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Quality Assurance by D. H. Stamatis

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Problem-Solving Methodology
Overview
Perhaps the most misunderstood area in any organization is the understanding
and selection of a problem-solving methodology. It is misunderstood because
there are so many options to choose from and depending on whom you ask,
the answer of the best approach is quite different. However, all organizations
in the modern world must have a method—preferably standardized—across
their facilities whether local, national, or international.
What is a problem-solving methodology? Problem-solving methodology
is a strategy with specic steps that one would use to nd the problems that
are in the way to getting to one’s own goal. Another way of saying it is that
problem solving consists of using generic or ad hoc methods, in an orderly
manner, for nding solutions to problems. Others may have different deni-
tions, for example, calling it a problem-solving cycle (Bransford and Stein 1993).
In this cycle, one will recognize the problem, dene the problem, develop a
strategy to x the problem, organize the knowledge of the problem cycle,
gure out the resources at the users disposal, monitor one’s progress, and
evaluate the solution for accuracy. Although called a cycle, one does not have
to do each step to x the problem. In fact, in some cases if the problem is
simple, not all steps may be necessary. However, the reason it is called a cycle
is that once one is completed with a problem, usually another will surface.
Blanchard-Fields (2007) looks at problem solving from one of two facets.
The rst is looking at those problems that only have one solution (like math/
engineering problems, or fact-based questions), which are grounded in
psychometric intelligence. The second is addressing socioemotional issues
that are unpredictable with answers that are constantly changing (like your
favorite color or what you should get someone for Christmas). To show the
diversity of problem-solving strategies, we provide the reader with a sample
of techniques that are available. By no means is this an exhaustive list.
Abstraction: Solving the problem in a model of the system before
applying it to the real system
Analogy: Using a solution that solves an analogous problem
152 Quality Assurance
Brainstorming (especially among groups of people): Suggesting a
large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing
them until an optimum solution is found
Divide and conquer: Breaking down a large, complex problem into
smaller, solvable problems
Hypothesis testing: Assuming a possible explanation to the problem
and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
Lateral thinking: Approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
Means-ends analysis: Choosing an action at each step to move closer
to the goal
Method of focal objects: Synthesizing seemingly nonmatching char-
acteristics of different objects into something new
Morphological analysis: Assessing the output and interactions of an
entire system
Proof: Trying to prove that the problem cannot be solved; the point
where the proof fails is the starting point for solving it
Reduction: Transforming the problem into another problem for
which solutions exist
Research: Employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to
similar problems
Root-cause analysis: Identifying the cause of a problem
Trial-and-error: Testing possible solutions until the right one is found
Therefore, even though there are many strategies to approach a problem,
one must recognize that no matter what the strategy is, all of them have
advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, the organization must select a
methodology that ts its culture and processes. Some common methodolo-
gies are
Applied problem solving (APS): The model is based on the classic
approach of solving problems, which is
Comprehension
Representation
Planning, analysis, and synthesis
Execution and communication
Evaluation
Comprehension: A model where making sense of the problem is by
using strategies such as retelling, identifying relevant information,
and creating mental images. This can be helped by encouraging
participants to reread the problem several times and record in some

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