Problem solving skills for managers

Find the right problem

Focus on causes, not symptoms. Understand why the problem has arisen.

Find the problem owner

Find out who owns the problem and why it matters to them. They may know the answer already, so ask them. Establish how important and urgent it is and gauge your response accordingly.

Use your experience

You have expertise and experience in your role, so use it. If you have seen this sort of problem before, you should know what to do. So do it.


If you are unsure what the best solution is, ask for advice. Your peers may have the answer, although they may all have different answers.

Avoid the perfect solution

If you are unsure what the best solution is, ask for advice. Your peers may have the perfect answer. Find what works and do that.

Stay future-focused

Do not dwell on the past or try to apportion blame. Look to the future, look to action.

Focus on benefits before concerns

It is easier to spot risks than opportunities. But if you focus on the risks of every solution, you will be paralysed by fear. Focus on the benefits first: if the benefits are big enough, then it is worth dealing with the risks.

Build a coalition in support of your solution

Asking for advice has the virtue of building consensus and paving the way for your solution to be put into action.

Keep it simple

Do not boil the ocean of facts and analysis. Use formal problem-solving techniques sparingly – they are an aid to thinking, not a substitute for thinking. The best solutions are discovered through action, not designed through analysis.

Drive to action

There is no such thing as a good idea that never happened. A solution is good only if it happens. A partial solution is often enough: you can then build on that and improve it.

Owen, J., 2006. How to manage. Pearson Education.

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