Problem Solving Technique: Step 1- Define the Problem

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” John Dewey


During high school (10th class), the majority of the students are at a crossroads to decide, what subjects they should pick, which they are impassioned and can be their stepping stone for the future. In many schools, the students undergo a psychometric test to ascertain their preferences. Once the priorities are clear, the remaining steps are a cakewalk to achieve. 

Effective problem solving is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones. Being a successful leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems. Rather, it means that you know how to solve problems effectively as they arise.

Practising different problem-solving strategies can help organizations to develop efficient solutions to challenges they encounter at work and in their everyday lives. Each industry, business and product have its unique challenges, which means there may be different strategies to solve them. 

In this article, we discuss what problem-solving strategies are, what is the best way to ‘Define a Problem’ and list a few examples of it which you can try.

The organizations can adopt a seven-step process for the problem solving which includes Define the problem; Containment, Correction, Interim Action; Root Cause Analysis; Implementation of Corrective Action; Effectiveness Evaluation; Horizontal deployment; Documentation, Lesson Learned and promotion of awareness

Definitions (ISO 9000: 2015)

Complaint (clause 3.9.3): Expression of dissatisfaction made to an organization related to its product or service or the complaints handling process itself where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected.

Complainant (clause 3.1; ISO 10001: 2018): Person, organization or their representative making a complaint.

Detailed Information

Problem definition is the most difficult and the most important of all the steps. The objective should be to diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. As per Albert Einstein “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” The organizations should identify competent and relevant personnel from different processes, who can work together as a team and define the problem appropriately.

The following are the 7 key steps for problem-solving.

  1. Define the Problem
  2. Containment, Correction, Interim Action
  3. Root Cause Analysis
  4. Implementation of Corrective Action
  5. Effectiveness Evaluation
  6. Horizontal Deployment
  7. Documentation, Lesson Learned and Promotion of Awareness

Read More:

 Define the Problem

The key objective should be to define the problem as accurately as possible. As per Betty Williams, “There’s no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.” While we are defining the problem, the overall intent should be that it should lead to a possible solution.

Possibly, there are 3 ways of getting the problem.

  • customer end (field failures, recall)
  • supplier end (quality, delivery, premium freight) or
  • internal issue (new development cost, rejection, breakdown)

The following are some of the key pointers which can be considered before defining the problem. They are

  • Differentiate fact from opinion
  • Consult each relevant process owner involved for information
  • Avoid trying to solve the problem without data
  • Identify in quantifiable terms

Author Robert A. Humphrey tells us that “An undefined problem has an infinite number of solutions.” The more accurate and focused your definition, the closer you are to a solution.

The Kipling Method named after Rudyard Kipling’s poem “I keep six honest serving-men,” is a popular system used to define problems. It highlights six important questions you can ask to overcome a challenge. These six questions are:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise and When does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering each of these questions can help you to develop a ‘simple problem statement’, which defines the problem as the customer sees it, which will later help in deciding the steps you need to take next to solve it.


Bad Example:

  • Noisy pump
  • REPS gear has broken casting
  • Drawing G datum out of the specification

Good Example:

  • What is the problem?
    • Defect: Crack on the front
    • Part number: abc
    • Drawing number: def
    • Model: ghi
    • Quantity: xx numbers
  • Why is the problem important?
    • Repeated: Yes/No
    • Safety / Critical Characteristics / Routine
  • When did the problem arise and when does it need to be solved?
    • Dated: xx.xx.xxxx
    • Which shift: 1 / 2/ 3
    • Target date: xx.xx.xxxx
  • How did the problem happen?
    • Visual / Fitment / Function
    • Operator/Inspector Name
  • Where is the problem occurring?
    • Customer: jkl
    • Location: mno
  • Who does the problem affect?
    • End-user / Next Process / Final Assembly
    • Legal Requirement
    • Any other Stakeholder

Industry Challenges:

  1. Jumping the gun: As Malcolm Forbes put it: “It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.” How often the focus is on defining the problem accurately rather than finding the solution?
  2. Mis-defining the problem: The story is told of a man poking around under a streetlight. When asked what he was doing he said he was looking for his keys. “Is this where you lost them?” he was asked. “No,” he replied, “I lost them across the street… But the light is better here.” Know exactly what the problem is.


IATF 16949: 2016

ISO 9001: 2015

ISO 9000: 2015

ISO 18238: 2015: Space Systems-Closed loop problem-solving management

OEM Supplier Manual

Industry Experts


This is the 141st article of this Quality Management series. Every weekend, you will find useful information that will make your Management System journey Productive. Please share it with your colleagues too.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “The important thing is never to stop questioning.” I invite you to ask anything about the above subject. Questions and answers are the lifeblood of learning, and we are all learning. I will answer all questions to the best of my ability and promise to keep personal information confidential.

Your genuine feedback and response are extremely valuable. Please suggest topics for the coming weeks.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Excellent Sir !!!