How to approach some problems

If you face a problem in a domain you do not know about or have never encountered before. You can solve it. Many issues follow a similar path toward solutions, whether with systems, processes or people.

Before you touch anything, you should ensure that the problem is not something supposed to be like its current state. Also, who is telling you that there is a problem? Is somebody part of the problem, or do they have nothing to do with it?

The easiest way to ‘solve’ a problem is when you can qualify it as not a problem. The second most straightforward approach is finding an expert who can help you. If you are slightly less lucky, there are still some standard approaches you can follow.

Turning it off and on again?

Can you (and should you) turn it off and on again? In some cases, this is literal, as a system or bringing a process back to a neutral state. Or, when it comes to people, is there a way you can start with a clean slate?

Is the problem unique?

Is this a one-of-a-kind problem? Or can you reproduce the problem, and when you reproduce it, can it be replicated elsewhere in a different environment? If the problem is not unique, you can likely do a proper analysis and comparison. If it is more erratic, solutions might be more challenging to find. However, you might look at a one-off occurrence that should make the problem smaller (hopefully).

Step by Step

Can you break the problem into smaller pieces where you can review each step’s input and output? With people, it can be validating decisions and statements. With processes, you can check what data is coming in and going out.

Use this whenever there is a manual or process description that you could guide through this process. There is no need to rely on your memory or assumptions. Just follow that guide and see if it delivers the results it promises.

It still does not work?

No worries, you did not know the solution in the first place, so do not feel wrong about this. At least you learned something about it while you were working on it. Maybe if you start again, you see the problem in a different context.

Though perhaps it was not your problem to solve. That happens. Of course, you can stick with it for longer to make it work, though sometimes the best thing you can do is share your findings and share it with somebody else who wants to look at it.