Problem Solving

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If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem

Problem Solving

A Problem is a situation where it is possible to make an improvement.Problem solving is a skill that helps change a 'not so desirable current state' to a 'desirable future state'. As an educational manager, effectiveness in problem solving gives you an edge over others.Ideally, problem solving involves identification of the problem, analysis of the problem, generating solutions,analysing solutions, choosing a solution, working out the solution and evaluation.

Problem Identification and Problem Solving Techniques

The Why Way

(Input from:
The five why's is one way to identify the root of a problem. Look at this example:
1. Why have so many students expressed dissatisfaction about Mr. Harrison's class?
Because they find him boring
2 Why do they find him boring?
Because he prefers the lecture method
3 Why does he prefer the lecture method?
Because it means he does not have to prepare extensively with presentations and activities
4 Why does he not want to include presentations and activities in class?
Because he is not confident about the use of technology
5 Why is he not confident about use of technology?
Because he has not undergone any training in the use of technology.

This method helps to get to the root of the problem. Of course the number of Why's can vary. But the technique helps to locate the cause without any special tools.

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Use the Five Why Technique to get to the root cause of a problem at hand

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis looks out for the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It can be used on an individual basis or done as a collective exercise.Let's say, a school is facing a financial crunch. A SWOT Analysis would look like follows:

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Dedicated staff
  • Well settled alumni
  • Concerned Management
  • Lack of financial foresight
  • Over spending
  • Bad debts
Opportunities Threats
  • could start a new course
  • demand for admission
  • Good market for products designed by the school
  • Recession
  • competition and price cutting by others

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Identify any problem you face right now in your institution and carry out a SWOT Analysis of your institution in the light of that problem

Fish Bone Style

Fish bone sessions involve people in finding cause effect relationships and the depiction of the same in a visual pattern. This method originally developed by Professor Kaoru Ishikawa, is often referred to as an Ishikawa Diagram. The technique can help to structure the process of identifying possible causes of a problem. Look at this example. A certain educational institution had to meet some deadlines before an inspection. There has been a lot of inability on part of the institution to effectively do so. A fishbone session is carried out to identify and remedy the problems involved.
1. A long arrow pointing is drawn and along it is mentioned the problem. this becomes the main fish bone.
2. Spurs along the main bone are drawn and labelled to denote likely causes.
3. Each spur is further elaborated upon to identify related causes.
4. Members are invited to rate the top five most probable causes with the most prominent cause as 5, the next most prominent cause as 4 and so on.
5. Add up the values designated by each member and filter down to the most likely causes for the problem. Brainstorm for remedies to the same

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Choose any problem faced by your institution and create a fishbone diagram. Invite team members to identify top five causes for the problem.

De Bono's Approaches

Traditional thinking is to do with analysis, judgment and argument. In a stable world this was sufficient because it was enough to identify standard situations and to apply standard solutions. This is no longer so in a changing world where the standard solutions may not work.

There is a huge need world-wide for thinking that is creative and constructive and can design the way forward. Many of the major problems in the world cannot be solved by identifying and removing the cause. There is a need to design a way forward even if the cause remains in place.

Edward de Bono has provided the methods and tools for this new thinking. He is the undisputed world leader in what may be the most important field of all in the future: constructive and creative thinking.

Six Thinking Hats

The use of Six thinking Hats helps to improve the quality of decision making. Very often discussions in problem solving end up in a lot of time wasted especially when contradictions arise. The Six Thinking Hats technique ensure that all look at the problem from one perspective at a time. Each hat indicates a way of thinking.
Look at the case study provided below and see if you identify the various thinking ways.
Ms. Hudson is the Principal of a Secondary School and one problem that they face is demotivation among students. She calls for a staff meeting and the following discussion ensues.
Ms. Hudson: I am concerned about students who show no inclination to study. They come to class with incomplete assignments. They are uninvolved in our discussions. Their grades are poor.They are competent but they underachieve. How could we deal with them?

Mr. John:How many such students do we have?

Mrs. Hudson:About 20 % in every class and that to me is quite a big number.
Ms. Raina:Perhaps we could improvise our teaching methods and teach them in ways that suit their learning styles.
Ms. Sita:And offer them incentives if they do well.....
Mr Shayne::Even co-operative strategies could be employed
Ms. Hudson: great ideas but do you see any hassles in using these?

Mr. John:It would mean more time and more energy spent on our part. I mean we would have to put in more.
Ms. Hudson:Perhaps...we would need more resources... meaning more money

Ms. Sita: But if it will bring a change in the attitude of our students it will be worth the time, money and effort
Ms. Hudson: also their self esteem will be boosted once they begin to achieve

Ms. Raina:I think the whole idea will be a big hit.
Ms. Hudson:So dear friends, thanks for your inputs.... I think we need individualised strategies that will involve students according to their learning styles. Let us then begin planning in this direction.

A careful analysis of the above conversation shows the use of Six Thinking styles denoted here by the use of different clours. Statements in blue are Blue Hat thinking which means process control, generally done by the one conducting the meeting.The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where creative solutions are suggested. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. The Yellow Hat is the optimistic viewpoint that helps to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it, and spot the opportunities that arise from it.Black Hat thinking indicates caution, highlighting the weak points of the discussion. It helps to spot flaws before embarking on a decision.The Red Hat thinking results in expression of gut feelings, emotions and hunches.The White Hat focuses on the data available, looks at the information at hand. It seeks gaps in knowledge, tries to fill them or take account of them.This Technique has room for skepticism and required amount of emotion.Only one hat is worn at a time. so while using the Yellow Hat and discussing sunny possibilites if someone expresses a fear(Red Hat) gently urge him to indulge in Yellow Hat thinking.Persitent pessimists can be attuned to positive optimism.By exploring all aspects of an issue, this method ensures that 'confrontation is replaced by a cooperative exploration of the subject. It encourages the sharing of information, reduces argument, and allows talkers to think and thinkers to talk.'

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Apply the Six Hat Thinking Strategy to problem solve. Ask your team mates for reactions to the strategy

TEC framework

(This information is taken from the book: De Bono's Thinking Course.) TEC stands for Target, Expand/ Explore,Conclude. This strategy is useful when you are time bound for a solution.Look at the example provided
A number of students in a particular school bring junk food for lunch.Decisions have to be taken to usher in healthy eating habits.
Target :(precise focus of the thinking and the task is the thinking task to be performed) We need to break this unhealthy habit and replace it with a good, healthy habit.We need plausible alternatives for junk food.
Explore/Expand: (explore the territory, pull in information and concepts)We could start a cafeteria in school. We could hold awareness campaigns. We could call in a nutrionist and a food designer to provide attractive yet healthy options. We rope the parents in to help.
Conclude:(come to a definite conclusion or solution)Parents may not come to help regularly. We get a nutritionist and a good chef to help initially with the cafeteria. Staff members supervise the menu. Organise an awareness week.If students do get home food, their lunch boxes will be checked and junk food will not be allowed.
By strictly timing ourselves according to this framework the mind really focuses and produces results!

Problem solving situations become challenging, fun, and satisfying, as we learn to exercise the mind in new ways.

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Use the TEC Technique to find solutions to a problem you face.

Three Wise Men Approach

This approach capitalises on the views and suggestions of more than one person. When you face a problem, invite three team members to suggest solutions. A more systematic way would be to give each one a proforma as shown. Of course you can modify the same according to your need.

Query Your Response
What are the reasons for this problem?
Any person/s responsible?
Any failure in process?
Possible solutions

Study the responses of the three team members and try to find similarities. Look out for common suggestions. But do not overlook a novel solution. It may work!