Analytical Problem Solving

Analytical Problem Solving is a key skill to master in the workplace

In this post, we’ll be looking at analytical problem-solving. We’ll take a look at what it is, what the critical skills are, and how you can develop them. We’ll also take a look at how analytical problem solving can help both your organization and your own career prospects. 

The importance of Analytical Problem Solving

I read a recent blog post that stated:

“Analytical skills are in demand in many industries.”

I think the real fact is that analytical problem-solving skills are actually a pre-requisite and are required in ALL roles in ALL industries.

Why is that?

Let’s face it most roles have an element of issue management and decision making. To be effective, you need a reasonable awareness of how to resolve problems effectively, maintaining the effectiveness of your role/function.

However, just because you are analytical in your thinking, it does not necessarily relate to an ability to review the detail and possible solutions for the dilemma you’re looking to resolve.

So analytical problem solving refers to a range of problem-solving skills together with an approach that should be followed.

What is analytical problem-solving?

As we have defined above, analytical problem solving relates to the method and techniques that you look to utilize, rather than the specific problem you’re looking to solve.

The problem is not what determines whether you need analytical problem solving but thinking analytically is a vital pre-requisite of problem-solving.

Analytical problem solving is identifying an issue, researching it, then developing ideas (such as causes and fixes) around it. 

Analytical problem solving requires research, investigation, and analysis that drives further learning around the topic (including causality, symptoms, and solution).

So if it’s all in the approach, what are the skills that you should look to use?

The analytical skills we’re referring to are usually based around some standard tools and methods such as;

  • The ability to examine a situation, 
  • The ability to research and focus on key aspects,
  • The ability to analyze the facts and data around the situation
  • The ability to prioritize and identify critical aspects
  • The ability to build an argument to define a problem 
  • The ability to investigate and propose root cause(s), while also highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of this argument.

Analytical problem-solving steps

While the process can vary, common steps include: 

  • Problem identification
  • Short term containment actions
  • Gathering facts and data
  • Developing ideas around causes
  • Generating solutions 
  • Testing solutions 
  • Assessing what solutions worked and making modifications as necessary
  • Deploying solutions

As you can see from the above, this takes us through a standard process flow of finding an issue and then resolving it. You can see from the steps in between that the “problem solving” aspects refer to research, hypothesis, and experiments, to define the problem, focus on the root cause, and then eradicate it.

Why are analytical problem-solving skills essential?

As we stated earlier in the post, all businesses face problems and issues. Having the skills to understand these problems, assess them, and then rectify them can help companies become more effective and help them achieve their goals.

All roles, to some extent, have an element of problem-solving within them, let’s not forget that some roles are specifically based around problem-solving (various analyst roles, quality roles for example). However, almost all other jobs have some element of problem-solving associated with them.

Developing analytical problem-solving skills

So what are the skills we’re talking about? As we highlighted above, in summary, these skills include;

  • Critical thinking 
  • Information gathering
  • Communication skills
  • Data analysis
  • Root cause analysis/problem solving
  • Testing
  • Implementation

But these are at a high level, what about the specific skills we need?

While the theme of problem-solving stretches across all organizations, each bullet above can have various skills associated with it, some standard, some industry-specific – for example – basic skills may include:

  • Can you develop a hypothesis – (propose an explanation based on evidence?)
  • Can you gather appropriate data and evidence?
  • Can you utilize data and facts presented around the situation (prioritizing them if needed)
  • Utilize logic 
  • Use facts to articulate insight 
  • Utilize appropriate tools and methods e.g.
    • MECE (Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive)
  • Be able to demonstrate how something was answered

While some of the methods, thought processes, and tools are independent of the situation (i.e. they can be mutually applied in many industries) certain things are not.

For example, the ability to analyze data is a standard problem-solving tool. But the ability to interpret that data and develop hypotheses from it may require a level of industry knowledge.  

For example, can someone with problem-solving skills obtained from an Aerospace background easily transfer those skills and interpret patient data when problem-solving in a healthcare environment?

The answer is probably not so we can safely say that analytical problem solving requires three key things:

  • Method
  • Tools
  • Experience and Industry understanding

The mix of the three attributes is likely to vary depending on the complexity of the issues faced. If you’re looking to develop your problem-solving skills, you need a three-pronged approach:

  • Method
    • Take appropriate classes
    • Familiarize yourself with the process 
    • Research examples
  • Tools
    • Familiarize yourselves with tools used throughout each stage of the process (e.g root cause analysis, 8d, 5 why’s)
    • Take classes in data manipulation and analysis
  • Experience
    • Participate in problem-solving activities within your business to gain experience
    • Take part in Process improvement activities, specifically to develop and improve efficiency.
    • Working in a customer-facing role (customer often have problems that they’re looking to solve, another aspect to this may be to work in a customer complaints zone).

Analytical problem solving and employability

As you’ve probably seen if you’ve perused job advertisements recently or spoken to recruiters, Analytical problem-solving skills are a requirement in many roles.

Employers value people that can analyze and assess complex issues, drawing data and information, and using models and tools to help identify and present solutions.

As we stated earlier, all businesses face problems and challenges. As a result, all companies want people who are adept at solving problems in a variety of situations (including those that are business-critical and face high pressure).

Businesses need problem solvers as resolving issues helps businesses be effective and ultimately save costs.

In today’s complex workplace, analytical problem-solving skills have become increasingly important. Why is that? Well perhaps it’s two fold.  

  • Firstly having skills that can help recognize and assess important information is a key enabler.  
  • Secondly, being able to use skills and tools to resolve issues and help the effectiveness of the organization is key.

You probably have some of the skills already, take some time to review those skills that you possess and think about those that you want to improve drawing up a plan to help you achieve it.

Summary

I hope you enjoyed this post; perhaps you’ve already developed your analytical problem-solving skills? We’d love to hear some tips on how you did that? Perhaps you’re looking and learning some skills? Again we’d love to hear from you! You can always message us on Twitter or provide some comments below!

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