Problem Solving: Promoting a Solution Focused Office – Part 2

One of the easiest, and most memorable processes to follow when problem solving is the IDEAL model (attributed to John Bransford & Barry Stein in their book Problem Solver 1984) 

This model will keep you on track to ensure your problem solving is robust and effective and that you don’t miss any of the crucial stages of the process. 

The I stands for Identify the Problem
It is good practice to go out of your way to identify problems –  seeking out problems to solve means you are truly embracing continuous improvement in working practices and procedures (this is based on the advice of Min Basadur a Candian teacher & researcher who patented something called Simplexity Thinking for improving creativity in the workplace)   

But there is a problem with identifying a problem.  And it’s this. Sometimes you may not be working on the right problem to start with.  Very often we will work on finding a solution (and sometimes a “quick fix”) to a problem without identifying the root cause – in essence we haven’t identified the real problem.  We are working on solving the symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause of the problem.

Let me give you an example.  One of my fondest memories of “work experience” during my secretarial training days was helping at a family chartered accountancy firm based in a quaint listed building in the historic St Giles neighbourhood of Oxford.  I remember vividly witnessing one of the Partner’s PAs placing a bucket under the leaking roof on the stairwell as a solution to a leaky-roof problem.  A quick fix.  But the real problem was the roof needed a complete overhaul as the building’s listed status threw up challenges in infrastructure.  Every time it rained and the bucket made an appearance the root cause of the problem got more serious as water seeped into the rafters…..

D = Define your Goals
What it is you want to or need to achieve here?  What do you want to happen?  Can you visualise what it will be like when you have solved the problem?

E = Explore strategies and potential solutions
This is where you can use a combo of logical and lateral (creative) thinking to identify possible solutions (see Part 3 for more info on this!).  It’s where the beauty of working as a team comes in as you can draw on different team members perspectives and ideas.  

Ask: What are the likely outcomes when applying these strategies?  Imagine you have applied those strategies – which one(s) are the best in this situation?  Think about the pros and cons of your identified strategies.

A = Act on your selected strategy or strategies
And have a plan B (in fact there are 26 letters in the alphabet so have plans B through to Z ready!).

L = Look back and Learn
Use feedback on how this went – learn from the situation.  Ask: 

How can I use my experience of this situation to help me/my team/my organisation in the future? 

What do I know now that I didn’t know before?

When faced with a similar situation again,

  • What will I do differently?
  • What will I do more of?
  • What will I do less of?
  • What will I stop doing?
  • What will I start doing? 
  • What will I continue doing?

Part 3 of this Blog series can be read here


More Posts

Become a truly exceptional EA by combining strategy, finance, marketing and leadership know-how in this accessible and accredited blended-learning Programme. The Mini MBA is for Senior & Executive Assistants who want to master business and leadership skills.

The knowledge and skills you will learn will be equally useful within your professional role and personal lives.

IAM are one of the oldest professional bodies for business and administrative managers in the UK.

During your period of study with Your Excellency Limited, you will have Student Membership status of the IAM.

When you achieve your qualification, you’ll be able to take advantage of a preferential Your Excellency alumni rate and upgrade to full membership status.

Existing IAM members are eligible for 15% discount on listed training prices.

Your Excellency offers professional accredited training through the SFJ Awards.

SFJ Awards are the Ofqual regulated Awarding Organisation for the Level 3 Award in Professional PA and Administration Skills and Level 4 Certificate in Office and Administration Management.

Reserve your place on the SFJ Awards Qualifications

Grow your confidence and study for an accredited, industry recognised professional qualification.


Places are VERY limited for each cohort and every programme of our Mini MBA sells out fast.