Problem Solving 5: That’s Not What I Was Expecting…

You’ve implemented your solution.  Are you done? Not yet.

This video takes a look at step 5 of the Problem Solving process:  Evaluate and Assess.  When a group of friends discover they have to clear the driveway from several feet of snow, their unusual solution seems to solve the problem, but they learn a thing or two when they stop for a moment and asses the results of their efforts.

A lot of people skip this step, but don’t make that mistake.  After all your problem-solving efforts, this is where you learn the most.

Watch the video, or read the transcript below to learn more about what to do after you have implemented your solution to the problem you were trying to solve:


I’m here on the banks of Lake Erie in the heart of winter.  In this part of the country, the snowfall can reach extreme levels due to what they call the “Lake Effect”, and several feet of snow can fall in a very short period of time.

What is lake effect, you ask?  When cold arctic air sweeps across the great lakes, it picks up moisture evaporating off the relatively warmer surface of the lake.  As this warm air rises, it condenses into clouds.  When the clouds make landfall over the relatively cooler land, the moisture freezes and falls in the form of snow.  In 1996 a storm near Cleveland dumped nearly six feet of snow in five days.

We’re here to talk about step five of the decision-making process:  Assessing and Evaluating your solution.  This is the final step in the cycle and very often it is skipped, but this is the step where you can learn the most as a leader and problem solver, and make sure you got the job done.  So let’s bring you up to speed.


It’s late January, and you had a group of friends over for a super bowl party yesterday.  Your favorite team didn’t make it to the championchip, but it’s still fun to root for the underdog.  Now the game’s over, five plates of nachos and three extra-large pizzas are gone, it’s next morning, and it’s time for your friends to go home.  Only problem is that three feet of snow has fallen overnight and is blocking your hilly driveway.

AAh, But you said to yourself, “I got this.  We can use the problem solving process.”  You took a quick look at step one and identified the problem as


Must Remove the Snow

From the driveway

This morning

So my friends can go home.

OK, simple enough.  You had fun in step two coming up with some alternative solutions, and maybe there was just a little too much syrup on your pancakes, because your solutions ranged from the expected – shovel your way out, to the (ahem..) more creative…

In step three, most of those ideas survived your screening criteria; for your Evaluation Criteria you used speed, minimum effort required, and fun, and somehow you and your friends decided that building a home-made flame thrower and blasting your way out was your best idea.  Ok….

In step four you developed your plan and after about an hour in your garage, had cobbled together a risky looking and potentially lethal combination of pieces and parts that might just work, and mounted it in an old wheelbarrow.

So, with a slightly nervous look at each other, you opened the garage door and hit the switch.

An enormous orange flame bust from the nozzle, shooting out five feet into the snow, which was vaporized almost the instant it was hit by the flame.  Soon a veritable river of melt water is flowing down the steep driveway and out into the street.    In about ten minutes, you’ve made short work of all that nasty white stuff and you’ve cleared the driveway.

It was so much fun, your friends wanted a turn, and you ended up clearing the sidewalk in both directions.

Problem solved, mission complete, right?

Well, maybe, but before you put the flamethrower away, you should take a minute to reflect on how things went – this is the critical and often neglected fifth step of the problem solving process:  Assess and Evaluate.

A Moment of Reflection

Now you don’t need to have a formal meeting with a slide projector and PowerPoint presentation unless you were working on a bigger, more complex problem.  Often, your moment of reflection can be an informal one, just talking with your group or getting feedback from customers.  But if it was worth the time and effort to go through the steps of the decision making process, then it’s probably also worth it to sit down and figure out if you were successful and if you learned anything in the process.  It will only make you smarter and a better leader next time around.

And really there’s just one question to ask:  Did our solution solve the problem?

If it did, that’s great.  You can pat yourself on the back, and maybe think about how using the problem solving process brought you to success.

Measuring Effectiveness

But before you declare victory, it’s best if you can get some objective feedback to make sure.  For clearing the driveway, your evaluation criteria included speed and ease of effort, so you could check your watch to see if it took as long as you though it would – yup, about an hour and a quarter including the time in the garage.  And your backs aren’t hurting from shoveling all that snow by hand, so it looks like a success, at least from your perspective.

Here at the house, the snow is gone, there’s a clear path from garage to street, and it looks like your friends can get out and head back home.  Sweet.

But it’s a good idea to get feedback from other sources, too.  If you were running a restaurant, you might sample the food yourself to see if it’s any good, but you would also want to know if the customers were happy, so you could talk to them, or do a  survey.  People on social media are constantly getting and giving feedback every time they like or un-like something.

And for big projects, don’t wait until the end to start getting feedback; as you put your plan together in step 4, think about opportunities to get feedback and test your work before you are finished so you have time to improve your solution.

For our purposes, it may be best to just get our feedback by testing the results of our work to see if we answered our problem statement.

How do we test?  Maybe let’s see if we can actually get the minivan down to the street.  And it might be that we’re about to discover something.  Seems that all that melted snow has started to freeze back up, and now it’s slicker than center ice at a hockey game.  [car sliding down hill and off screen, crashing noise]…[

If your feedback tells you that you haven’t solved the problem, or that a new problem exists, then it’s time to start the cycle over again at the beginning with Step 1:  Did we solve the right problem?  In this instance, maybe we should have added something in the problem statement about getting safely to the street….or maybe we should have considered safety in our Screening and Evaluation Criteria, and gone with a less risky alternative.

But now we can see that things have changed, and the problem has more to do with melting the ice on the driveway, and maybe doing something about the cars blocking the street, and then there’s the flaming mail box.  Take another run through the problem solving process; I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

Thanks for Watching.

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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