your local military clothing and sales store or online at GIpubs.com

    Mark

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