A Step-by-Step Guide to Problem Solving: Tips and Techniques

A Step-by-Step Guide to Problem Solving: Tips and Techniques

What you do is a lot more important than what’s on your resume. Problem-solving is an analytical skill that many hiring managers look for when reviewing candidates, so questions about how you solve problems should be anticipated in technical interviews. Demonstrating analytical thinking or the ability to break down large, complex problems, and then effectively communicating the solutions is often just as valuable, if not more so, than the baseline technical skills required for a job. In this blog post, I’ll explore methods for how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Follow the IDEAL Problem-Solving Method – Tips and Techniques

If you have a problem in which there isn’t a single best answer, you may use heuristic methods to arrive at a solution. A popular and quick to remember heuristic problem-solving method is IDEAL:

  • Identify the problem and gather information.
  • Define the context of the problem.
  • Explore possible solutions.
  • Act on the best solution.
  • Look back and reflect

Identify the problem and gather information

The first step in the creative problem solving process is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the problem, you need to know as much about the problem as possible. Be curious, ask questions, gather as many facts as possible, and begin to make logical deductions rather than assumptions. Ask questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem and what are your known unknowns? Can you diagram the process into separate steps or break it down into smaller chunks?

Define the context of the problem

There are multiple strategies that may be used to identify the root cause of a problem. A root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method that assists us with answering the question of why a problem occurred. The RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the 5 Why Analysis” or the Cause and Effect Diagram, in order to determine your problem and its origin, why it occurred in the first place, and then you may resolve the problem so it won’t happen again. However, it’s important to note that RCA assumes a singular root cause of problems, which might not be the best way to think about problem solving because problems tend to be multicausal.

glasses with crumpled paper

Explore possible solutions

Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue is defined, the next step is to explore possible solutions to resolve our problem. It’s important to generate as many solutions as possible before we analyze the solutions or try to implement them.

There are many different methods for generating solutions, and when we have many different solutions in hand, we need to analyze these solutions to determine the effectiveness of each. One thing I like to consider when weighing multiple possible solutions is a cost/benefit analysis for solving the problem at hand, but also solving other problems that might not even be directly related to the main problem you’re solving. If it takes 20% more effort but solves a bunch of other issues that happen, it’s worth doing but that isn’t always considered if your sole focus is on the original problem.

One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming.  The ultimate goal is to generate as many ideas and questions as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done with a group, this can be practiced individually. Employers will often assess a candidate’s potential fit on a team through collaborative problem-solving challenges, as this is an important component of culture fit.

business meeting 

Act on the best solution.

In the previous step, you should have eliminated many of the possible solutions. With a short list of possible solutions you can do a final analysis to come up with the most optimal solution(s) to your problem, and then you can move forward with ideas for implementing your solution.

Look back and reflect

In problem solving it is always beneficial to look back and double check and interpret your solution. Basically, check to see if you used all your available information at hand and that your solution is optimal. Doing this will provide a learning opportunity and will assist you with predicting what strategies to use to solve future problems.

We went through IDEAL- now what?

The best way to become a stronger problem-solver is to challenge your thinking. Use a checklist initially, but then try to step away and see if you can organically make inquisitive thinking a habit of mind. When you run into a colleague and she has a problem and you have five minutes, try delving in and just start by asking questions. Use your intuition to figure out how she is talking about this problem, and perhaps there is a question or two you can ask her about the problem that can help her with rethinking her problem. Taking that approach to problems can often help you move forward in a more creative way than just immediately serving up sub-optimal solutions.

Conversely, if you are not sure how to solve a problem, it is okay to ask for input, especially if you’re in an interview. Problem solving is a process and a learned skill and it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. No one knows everything so it’s okay and encouraged to ask for help when you don’t have an immediate answer.

As you’re preparing to ace your next interview, check out our previous blog posts, 7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions, focusing on common interview questions with tips on answering them accordingly.

Additional Resources

https://hbr.org/2015/11/get-more-innovative-by-rethinking-the-way-you-think

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-science-of-problem-solving/

https://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/problem_solving/

https://rubberduckdebugging.com/

Is GDPR the End of Recruiting?

Is GDPR the End of Recruiting?

Have you noticed the increase in privacy policy emails from companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, and LinkedIn over the past year? Although the emails do not advertise it, they are the direct result of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted in April 2016 and implemented by the European Union (EU) in May 25, 2018.This new ruling is governing the collection of personal information of individuals within the EU, ultimately causing a paradigm shift in how personal data sharing occurs on the internet.

So, why was GDPR introduced?

Prior to GDPR, laws were written for a world without smartphones that could collect massive amounts of sensitive information for companies such as Google and Facebook. GDPR now provides companies guidelines on how they may utilize personal data, while giving users clarity on how their data is being used.

Legislators in the United States are working on regulation that would be similar while also monitoring GDPR’s effects. No matter where you are located, however, GDPR impacts companies and users everywhere. Although it’s only law in the EU, it’s become a de facto world regulation.

But, what exactly is personal data under GDPR?

GDPR was designed to protect the data of European users, but because the “cloud” is not on one computer and software services have a global reach, GDPR takes into account all EU users even if they work internationally. Any business hosting personal identifiable information (PII) – any data that can identify you such as your name, email address,  social security number, picture, phone number, username, location, and internet protocol (IP) address – falls under GDPR’s supervision.

Well, how did the US react?

Similar to the GDPR, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018 – which will go into effect on January 1, 2020 – affecting how personal data is collected, processed, and shared in California.

The CCPA was designed with three major themes: ownership, control, and security.

  1. Ownership gives users the right to know what personal information is being collected and whether that personal identifiable information is being sold, or disclosed, and to whom.
  2. Control gives users the right to say no to the sale of personal information and the right for equal service or price; so if you opt out of a sale, you will not be penalized. If the principle of control sounds similar, it’s because the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) put into place rules to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling your data without obtaining an opt-in. CCPA reinstates this legislation at the state level, requiring the ISP to ask you before they can sell or market your personal information.
  3. To uphold security, a business that suffers a breach of their system will be penalized up to $75,000 for each violation for each affected user. Although this isn’t as strict as GDPR, it’s more than just a slap on the wrist.

Even though that CCPA is only in one state right now, it may be the most impactful start to a GDPR-like act in the US.

 

Ultimately, where are the ethical lines?

When data is used in ways that benefit others while adversely affecting you, ethical problems will arise. Complying with changing privacy regulations is stressful for companies, as well as a drain on resources, but many are embracing it as an opportunity to increase trust and transparency.

As we enter into the age of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition, your data profile stems from your social network activity. When it comes to our data, many Americans see this as a black-and-white issue. In fact, an overwhelming 63 percent of Americans believe that social media platforms have far too much power.

But, how can data collection be immoral when it serves as the backbone of so many of these services we use every day? How many helpful job recommendations have been given by software that matches job seekers’ skills and attributes? How many human connections have been built through recommendations on social media platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn?

Social media, particularly with Facebook and Twitter, has been found to reflect people’s personality and intelligence as well as characteristics such as sexual orientation and political views. So, could it be ethical to mine this data for hiring purposes when users typically used these online applications with a different intent – and therefore, without consent for data analytics to draw conclusions from their social media postings?

Federal legislation was recently passed, via the Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019, which intends to prevent inaccuracies, bias, and discrimination in automated decisions – particularly in the hiring process. So, as the adage goes, “great power does come with great responsibility”. Data and its collection is not the issue – but rather the improper use of it is.