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Problem-solving in 5 easy steps

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 06 Jan 2021

When it comes to analysing a situation and deciding on a course of action, Bransford and Stein’s IDEAL method can help you tackle even the most stubborn problems

1. Identify

What exactly is the nature of the problem? And is there just one problem, or a number of smaller issues? Have you encountered something similar before that may help you in your approach to this situation? Taking the time to identify the problem clearly will not only help you understand it yourself, but also enable you to communicate it effectively to others where necessary. 

2. Define

Analysing the problem involves thinking about all the various factors that have led to this point, as well as identifying the ideal outcome. What went wrong, when and how? Gather together all the relevant information in order to build up a full picture. Then think about what the solution would look like – what do you ideally want to happen?

3. Explore

The next step is to explore potential solutions. There may be one obvious answer, but many problems benefit from an open-minded, flexible approach and a bit of creative thinking. It may not be just up to you to solve the problem, so involve others and get their ideas and opinions too. Assess the merits and feasibility of each possible solution before deciding on a course of action.

4. Action

Once you’ve decided on the best solution, it’s time to put it to the test. But before you dive in, take some time to think it through and ensure you’ve considered all the practicalities and possible scenarios. Then draw up a plan of what needs to happen when, and who is responsible. It may be that you need buy-in from others; if so, champion your idea with confidence to make things happen.

5. Look Back

Looking back is about learning from the experience. Did your solution work? If not, you may need to go back and repeat the process to find an alternative. What have you learned – how will you do things differently next time? Make sure you ask for feedback from any others involved too. As with all skills, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to put yourself in new situations and look for opportunities to solve problems.

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