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Sudoku for Beginners: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Are you a beginner when it comes to solving Sudoku puzzles? Do you find yourself frustrated and unsure of where to start? Fear not, as we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to improve your problem-solving skills through Sudoku.

Understanding the Basics of Sudoku

Before we dive into the strategies and techniques, let’s first understand the basics of Sudoku. A Sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid that is divided into nine smaller 3×3 grids. The objective is to fill in each row, column, and smaller grid with numbers 1-9 without repeating any numbers.

Starting Strategies for Beginners

As a beginner, it can be overwhelming to look at an empty Sudoku grid. But don’t worry. There are simple starting strategies that can help you get started. First, look for any rows or columns that only have one missing number. Fill in that number and move on to the next row or column with only one missing number. Another strategy is looking for any smaller grids with only one missing number and filling in that number.

Advanced Strategies for Beginner/Intermediate Level

Once you’ve mastered the starting strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced techniques. One technique is called “pencil marking.” This involves writing down all possible numbers in each empty square before making any moves. Then use logic and elimination techniques to cross off impossible numbers until you are left with the correct answer.

Another advanced technique is “hidden pairs.” Look for two squares within a row or column that only have two possible numbers left. If those two possible numbers exist in both squares, then those two squares must contain those specific numbers.

Benefits of Solving Sudoku Puzzles

Not only is solving Sudoku puzzles fun and challenging, but it also has many benefits for your brain health. It helps improve your problem-solving skills, enhances memory and concentration, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In conclusion, Sudoku is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills while also providing entertainment. With these starting and advanced strategies, you’ll be able to solve even the toughest Sudoku puzzles. So grab a pencil and paper and start sharpening those brain muscles.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


four basic steps of problem solving

4 Steps to Efficiently Solve Problems

Problems—we all have to deal with minor or major problems in our personal or professional lives. Having a consistent problem-solving approach can be very helpful, and demonstrating strong problem-solving skills can help you stand out in your career.

In this blog post, I’m going to cover a simple problem-solving framework. Although much of what I discuss can be applied to any type of problem, I’ll focus on using the framework from a professional standpoint.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  – Albert Einstein

Categories of Problems

Work-related problems can generally be categorized by the area they impact most. That’s not to say a problem can’t impact multiple areas, but usually there is an area of primary impact. I find it useful to categorize problems into the following three categories:

  • People —These problems center around people, their expectations, and their interactions with other people.
  • Product —These problems are related to what you produce at work. The “product” can be tangible or intangible. If you’re a home builder, your product would be houses. If you’re a software developer, the product would be the application you work on. If you’re a sales professional, you produce sales. Problems in this category are often related to the “product” not meeting the expectations of the customer or stakeholder.
  • Process —These problems are related to the processes you use at work, generally in the context of producing the work product. The problem could be the process isn’t producing the desired result, the process isn’t being followed, or the process doesn’t account for enough scenarios.

Although the framework described in the sections below works with each of these categories, the specific approaches you take might vary. For example, if you’re dealing with a process-related problem, a group discussion to analyze the problem likely makes sense. If it’s a people problem, group discussions can be counterproductive, particularly in the early stages.

The Steps (and the Pre-Step)

The framework consists of four steps and a very important pre-step. The four steps are as follows:

  • Analyze —Understand the root cause.
  • Plan —Determine how to resolve the problem.
  • Implement —Put the resolution in place.
  • Evaluate —Determine if the resolution is producing the desired results.

I’ll discuss these steps further below, but first I want to discuss an important precursor—triage. In emergency medical situations, the triage process is used to prioritize patients: do they need immediate attention to survive, or do they have injuries that aren’t immediately life threatening? Sometimes, we’re faced with more problems than we can immediately solve, so it’s helpful to prioritize them. I find the following questions to be useful in this process:

  • Is there an immediate action I need to take to reduce the impact of the problem?
  • Is there a reasonable degree of likelihood I can solve this problem?
  • If I can solve the problem, can I solve it in a timely manner?
  • If I can solve the problem, will it make a significant difference?

The answers to these questions can help you prioritize the order in which you should focus on particular problems. If a problem is causing significant and immediate pain, then you need to stabilize the situation first—often by addressing the symptoms.

For example, if a customer is upset, you need to address their immediate pain before attempting to resolve the root problem. Once you’ve done so, you can move on to prioritization. If a problem is solvable, can be solved quickly, and has a significant impact, you should focus on it first. If you aren’t sure the problem can be solved, or solving it won’t have a positive impact, then it should be lower on the priority list.

Once this prioritization has been completed, you can analyze the problem.

The goal for analyzing the problem is to understand the root cause(s). (Yes, problems can have more than one root cause.) If you can address the root cause, you can prevent the problem from recurring. It’s important during this process to get multiple perspectives on why the problem occurs. If the problem is in the Product or Process categories, I like to use a group of approximately five people to discuss the root causes. If it’s a person problem, a group setting might be counterproductive and individual conversations are better. However, for Person problems, it’s critical to get multiple perspectives.

There are many techniques for getting to the root cause of problems. One popular and effective approach is the “ 5 whys .” With this approach, you iteratively ask “Why?” about the problem and then each answer until you get to a root cause. For example:

  • Why did the upgrade fail? -> The prerequisite updates weren’t installed.
  • Why weren’t the prerequisites installed? -> The person performing the install didn’t know there were prerequisites.
  • Why didn’t the person performing the install know there were prerequisites? -> They didn’t read the release notes.
  • Why didn’t they read the release notes? -> The release notes aren’t included or linked to from the installer.
  • Why aren’t the release notes included or linked to from the installer? -> Because the release notes aren’t always required reading for an upgrade.

When using the “5 whys” approach, it’s important to look for process failures as the root cause. In many cases, it’s easy to get to a why such as “There wasn’t enough time” or “We didn’t have enough people.” If you want to fix the root cause, you need to get to “Why did the process fail to alert us of the problem?”

Once you have one or more root causes, you can start looking at how to resolve them going forward. This is another great time in the process to involve multiple people. Having multiple perspectives can produce innovative approaches to address the root causes. It’s also important to remember you might need multiple solutions if you have multiple root causes.

Brainstorming is a good way to generate ideas, but it’s helpful to have a method to manage all the ideas that can be produced.   Affinity Grouping   is an approach that has been around for a long time, and for good reason—it works well. After generating ideas, you group and potentially combine the similar ones. The various ideas in each group can lead to a better, more rounded solution.

An important aspect of the solution(s) you develop is that you can measure the outcomes. I’ve seen many great ideas that simply didn’t result in the desired outcomes for reasons that couldn’t be anticipated. If you’re able to measure successful outcomes (and unsuccessful outcomes), it helps you adjust more quickly and pivot to different solutions if needed.

Now it’s time to put the solution in place. How you do so can vary significantly depending on what the solution is. However, a key consideration should be how the solution will be monitored. This is why it’s important to define what success looks like in the planning stage. Those measurements are what you will monitor.

It’s important to allow some time before moving to the next step. How much time? It depends—it can be helpful to look at how many times the new solution has been used when determining this. For the example above about release notes, imagine you decided to add an “IMPORTANT” note in a new version of an installer to link people to the release notes. If a week has passed, but only one person has downloaded the new version, then you probably don’t have a large enough sample size to evaluate the solution yet. Conversely, if it’s only been 24 hours, but 50 people have downloaded the new version, you have a much better sample to work with.

Evaluating the solution requires looking at the outcomes objectively and determining if they match expectations. Often, you will find the solution did improve things, but perhaps not as much as you would have liked. If that’s the case, you can refine and iterate on the solution. It might take a few iterations to get the outcomes you would like.

What if the outcomes really don’t match expectations? This scenario often indicates the root cause wasn’t fully understood, and you might need to jump back to the   Analyze   step. Revisiting the problem with the additional insight of what   did not   work can help you uncover other root causes.

The next time you’re faced with a problem at work, think   TAPIE :

Problem solving is a process—and it’s one we need to be able to carry out in a thoughtful and timely manner throughout our careers. Our ability to consistently and efficiently address problems can be what sets us apart.

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Problem Solving Steps That Will Get You What You Want


In every aspect of life, problems are bound to arise. In a workplace, problems can come in the form of client complaints or issues with teams. In a school setting, you may face problems with learning or teaching. And, in personal relationships, problems may take the most complex shapes and forms. Mastering problem solving steps can help you succeed in your career and more.

While every challenge is unique in its nature, there are a few methods to problem solving that are worthwhile to learn.

What is Problem Solving?

The four basic steps to problem solving are:

1. Define the Problem

It’s common to conflate symptoms of a problem with the problem itself. When understanding what the root of the problem is, be sure to ask the right questions. If you’re problem solving in a workplace, get team feedback. If you’re problem solving in school, ask for the help of other students.

2. Create Alternatives

Once you know the problem you’re facing, it’s good to consider possible solutions. Often, there are a variety of solutions to the same problem. Be sure to exhaust all possibilities. This is another step where feedback and teamwork is useful.

3. Choose a Solution

Assess which solution will work best for those involved. If it’s in a business, then you’ll likely have to address the costs and benefits of any given solution. For problem solving in school settings, you may want to ask professors or mentors what they think will be the most effective.

4. Implement the Solution

Once you’ve chosen the best solution to a problem, you can implement it. If more problems arise, you will have to solve the problem again. But don’t give up! Overcoming challenges only makes you stronger.

What are Problem Solving Skills?

While problem solving is a skill in itself, it also intersects with other skills. These skills include:

Active Listening

There’s a difference between hearing and actively listening. Active listening requires the listener to give undivided attention to the speaker. By using active listening, you maximize problem solving skills because you can actually understand the problem when someone explains it.

Analytical skills are crucial for problem solving. Everyone brings a different opinion and understanding of a problem to the table. By critically thinking about what’s actually happening, you can create the best solutions.

In businesses, big data is becoming everything. Using data and research, you can prevent problems before they even arise.

Sometimes, when facing a problem, you will also have constraints. In fact, the constraints could be what’s causing the problem. Utilizing creativity can help to overcome such challenges by thinking outside the box.


Talking about problems and accurately describing their roots will allow for contributions from your team. In this way, being able to properly communicate can help to hasten problem solving.


Since challenges can have multiple solutions, you will need to know how to make a decision to implement the proper solution.


There are not many issues in life that require someone to be alone. Because of this, having a team with a strong foundation will help better address issues when they arise.

Photo by  Austin Distel  on  Unsplash

Problem solving process: a 7-step process.

The following problem solving process is especially effective in businesses. When facing a challenge of any kind, leaders can rely on this method to come to a solution.

1. Identify the Issues

Different people may have different views on an issue. To identify the issues, allow everyone affected to share what they think is the problem.

2. Understand Interests

This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Once everyone has shared their views on a situation, it’s useful to analyze why they feel this way about it. In this step, you must be accepting of everyone’s differences. Understanding interests accurately also relies on active listening. By understanding interests, you will be able to better choose a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs.

3. Define the Problem

Defining the problem can easily be conflated by emotion. To efficiently solve problems, you should be objective rather than subjective. No matter if a problem is small like choosing what to eat or large like choosing your major in college , defining a problem accurately is the basis of solving it properly.

The Kipling Method: A well-known method to define a problem comes from Rudyard Kipling, a famous poet. The 6 necessary elements to describe a problem include:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is it important to fix the problem?
  • When did the problem start? What is the deadline to fix it?
  • How did the problem begin? What’s its cause?
  • Where is the problem happening?
  • Who is affected by it?

4. Define the Goals

To solve a problem, you need to know what the goals are. In a team, it’s important that the goal is communicated. This way, everyone can work together to achieve the desired outcome.

5. Generate Solutions

Many times, a problem will have multiple solutions (unless it’s math)! To generate solutions, you can try these various methods:

  • Brainstorm: Allow everyone (even yourself) to share opinions on what they think can be a useful solution. Don’t shut down ideas in this stage. First, let everything come up with and then analyze what is actually feasible or practical.
  • Divide: Sometimes, problems are so big that they feel overwhelming and can lead to the fear of making a decision at all. Try to break down problems into smaller pieces to divide and conquer it in steps.
  • Means-Ends Analysis: To achieve a particular goal, you can work backwards. For example, you may want to become a software engineer. For this goal, you want to earn a degree in Computer Science , but the problem is affordability . With the goal of earning your higher education, you can think of alternative solutions like an online and tuition-free education (the University of the People). In this way, you’ve taken the outcome and worked backwards to find a solution.
  • Trial and Error: Problem solving often includes failure — but trial and error can lead to the best solutions. You have to be open to trying different solutions until you reach the right one through trial and error.

6. Evaluating the Best Solution

When assessing multiple solutions for a given problem, you obviously want to choose the best one. Here are some ways to do so.

  • Eliminate Early: Ineffective solutions should be removed early on. Sometimes, it’s obvious what won’t work. If not, define parameters and budgets. If something is too expensive to implement, then it can quickly be removed as a solution.
  • Develop a Decision Matrix: You can use a decision matrix to see solutions visually. You can create a scale, for example using the ratings 1-10. Then you can assign a percentage of importance to each criteria. Criteria can include: timeliness, cost, risk, manageability, for example. In this way, you can see what solution will be the best by creating this value system.
  • Implement and Follow Up: Trust your analysis and, once you choose a solution, implement it. Be sure to track and measure if it’s helping to achieve your desired goals.

7. Document

In a business setting, there are so many moving parts. It’s good practice to document problems and solutions to gauge their success. It also creates a history that one can refer back to down the line when the next problem comes to light.

Advantages of a Problem Solving Process

Having a problem solving process in place helps to alleviate stress. It also can provide the following benefits:

  • There is consistency across an organization for how to manage problems
  • The process promotes collaboration and teamwork
  • The decision-process is informed, and therefore easier
  • The solutions are rational and objective

Photo by  Wonderlane  on  Unsplash

Activities and games to boost problem solving skills.

While problems themselves aren’t fun, there are fun ways to boost problem solving skills. These skills can be honed through games. Some problem solving games and ideas to practice to boost such skills include:

  • Build a tower
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Escape rooms
  • Human circle

Problem solving is not a one-size-fits-all situation. In different settings and with different people, problems look different. That’s because everyone approaches challenges from a different perspective.

However, there are basic needs in optimizing a problem solving process through problem solving steps. When facing any issue in your life, practice a positive mindset and start by defining the problem. By asking problem solving questions, you can generate solutions alone or alongside a supportive team.

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Diego Novais

Posted on Mar 10

4 Stages Of Problem Solving

As software developers, we are faced with an array of tasks and problems that require our attention and expertise on a daily basis. To address these challenges, based on my studies, I rely on a problem-solving strategy that consists of four stages.

4 Stages Of Problem Solving

1 - Analyze

The first stage involves understanding the available resources and constraints of the problem. By assessing the resources at our disposal and identifying any limitations, we can gain a clear understanding of what is required to solve the problem effectively.

The second stage is to write a program that outlines the steps needed to solve the problem. This plan of action serves as a roadmap that guides us toward a successful resolution.

3 - Implement

The third stage is to execute the program to obtain the desired results. By doing so, we can confirm that our solution is indeed effective and meets the requirements of the problem.

4 - Evaluate

Lastly, we match the results of the program with the desired output to determine if the problem has been successfully solved. This allows us to verify that our solution is accurate and meets the expectations of the stakeholders involved.

By following this four-stage problem-solving strategy, software developers can approach problems in a structured and systematic manner, leading to more efficient and effective solutions.

This four-stage problem-solving strategy is not only effective in the context of software development but can also be applied to various real-life situations. By breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps and following a structured approach, we can approach challenges with greater confidence and achieve successful outcomes.

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Depending on the size of the problem, I often find that (2) and (3) are often best scrapped in favour of:

  • Experiment and build

It's often best to jump in and play around with ideas as soon as they come to you. Working with them immediately is the best way to improve and build upon them. A plan will often stifle creativity at this point.

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Yes! I agree! It makes perfect sense! We need to be flexible and learn to be able to also experiment and build whenever necessary. Thanks for the comment! It enriches the content!

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four basic steps of problem solving

Intermediate Algebra Tutorial 8

  • Use Polya's four step process to solve word problems involving numbers, percents, rectangles, supplementary angles, complementary angles, consecutive integers, and breaking even. 

Whether you like it or not, whether you are going to be a mother, father, teacher, computer programmer, scientist, researcher, business owner, coach, mathematician, manager, doctor, lawyer, banker (the list can go on and on),  problem solving is everywhere.  Some people think that you either can do it or you can't.  Contrary to that belief, it can be a learned trade.  Even the best athletes and musicians had some coaching along the way and lots of practice.  That's what it also takes to be good at problem solving.

George Polya , known as the father of modern problem solving, did extensive studies and wrote numerous mathematical papers and three books about problem solving.  I'm going to show you his method of problem solving to help step you through these problems.

If you follow these steps, it will help you become more successful in the world of problem solving.

Polya created his famous four-step process for problem solving, which is used all over to aid people in problem solving:

Step 1: Understand the problem.  

Step 2:   Devise a plan (translate).  

Step 3:   Carry out the plan (solve).  

Step 4:   Look back (check and interpret).  

Just read and translate it left to right to set up your equation

Since we are looking for a number, we will let 

x = a number

*Get all the x terms on one side

*Inv. of sub. 2 is add 2  

FINAL ANSWER:  The number is 6.

We are looking for two numbers, and since we can write the one number in terms of another number, we will let

x = another number 

ne number is 3 less than another number:

x - 3 = one number

*Inv. of sub 3 is add 3

*Inv. of mult. 2 is div. 2  

FINAL ANSWER:  One number is 90. Another number is 87.

When you are wanting to find the percentage of some number, remember that ‘of ’ represents multiplication - so you would multiply the percent (in decimal form) times the number you are taking the percent of.

We are looking for a number that is 45% of 125,  we will let

x = the value we are looking for

FINAL ANSWER:  The number is 56.25.

We are looking for how many students passed the last math test,  we will let

x = number of students 

FINAL ANSWER: 21 students passed the last math test.

We are looking for the price of the tv before they added the tax,  we will let

x = price of the tv before tax was added. 

*Inv of mult. 1.0825 is div. by 1.0825

FINAL ANSWER: The original price is $500.

Perimeter of a Rectangle = 2(length) + 2(width)

We are looking for the length and width of the rectangle.  Since length can be written in terms of width, we will let

length is 1 inch more than 3 times the width:

1 + 3 w = length

*Inv. of add. 2 is sub. 2

*Inv. of mult. by 8 is div. by 8  

FINAL ANSWER: Width is 3 inches. Length is 10 inches.

Complimentary angles sum up to be 90 degrees.

We are already given in the figure that

x = one angle

5 x = other angle

*Inv. of mult. by 6 is div. by 6

FINAL ANSWER: The two angles are 30 degrees and 150 degrees.

If we let x represent the first integer, how would we represent the second consecutive integer in terms of x ?  Well if we look at 5, 6, and 7 - note that 6 is one more than 5, the first integer. 

In general, we could represent the second consecutive integer by x + 1 .  And what about the third consecutive integer. 

Well, note how 7 is 2 more than 5.  In general, we could represent the third consecutive integer as x + 2.

Consecutive EVEN integers are even integers that follow one another in order.     

If we let x represent the first EVEN integer, how would we represent the second consecutive even integer in terms of x ?   Note that 6 is two more than 4, the first even integer. 

In general, we could represent the second consecutive EVEN integer by x + 2 . 

And what about the third consecutive even integer?  Well, note how 8 is 4 more than 4.  In general, we could represent the third consecutive EVEN integer as x + 4.

Consecutive ODD integers are odd integers that follow one another in order.     

If we let x represent the first ODD integer, how would we represent the second consecutive odd integer in terms of x ?   Note that 7 is two more than 5, the first odd integer. 

In general, we could represent the second consecutive ODD integer by x + 2.

And what about the third consecutive odd integer?  Well, note how 9 is 4 more than 5.  In general, we could represent the third consecutive ODD integer as x + 4.  

Note that a common misconception is that because we want an odd number that we should not be adding a 2 which is an even number.  Keep in mind that x is representing an ODD number and that the next odd number is 2 away, just like 7 is 2 away form 5, so we need to add 2 to the first odd number to get to the second consecutive odd number.

We are looking for 3 consecutive integers, we will let

x = 1st consecutive integer

x + 1 = 2nd consecutive integer

x + 2  = 3rd consecutive integer

*Inv. of mult. by 3 is div. by 3  

FINAL ANSWER: The three consecutive integers are 85, 86, and 87.

We are looking for 3 EVEN consecutive integers, we will let

x = 1st consecutive even integer

x + 2 = 2nd consecutive even integer

x + 4  = 3rd  consecutive even integer

*Inv. of add. 10 is sub. 10  

FINAL ANSWER: The ages of the three sisters are 4, 6, and 8.

In the revenue equation, R is the amount of money the manufacturer makes on a product.

If a manufacturer wants to know how many items must be sold to break even, that can be found by setting the cost equal to the revenue.

We are looking for the number of cd’s needed to be sold to break even, we will let

*Inv. of mult. by 10 is div. by 10


To get the most out of these, you should work the problem out on your own and then check your answer by clicking on the link for the answer/discussion for that  problem .  At the link you will find the answer as well as any steps that went into finding that answer.

  Practice Problems 1a - 1g: Solve the word problem.

(answer/discussion to 1e)

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/translat.htm This webpage gives you the basics of problem solving and helps you with translating English into math.

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/numbprob.htm This webpage helps you with numeric and consecutive integer problems.

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/percntof.htm This webpage helps you with percent problems.

http://www.math.com/school/subject2/lessons/S2U1L3DP.html This website helps you with the basics of writing equations.

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/ageprobs.htm This webpage goes through examples of age problems,  which are like the  numeric problems found on this page.

Go to Get Help Outside the Classroom found in Tutorial 1: How to Succeed in a Math Class for some more suggestions.

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Easy Problem Solving Using the 4-step Method

June 7, 2017  by  Jennifer Haury Category:  Guest Author ,  Management

Easy Problem Solving Using the 4-step Method

At a recent hospital town forum, hospital leaders are outlining the changes coming when a lone, brave nurse raises her hand and says, “We just can’t take any more changes. They are layered on top of each other and each one is rolled out in a different way. We are exhausted and it’s overloading us all.”  

 “Flavor of the Month” Fatigue

Change fatigue. You hear about it in every industry, from government sectors to software design to manufacturing to healthcare and more. When policy and leadership changes and process improvement overlap it’s no surprise when people complain about “flavor of the month,” and resist it just so they can keep some routine to their days.

In a time where change is required just to keep up with the shifting environment, one way to ease fatigue is to standardize HOW we change. If we use a best practice for solving problems, we can ensure that the right people are involved and problems are solved permanently, not temporarily. Better yet, HOW we change can become the habit and routine we long for.

The 4-step Problem Solving Method

The model we’ve used with clients is based on the A3 problem-solving methodology used by many “lean” production-based companies. In addition to being simpler, our 4-step method is visual, which helps remind the user what goes into each box.

The steps are as follows

  • Develop a Problem Statement
  • Determine Root Causes
  • Rank Root Causes in Order of Importance
  • Create an Action Plan

Step 1: Develop a Problem Statement

Developing a good problem statement always seems a lot easier than it generally turns out to be.  For example, this statement: “We don’t have enough staff,” frequently shows up as a problem statement. However, it suggests the solution—“GET MORE STAFF” — and fails to address the real problem that more staff might solve, such as answering phones in a timely manner.

The trick is to develop a problem statement that does not suggest a solution.  Avoiding the following words/phrases: “lack of,” “no,” “not enough,” or “too much” is key. When I start to fall into the trap of suggesting a solution, I ask: “So what problem does that cause?” This usually helps to get to a more effective problem statement.


Once you’ve developed a problem statement, you’ll need to define your target goal, measure your actual condition, then determine the gap. If we ran a restaurant and our problem was: “Customers complaining about burnt toast during morning shift,” the target goal might be: “Toast golden brown 100% of morning shift.”

Focus on a tangible, achievable target goal then measure how often that target is occurring. If our actual condition is: “Toast golden brown 50% of the time,” then our gap is: “Burnt toast 50% of the time.” That gap is now a refined problem to take to Step 2.

Step 2:  Determine Root Causes

In Step 2, we want to understand the root causes. For example, if the gap is burnt toast 50% of the time, what are all the possible reasons why?

This is when you brainstorm. It could be an inattentive cook or a broken pop-up mechanism. Cooks could be using different methods to time the toasting process or some breads toast more quickly.  During brainstorming, you’ll want to include everyone in the process since observing these interactions might also shed light on why the problem is occurring.


Once we have an idea of why, we then use the 5-why process to arrive at a root cause.  Ask “Why?” five times or until it no longer makes sense to ask. Root causes can be tricky.  For example, if the pop up mechanism is broken you could just buy a new toaster, right? But if you asked WHY it broke, you may learn cooks are pressing down too hard on the pop up mechanism, causing it to break. In this case, the problem would just reoccur if you bought a new toaster.

When you find you are fixing reoccurring problems that indicates you haven’t solved for the root cause. Through the 5-why process, you can get to the root cause and fix the problem permanently.

Step 3: Rank Root Causes

Once you know what’s causing the problem (and there may be multiple root causes), it’s time to move to Step 3 to understand which causes, if solved for, would close your gap. Here you rank the root causes in order of importance by looking at which causes would have the greatest impact in closing the gap.


There may be times when you don’t want to go after your largest root cause (perhaps because it requires others to change what they are doing, will take longer, or is dependent on other things getting fixed, etc). Sometimes you’ll find it’s better to start with a solution that has a smaller impact but can be done quickly.

Step 4: Create an Action Plan

In Step 4 you create your action plan — who is going to do what and by when. Documenting all of this and making it visible helps to communicate the plan to others and helps hold them accountable during implementation.

This is where your countermeasures or experiments to fix the problem are detailed. Will we train our chefs on how to use a new “pop-up mechanism” free toaster? Will we dedicate one toaster for white bread and one for wheat?  


Make sure to measure your results after you’ve implemented your plan to see if your target is met. If not, that’s okay; just go through the steps again until the problem is resolved.

Final Thoughts

Using the 4-step method has been an easy way for teams to change how they solve problems. One team I was working with started challenging their “solution jumps” and found this method was a better way to avoid assumptions which led to never really solving their problems.  It was easy to use in a conference room and helped them make their thinking visual so everyone could be involved and engaged in solving the problems their team faced. 

Do you have a problem-solving method that you use at your worksite?  Let us know in the comments below. 

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Jennifer Haury

About Jennifer Haury

Jennifer Haury is the CEO of All Angles Consulting, LLC and guest authored this post for MRSC.

Jennifer has over 28 years learning in the healthcare industry (17 in leadership positions or consulting in performance improvement and organizational anthropology) and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

She is a trusted, experienced leader with a keen interest in performance improvement and organizational anthropology. Jennifer is particularly concerned with the sustainability of continuous improvement programs and the cultural values and beliefs that translate into behaviors that either get in our own way or help us succeed in transforming our work.

The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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