Approaches to Problem Solving

Written on: 11 November 2021

Written by: Frances Hardcastle



Problem solving is a great transferable skill that you'll develop throughout your career. As an apprentice, you'll apply problem solving methods to your everyday work on a regular basis - but you might not always realise it!

For example, an IT apprentice often troubleshoots connectivity issues, whereas a Digital Marketer will apply problem solving approaches to optimise campaigns. Software apprentices problem solving to debug their code, while Data apprentices often investigate unexpected results to uncover errors in their dataset. 

In this blog, we'll take you through some common frameworks for problem solving, so that you can systematically tackle any problems you might come across in the workplace.

How To Solve a Problem at Work

When trying to solve a problem at work, there are several different techniques you can use, from a Root Cause Analysis to The GROW Model or Rapid Problem Resolution. We’ll cover these specific approaches later in this blog, but what they each have in common are four key steps:

  • Step 1: Define the problem
  • Step 2: Generate solution ideas
  • Step 3: Choose an appropriate solution
  • Step 4: Implement and evaluate the solution

Problem Solving Technique: Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis is a problem-solving technique that aims to address the underlying causes of a problem, rather than produce surface-level solutions that will only treat the symptoms.

As part of a Root Cause Analysis, you’ll take a deep dive into the different variables that contribute to a problem and try to come up with a solution that will prevent the problem happening again in the future.

How to Do a Root Cause Analysis

A simple approach to conducting a Root Cause Analysis is known as “The 5 Whys.” You take the problem at hand, and ask yourself “but why did this happen?” Then, you take the answer and ask “but why” again – working backwards until you arrive at the root cause.

Usually, within 5 “but whys” you’ll have an underlying cause to troubleshoot and fix.

If you’re a more visual thinker, the Fishbone Diagram is a great alternative to the “The 5 Whys” for conducting a Root Cause Analysis.

With a Fish Bone Diagram, you’ll start with the problem in the middle, kind of like the backbone of a fish. Next, you aim to create the “ribs” of your fish with different categories to brainstorm potential causes.

Each fish bone category can be quite wide-ranging, such as suppliers, systems, surroundings, or skills. You then go through each category systematically and add or eliminate potential causes of the problem at hand.

With this approach, you’ll get a deep understanding of all the underlying causes and factors that contributed to your problem, allowing you and your team to tackle these and make real and lasting improvements.

Problem Solving Technique: the GROW Model

The GROW Model is a really simple framework that can be used for both problem solving and setting goals. It works by inviting you (or your team) to think through an issue logically, identifying what you want to achieve and make a plan for getting there.

How to Use the GROW Model for Problem Solving

GROW is an acronym. Each letter stands for a particular stage in the process, and a key question you should ask:

  • Goal: What do you want to achieve?
  • Reality: Where are you now?
  • Opportunity: What could you do?
  • Way Forward: What will you do?

Once you've worked through all four questions, you should have arrived at a solution.

Problem Solving Technique: Rapid Problem Resolution

Rapid Problem Resolution is also known as RPR Problem Diagnosis. It is a problem solving method that was developed for resolving IT issues, so is a great one for IT Support or Networking apprentices to learn. The general principles can also be applied to other sectors.

How to Implement Rapid Problem Resolution

There are three key stages for conducting RPR Problem Diagnosis:

  • Step 1: Discovery. During this stage you should gather and review existing information, and reach an understanding of what the problem involves.
  • Step 2: Investigate. Create a diagnostic data capture plan, analyse the results and identify the root cause.
  • Step 3: Fix. Take your diagnostic data, implement the solution, and check whether the root cause has been addressed.

Choosing a Problem Solving Approach

There are no right or wrong ways to tackle a problem. These frameworks included above offer a range of popular techniques that you can adapt to your job role and the task at hand. Whichever one you choose, we hope you will find a useful tool to help you finally say “problem solved!”

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