Also called: Problem-Solving Session and Problem-Solving Exercise
Relevant metrics: Attendance and engagement, Pre- and post-workshop assessments, Goal achievement, Participant satisfaction, Knowledge retention, Application of skills, Networking and collaboration, and Commitment to continuous improvement
What is a Problem-Solving Workshop?
A Problem-Solving Workshop is a collaborative event in which a group of people come together to identify and solve a problem. It is a structured process that involves brainstorming, analyzing, and developing solutions to a problem. A problem-solving workshop is a rapid session that helps you:
- Unlocking the Core of the Issue. A problem-solving workshop serves as an accelerated session designed to delve into the underlying cause of a dilemma, enabling participants to better comprehend its complexities.
- Generate ideas. With a deeper understanding of the problem at hand, participants rapidly brainstorm potential solutions. They then carefully assess these ideas, ensuring their feasibility and effectiveness in addressing the issue.
- Evaluating ideas. Participants scrutinize their proposed ideas, determining their robustness and ability to withstand potential challenges to ensure that only the most viable and reliable solutions are considered for implementation, enhancing the likelihood of successfully resolving the problem.
- Make a plan to test or implement. Equipped with a well-rounded perspective and carefully evaluated solutions, the workshop empowers attendees to devise a strategic plan for testing or implementing their chosen resolution, ultimately guiding them toward the ideal solution to their problem.
The workshop typically begins with a discussion of the problem and its context. Participants then brainstorm potential solutions and evaluate them based on their feasibility and potential impact. After the brainstorming session, the group works together to develop a plan of action to address the problem. This plan may include changes to existing processes, new procedures, or other solutions.
The Problem-Solving Workshop is an effective way to identify and solve problems in the context of Product Management and User Experience. It allows for a collaborative approach to problem-solving, which can lead to more creative and effective solutions. It also allows for a structured approach to problem-solving, which can help ensure that the problem is addressed in a timely and efficient manner.
Where did Problem-Solving Workshops come from?
The idea of coming together to solve problems can be traced back to ancient human societies that held gatherings to discuss issues and find solutions. In modern times, problem-solving workshops have been shaped by developments in various fields like psychology, education, management, design, and innovation.
Some significant influences on problem-solving workshops include:
- Brainstorming. Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, introduced brainstorming in the 1940s as a group creativity technique to generate ideas and solve problems. This method encouraged people to share their ideas freely, no matter how wild, and suspend judgment during the idea-generation process. Brainstorming has since been incorporated into many problem-solving workshops.
- Quality circles. In the 1960s, Japanese companies introduced quality circles, which are small groups of employees who meet regularly to discuss and solve work-related problems. These circles aimed to improve the quality of products and processes by involving employees in problem-solving and decision-making. The concept of quality circles has inspired many problem-solving workshops in various industries.
- Design thinking. The design thinking methodology, pioneered by companies like IDEO and Stanford University’s d.school, has played a crucial role in shaping modern problem-solving workshops. Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving that encourages empathy, experimentation, and collaboration. It involves a series of steps, such as empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, which can be adapted to various problem-solving workshop formats.
- Lean and Agile methodologies. Lean and Agile methodologies, which originated in the manufacturing and software development sectors, respectively, have also influenced problem-solving workshops. These approaches emphasize collaboration, continuous improvement, and rapid iteration to achieve better results.
- Facilitation techniques. The growth of professional facilitation has also impacted problem-solving workshops. Skilled facilitators use various tools and techniques to guide groups through problem-solving processes, ensuring that the workshop’s objectives are met and that participants stay engaged and focused.
Why should I conduct a problem-solving workshop?
Conducting a problem-solving exercise can be beneficial in several ways. It can help individuals or teams to:
- Identify the root cause of a problem. By engaging in a structured problem-solving exercise, participants can gain a deeper understanding of the issue and identify the underlying causes.
- Generate new ideas and solutions. By brainstorming and evaluating various solutions, individuals or teams can develop creative and effective solutions that they may not have thought of otherwise.
- Encourage collaboration and teamwork. Collaborative problem-solving exercises can foster a sense of teamwork and create a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the problem and the solution.
- Improve decision-making. By evaluating various options and considering different perspectives, participants can make informed and effective decisions that take into account a wide range of factors.
- Enhance learning and development. Problem-solving exercises can provide opportunities for individuals or teams to learn new skills, practice critical thinking, and develop problem-solving abilities that can be applied to future challenges.
How to run a problem-solving workshop
Step 1: Assemble a Well-Rounded Team
Gather individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives who are relevant to the problem at hand. This may include team members, cross-functional collaborators, subject matter experts, or stakeholders. A diverse group will enhance the ideation process and facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.
Consider the following factors:
- Diversity. Assemble a team with a mix of expertise, backgrounds, perspectives, and roles relevant to the problem. Diversity encourages creative thinking and helps avoid groupthink or blind spots.
- Relevant stakeholders. Ensure that key stakeholders, including decision-makers, subject matter experts, and those directly affected by the problem, are included in the workshop. Their insights and buy-in are crucial for the success of the proposed solutions.
- Size of the group. Aim for a group size that allows for effective collaboration and communication. Ideally, the group should be large enough to generate a variety of ideas but small enough to facilitate productive discussions. Typically, a group of 6-10 participants is considered optimal for a problem-solving workshop.
- Team dynamics. Select participants who are open-minded, willing to collaborate, and capable of engaging in constructive discussions. The right balance of personalities is essential for fostering a positive atmosphere and effective teamwork.
- Establish clear roles. Assign roles and responsibilities to participants, such as a facilitator to guide the workshop, a timekeeper to monitor progress, and a note-taker to document key points and decisions. Clearly defined roles help ensure the smooth flow of the workshop.
- Preparation. Communicate the workshop’s purpose, goals, and expectations to participants beforehand. Encourage them to familiarize themselves with the problem and come prepared with any relevant data or insights. This will enable a more focused and productive discussion during the workshop.
Step 2: Establish the Objective and Scope
Clearly define the purpose and goals of the workshop. Ensure that all participants understand the problem to be addressed, its context, and any constraints or limitations. Set a time limit for the workshop to maintain focus and efficiency.
Consider the following:
- Preparation and research. A facilitator should be well-prepared with a thorough understanding of the problem, its context, and the workshop’s objectives. This may involve conducting research, reviewing relevant materials, and consulting with key stakeholders or subject matter experts beforehand.
- Active listening. Practice active listening during the workshop to ensure participants feel heard and understood. Encourage questions and clarifications to address any misunderstandings or ambiguities regarding the problem, scope, or objectives.
- Flexibility and adaptability. Be prepared to adjust the workshop’s objectives or scope if new information or insights emerge during the discussion. Maintain an open-minded approach and adapt to the needs of the group while ensuring that the workshop remains focused and productive.
- Time management. Monitor the workshop’s progress and allocate time appropriately for each stage. If necessary, intervene to refocus the discussion, maintain momentum, or transition to the next step in the problem-solving process.
Each of the following workshop exercises can contribute to the success of establishing a clear objective and scope by helping participants gain a deeper understanding of the problem, its context, and the needs of those affected, leading to a clearer definition of the objective and scope:
- Six Thinking Hats. This exercise, developed by Edward de Bono, encourages participants to approach the problem from six different perspectives, represented by metaphorical “hats.” These perspectives are: facts and information (white hat), emotions and feelings (red hat), cautious and critical thinking (black hat), optimistic and positive thinking (yellow hat), creative and alternative thinking (green hat), and process and organization (blue hat). This technique can help the group establish a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, its context, and potential constraints, leading to a clearer definition of the objective and scope.
- Stakeholder Mapping. In this exercise, participants identify and analyze the key stakeholders involved in or affected by the problem. This helps the group understand the different perspectives, priorities, and needs of these stakeholders, providing valuable context for the problem-solving process. By considering stakeholder needs and concerns, the workshop can better define the objective and scope while ensuring that potential solutions address relevant issues.
- Empathy Mapping. This exercise helps participants gain insight into the needs, motivations, and challenges of the individuals affected by the problem, such as customers, users, or team members. By creating an empathy map, the group can better understand the problem from the perspective of those who are directly impacted. This understanding can help the group establish a clearer and more focused objective and scope for the workshop, ensuring that potential solutions address the most critical concerns of the affected individuals.
Step 3: Identify the Right Problem and Root Cause
Begin the workshop by collectively discussing the problem to gain a deeper understanding of its nuances. Use techniques like the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagram to identify the root cause of the problem, ensuring that the team’s efforts are directed towards solving the underlying issue rather than merely addressing symptoms.
Approach this step with a well-defined strategy that guides participants through the process of understanding the problem and its underlying factors. The facilitator plays a pivotal role in creating an environment that encourages open and honest dialogue, allowing participants to share their insights and collectively work towards identifying the root cause.
Strike a balance between allowing sufficient time for discussions and ensuring that the workshop maintains momentum and stays on track. The facilitator may need to intervene occasionally to refocus the conversation or steer the group towards the desired outcome.
Be prepared to adapt to the evolving dynamics of the workshop. They must be flexible and responsive to new insights or challenges that emerge during the discussions. If necessary, the facilitator may need to adjust the workshop’s objectives, scope, or methodology to ensure that the group remains focused on addressing the problem’s root cause.
Consider using one of these workshop exercises to identify the right problem:
- Five Whys. This technique involves asking “Why?” repeatedly to dig deeper into the problem and uncover the root cause. By using this approach in the workshop, participants can move beyond surface-level symptoms to identify the true source of the issue. The facilitator can guide the group through the Five Whys exercise, ensuring that the discussion stays focused and productive.
- Fishbone Diagram. Also known as the Ishikawa or cause-and-effect diagram, this tool visually represents the relationship between a problem and its potential causes. Participants brainstorm and categorize potential causes into distinct branches, which can help the group identify the root cause. The facilitator can lead the group through the Fishbone Diagram exercise, encouraging them to consider various aspects of the problem and promoting a comprehensive understanding.
- Round Robin. This brainstorming technique involves giving each participant a chance to contribute an idea or perspective on the problem in a structured and organized manner. This ensures equal participation and helps to gather diverse insights. Using the Round Robin method, the facilitator can facilitate discussions on the problem’s root cause by encouraging participants to share their thoughts and perspectives without interruption.
- Force Field Analysis. This exercise helps participants identify the driving and restraining forces that influence a problem. By analyzing these forces, the group can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying factors contributing to the issue. The facilitator can guide participants through the Force Field Analysis, helping them to identify and assess the various forces at play and facilitating discussions on how these forces might relate to the root cause of the problem.
Step 4: Generate Ideas to Solve the Problem
Encourage participants to brainstorm solutions, emphasizing the importance of open-mindedness and creativity. Utilize techniques like mind mapping, round-robin, or the six thinking hats to foster an environment conducive to idea generation. Ensure that all participants have an opportunity to share their thoughts, and discourage judgment or criticism during this stage.
Make sure that all participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas, no matter how unconventional they may seem. This requires the facilitator to create a non-judgmental and supportive atmosphere that promotes inclusivity and equal participation.
One critical aspect for the facilitator is the use of various brainstorming techniques and ideation exercises that can stimulate creative thinking and encourage diverse perspectives. By employing a mix of individual and group activities, the facilitator can cater to different thinking styles and preferences, ensuring that everyone contributes to the ideation process.
These workshop exercises are great for generating ideas to solve the problem you identified:
- Mind Mapping. This technique helps to visually organize information around a central concept, allowing participants to generate ideas in a structured manner. It encourages them to think about the problem from different perspectives and make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, which can lead to creative solutions.
- Crazy Eights. In this exercise, participants are given eight minutes to sketch out eight different ideas on a piece of paper. The time constraint forces them to think quickly and encourages them to generate a wide variety of ideas. By sharing and discussing their sketches afterward, the group can build upon each other’s ideas and develop more innovative solutions.
- Reverse Brainstorming. This technique prompts participants to think about the problem from an opposite perspective, by asking them to come up with ways to make the situation worse. By challenging conventional thinking, reverse brainstorming helps uncover new insights and approaches that may not have been considered otherwise.
- How Might We. This exercise frames the problem as an open-ended question, starting with the phrase “How might we…?”. This positive and optimistic framing encourages participants to think creatively and generate ideas without constraints. The open-ended nature of the question also promotes collaboration, as participants can build on each other’s ideas to find innovative solutions.
- Forced Analogy. In this exercise, participants are asked to draw analogies between the problem at hand and unrelated objects or scenarios. This encourages them to think about the problem from a new perspective and come up with creative ideas that they may not have considered otherwise. The forced analogy technique can reveal hidden connections and inspire innovative solutions.
- SCAMPER. This is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Participants are prompted to think about the problem and generate ideas using each of these seven approaches. The SCAMPER technique encourages participants to look at the problem from different angles and find unique solutions.
Step 5: Evaluate and Refine Ideas
Once a range of potential solutions has been generated, evaluate their robustness and viability. Encourage participants to consider potential challenges, drawbacks, and risks associated with each idea. Use a decision matrix, SWOT analysis, or other evaluation tools to help compare and prioritize the proposed solutions.
Seek to create an environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas while also being open to constructive feedback. The facilitator must balance encouragement and critical thinking, promoting an atmosphere where ideas are assessed objectively, and their merits and drawbacks are examined thoroughly.
Be aware of any biases, power imbalances, or dominant personalities that may influence the evaluation process. By skillfully navigating these dynamics, the facilitator can ensure that all voices are heard and that the evaluation process remains objective and fair.
These workshop exercises are great for evaluating and refining ideas.
- SWOT Analysis. This exercise requires participants to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with each proposed solution. By conducting a SWOT Analysis, the group can thoroughly evaluate the viability and potential impact of each idea, identifying potential challenges and opportunities.
- Pros and Cons. In this exercise, participants list the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed solution. This method encourages participants to think critically about the potential outcomes of each idea, enabling the group to make a more informed decision.
- Poster Session. In this exercise, each proposed solution is presented on a poster, and participants are given time to review and provide feedback on each idea. The Poster Session promotes thoughtful consideration of each solution and allows for open discussion and collaborative evaluation.
- Plus/Delta. This exercise involves participants identifying the positive and negative aspects of an idea or solution. It can help to refine ideas by focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of each one.
- Affinity Mapping. This exercise involves grouping similar ideas together and can help to identify common themes and patterns. It can help to refine ideas by clarifying the relationships between different solutions.
- Assumptions Collection. This exercise involves identifying assumptions that have been made about the problem or solution and testing them to see if they are valid. It can help to refine ideas by identifying any flawed assumptions and correcting them.
- Force Field Analysis. This exercise involves identifying the forces that are supporting and opposing a proposed solution. It can help to refine ideas by addressing the barriers and challenges that need to be overcome for the solution to be successful.
By incorporating these workshop exercises, participants can thoroughly evaluate the proposed ideas to ensure they are robust and viable. These
Step 6: Select the Best Solution
As a group, decide on the most promising solution(s) based on the evaluation process. Discuss the reasoning behind the selection and ensure that all participants are on board with the decision.
To promote objectivity, encourage the use of predefined criteria or frameworks for evaluating the proposed solutions. By providing a structured approach to decision-making, participants will be better equipped to weigh the pros and cons of each idea, ultimately leading to a more informed choice.
This will also help you maintain a neutral stance throughout the selection process, allowing the group to discuss and debate the merits of each solution without bias. As a facilitator, your goal is to ensure that the group focuses on the problem at hand and avoids getting sidetracked by personal preferences or interpersonal conflicts.
If you see that the group is struggling to reach a consensus, you might need to guide them toward a decision. By summarizing the key points of the discussion and highlighting the most promising solutions, the facilitator can help the group make a well-informed decision that best addresses the problem.
The following workshop exercises are great for facilitating the selection process:
- Dot Voting. This method helps participants prioritize solutions by giving them a limited number of dots or stickers that they can distribute among the proposed ideas. The solutions with the most votes are considered the most promising and can be further discussed or refined.
- Fist to Five. This technique allows the group to quickly gauge the level of support for each solution. Participants indicate their level of agreement by raising a certain number of fingers (1 to 5), with five fingers signifying strong support. The solutions with the highest average scores are deemed the most favorable.
- Stack Ranking. In this exercise, participants rank the proposed solutions in order of preference, assigning a unique position to each idea. The facilitator then tallies the rankings and determines the overall order of preference for the group. This helps identify the top solutions based on collective input.
- Trade-off Sliders. This method encourages participants to consider the pros and cons of each solution by using sliders to represent various criteria, such as cost, time, or quality. Participants adjust the sliders to visually represent the trade-offs they are willing to make, and the facilitator synthesizes the results to identify the most viable solutions.
- SWOT Analysis. By evaluating each solution’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, participants can gain a comprehensive understanding of the potential outcomes and risks associated with each idea. This structured analysis helps the group make a more informed decision about which solution is best suited to address the problem.
- Decision Matrix. The facilitator creates a matrix with the proposed solutions as rows and the evaluation criteria as columns. Participants then score each solution based on how well it meets the criteria. The solution with the highest total score is considered the best option. This method promotes objective decision-making and allows for a clear comparison of the proposed solutions.
- Priority Mapping. This technique involves visually mapping ideas based on their importance and urgency. By using Priority Mapping, the group can quickly identify the most critical and time-sensitive ideas, ensuring that the most pressing solutions are prioritized for implementation.
Step 7: Develop a Plan for Implementation or Testing
With the chosen solution(s) in hand, create a detailed plan outlining the steps required for implementation or testing. Assign responsibilities, establish deadlines, and set milestones to ensure accountability and progress. Consider creating a pilot project or running tests to validate the effectiveness of the solution before a full-scale implementation.
Seek to guide the group in setting realistic timelines and defining clear roles and responsibilities. This involves promoting open communication, ensuring that everyone’s input is valued, and addressing any concerns that may emerge.
You might also consider to spend time establishing key metrics for monitoring success and setting up checkpoints to evaluate the success of the implementation, enabling the team to learn from their experiences and iterate on the solution as necessary.
The following workshop exercises work great for exploring an creating an implementation plan.
- Project timeline. A project timeline is an effective way to help the team map out the key milestones, tasks, and deadlines involved in implementing the chosen solution. It allows the team to visualize the project’s overall progress and identify potential issues that may arise during the implementation process.
- Future-Back Planning. Future-Back Planning is a technique that helps the team envision what success will look like in the future and work backward to identify the necessary steps to achieve that success. This approach can help the team develop a clear vision and strategy for implementing the solution.
- RACI Matrix. A RACI Matrix is a tool that can be used to clarify roles and responsibilities during the implementation process. It helps ensure that each team member understands their role in the project and can help prevent confusion or misunderstandings.
- Dependency Map. A Dependency Map is a visual tool that helps the team identify the interdependencies between different tasks or components of the project. This can help the team develop a more realistic and feasible plan for implementing the solution.
- Sailboat. The Sailboat exercise can be used to help the team identify potential obstacles or challenges that may arise during the implementation process. It involves visualizing the solution as a sailboat and identifying the factors that may help or hinder its progress towards the desired destination. This exercise can help the team proactively address any potential roadblocks and develop a plan to overcome them.
Step 8: Follow Up and Iterate
After the workshop, monitor the progress of the solution’s implementation or testing. Gather feedback, evaluate results, and make any necessary adjustments or refinements. Encourage open communication among participants, and consider scheduling follow-up meetings to review progress and address any emerging challenges.
The solution that was chosen may need to be adjusted or refined based on feedback or unexpected challenges that arise. As a facilitator, you should encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas and foster an environment where experimentation and iteration are encouraged.
Find ways celebrate successes and acknowledge the efforts of the team throughout the process. This can help maintain morale and motivation for continued improvement and innovation.
Typical pitfalls when running a Problem-Solving Workshop
- Finding the Right Facilitator. Finding a facilitator who is knowledgeable and experienced in problem-solving techniques can be a challenge. It is important to find someone who can effectively lead the workshop and ensure that all participants are engaged and productive.
- Establishing Clear Goals. Establishing clear goals for the workshop is essential for its success. Without a clear understanding of the objectives, it can be difficult to ensure that the workshop is productive and successful.
- Creating an Engaging Environment. Creating an engaging environment for the workshop is key to its success. Participants need to feel comfortable and be able to focus on the task at hand.
- Managing Time. Time management is essential for a successful workshop. It is important to ensure that the workshop is structured in a way that allows for productive discussion and problem-solving.
- Ensuring Participation. Ensuring that all participants are actively engaged in the workshop is essential. It is important to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to contribute and share their ideas.
Google is known for its commitment to fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. The company regularly conducts workshops, hackathons, and brainstorming sessions to encourage creative problem-solving among employees. Google’s “20% time” policy, which allowed employees to dedicate 20% of their time to side projects, has led to the development of successful products like Gmail and Google Maps.
IDEO, a global design consultancy, is renowned for its human-centered, collaborative approach to problem-solving called “design thinking.” The company conducts workshops, both internally and for clients, to tackle complex challenges and create innovative solutions. This approach has helped IDEO to develop breakthrough products, such as the Apple mouse and the Palm V PDA.
Procter & Gamble (P&G)
P&G is a consumer goods company that has leveraged problem-solving workshops and open innovation programs to drive growth. They have held workshops and innovation sessions, such as the “Clay Street Project,” where cross-functional teams come together to tackle complex challenges and create new products. The company’s innovation initiatives have resulted in successful products like Swiffer, Febreze, and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
LEGO, the toy company known for its iconic plastic bricks, has used problem-solving workshops to foster innovation and drive business growth. The company has employed design thinking workshops to explore new product ideas and refine existing ones. LEGO’s commitment to problem-solving and innovation has led to the creation of successful product lines such as LEGO Mindstorms, LEGO Architecture, and LEGO Ideas.
- What is the purpose of the workshop?
- What are the objectives of the workshop?
- Who will be attending the workshop?
- What topics will be covered in the workshop?
- What methods will be used to facilitate problem-solving?
- What is the expected outcome of the workshop?
- How will the success of the workshop be measured?
- What is the timeline for the workshop?
- What is the budget for the workshop?
- Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edward de Bono (1970)
- Thinkertoys: A Handbook of CreativeThinking Techniques by Michael Michalko (1991)
- Problem Solving and Decision Making: A Guide for Managers by Barry K. Baines (2000)
- The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird (2012)
- Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono (1985)
- Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play by Luke Hohmann (2006)
- Gamestorming by Dave Gray (2010)
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