Business Problem Solving

4 Steps for Business Problem Solving to Get Results

“What are we supposed to do here?” is a question I use to gauge a team’s thinking as we tackle problems together.

It is important to remember that problem-solving is a skill that can be applied to various situations in life, including those we encounter in business. Sometimes, we may experience a never-ending and frustrating challenge, with one obstacle after another. In such cases, revisiting the steps to problem-solving can be helpful, as they provide a valuable framework to approach the problem. 

Following four simple steps can strengthen our problem-solving skills and become more effective at overcoming obstacles and achieving success.

But wait a moment. How do we determine if the perceived “problem” is a problem?

Maybe it’s not the root cause but rather a symptom, and ironing that out creates a cycle of other similar situations endlessly popping up. Solving the same thing(s) repeatedly indicates that these are symptoms. Focus is required to find the real problem and determine if you want to be committed to a practical solution that will stick.

Options always exist to solve a symptom or a recurring issue that has a process in place for resolution.

We can keep using resources and energy to solve the persistent problem or improve practices to use fewer resources and energy. There is another option, too: take time to find and fix the more profound problem (I call that a root cause).

Solving a root cause takes more up-front commitment, creates more time, frees up resources to explore other initiatives, and saves money over time. When we prioritize problems through the lens of our one-year comprehensive strategy AND the company mission, we choose what to work on that supports keeping all work on track (i.e., time and budget).

Fortunately, practical methods are available to help you break free from any difficult situation. Whether it’s a common or complex issue, you can rely on proven methods that guarantee results. Don’t waste time on fancy and complicated solutions; choose straightforward and effective problem-solving methods that will help you easily overcome any obstacle.

There’s no trick or gimmick to the steps. There is work. We do have to bring the will, the drive, and the commitment to become proficient at problem-solving, a skill that needs improvement at all levels of business today.

To lead by example, add value to the company and the team, and meet goals, one must have a specific mindset—a Curiosity Mindset.

  • A Curiosity Mindset involves being open.
  • A willingness to seek out information from people and sources.
  • To include unusual or different sources and opinions.
  • The ability to sift information for reliability.
  • The capacity to connect seemingly unrelated information to find THE custom solution for your problem.

Have you ever heard the colloquialism “can’t see the forest for the trees”? This common pitfall diminishes a Curiosity Mindset and detracts from the problem-solving process.

Achieving success requires more than just completing daily tasks. It’s crucial to take time to review our business goals and reach beyond our usual routines to truly solve any problem. Unforeseen problems may arise, but we can choose to keep moving forward and not let them bring us to a standstill. By practicing new skills and expanding our abilities, we can turn challenges into second nature and add to our natural gifts.

Embracing change and taking on something new takes courage, but it’s the only way to grow and succeed. We can overcome any obstacle and achieve our goals with perseverance and determination.

Take these steps the next time you have a significant outcome and a problem standing in your way. Your commitment and responsibility will make it happen.

With a Curiosity Mindset, we commit to being open to answers and information beyond the core group. This requires a definitive process applicable to a single problem and any that occurs in business. (Of course, there will always be difficulties that crop up. Such is life!)

The 4 Steps to Problem-Solving in Business:

  • Recognize there is a problem
  • Collect data
  • Gather solutions
  • Choose a solution

These are the steps, whether looking at long-term objectives three to five years out or solving a problem that can better support how people do work in your company. It seems simple, and you may know this to be true, yet do you really do the work of each step to know you are doing the right work right now?

Let’s look at each step to assess whether you are overlooking something or trying to find a shortcut that may be creating more resistance or slowing you down: 

1. Recognize there’s a problem

You can decide something needs doing, yet, getting it done means taking action. What you prioritize is what you value.

Not only do you need to decide whether change will make a positive difference, your commitment to doing the work to take action on the best solution matters too. Problems may be identified that when solved:

  • Improve efficiency to create more time to do important work
  • Increase profitability by streamlining or are no longer necessary
  • Increase relevance as markets and customer needs shift
  • Align the deliverables more to the mission bringing your teams together

How do you take action to determine if the problem is a one worth solving? Schedule time for a Present Retreat™ with 10 questions to create accountability that focuses on reflection, assessment, and prioritization for what’s happening in your business right now. Even if you only do this one time, it will give you a different perspective.

2. Understand what data is necessary

How do you get data for consideration, and how do you obtain uncommon data? 

  • Standard: search on the internet, financials, and forecasts, competing products.
  • Uncommon: ask the people closest to the problem, listen for what customers are seeking, looking at a problem to solve in relationship to how it aligns to your mission and goals.

Are you constantly using the same internal reports? If so, do other people have the same problem, and what have they done about it? Get out of your data and collect someone else’s reports and data.

You could take advantage of your business overview and plan to make informed decisions. A detailed explanation of the two pillars of business success is available if you need more information. Sometimes, when we encounter a promising solution or opportunity, we might end up trying to solve problems that do not require solving. To avoid this, we must ensure that any solution we consider aligns with our business overview and growth strategy. This way, we can identify which problems do not need solving by simply looking at the data.

3. Gather solutions

Now you have the problems that — when prioritized — will reach a new outcome. And there is data that reinforces it is a problem worth solving with a commitment to prioritize making the change. These are the basic constraints to find the most impactful solutions.

  • Possible solutions now have the following requirements:
  • Solve the problem.
  • Align to current business goals.
  • Create momentum for long term (three to five year) objectives.
  • Elevate what we are already doing to be better, what we are best at in the world.

In the companies I have worked with, this is the step where the most failure occurs. Without constraints there are too many solutions, brand-new ideas (that sort of solve the initially identified problem), and more work is created out of the excitement that comes with open-ended possibilities.

Solutions that fit just these four constraints align to doing the right work and being able to do as much work as possible. Anything that doesn’t pass these requirements isn’t a viable solution.

Letting problems that don’t matter to the business’ purpose and goals is freeing. There is more time and energy to explore solutions that can make a difference. You still may fail and yes it is important to fail fast; however, iterating where the chance of failure is significantly higher is a waste of time and not worth the potential loss of confidence. 

4. Choose a solution and take action

Which one makes the most sense and presents the greatest opportunity to address everything about the problem? Get it implemented and observe the results.

Don’t forget: decisions without action keep you exactly where you are. Even if just the first step of the solution is designed and communicated, and the actions are assigned for completion — this will get things moving. Each subsequent action to move toward a completed solution will adjust for the feedback, data, and new information that comes from learning as you go.

There will be mistakes and setbacks, and that is part of the process. Here are top tips I received when I asked a group of business owners to share how they bounce back and keep going.

Sometimes, repetition of these steps is necessary to find a working solution.

In business, reaching your end goal is great, can be messy and takes time. Sometimes, you need more data, new information comes up, or a different solution works better. We iterate and build on what we know. To improve problem-solving skills, follow these steps daily for 30 days, even for simple problems. Build a Curiosity Mindset and a new skill simultaneously.


Jess Dewell is a professional who has been navigating the intersection of operations and strategy for more than twenty years. She helps organizations move forward by identifying the sweet spot where strategy catalyzes operations, fosters innovation, and drives businesses to the forefront of their industries.

Jess is committed to helping businesses turn challenges into scalable opportunities and constraints into springboards for growth. Contact her for a complimentary call, or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. Check out her Driving Solutions Strategic Intensive program if you need help with strategic growth challenges.

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