Checklist to Solve Problems the IDEAL Way

We face problems every day – some are easy to identify and solve, while others may go unnoticed, appear overwhelming, or be pushed aside for more pressing issues.

When it comes to solving problems big or small it can be very helpful to have a reliable troubleshooting approach – the IDEAL checklist — to help you get the better of any problem. A little time upfront will save you time in the long run.


IDENTIFY – If you can describe the problem you are on your way to solving it.

Your goal here: Write down the problem statement to ensure you are solving the right problem. Focus on the problem and not a side issue.

  • What is the problem?
  • Is it a symptom of a bigger issue?
  • What’s expected and what is falling short?
  • Tackle one problem at a time. Hone in.

DEFINE – Now let’s get specific.

Your goal here: Define the What, Where, When and To What Extent?

  • Brainstorm and jot down notes.
  • How long has this problem existed?
  • When did it arise?
  • Did something happen that made this problem worse? (e.g. a change in software or business process)

EXPLORE – Explore all solutions to determine your best course of action.

Your goal here: Write down pros/cons for each solution. This is the time to stop and really explore all ideas before you jump in and solve the problem.

  • List all solutions and assess and prioritize how to proceed.
  • Do I need other resources to act on the best solution?
  • Do I need a short term fix until I can solve the problem long term?

ACT – Choose your best solution and make it happen.

Your goal here: List the action steps to enact your solution.

  • What action steps do I take to solve the problem, and in what order?
  • Do I need assistance on the action steps? If yes, seek agreement and confirm timing. 

LOOK BACK and LEARN – Evaluate.  Did it work? If not, why?

Your goal here: Look at the actual results and learn from your experience.

  • Did you resolve the immediate issue?
  • If not, what other solution will you test next?
  • What did you learn that will assist you to act on another solution?
  • What did you learn that could be incorporated in a process or system to improve or prevent the problem from recurring?

Fixing a problem at work or at home can be overwhelming due to time constraints or resources. We may have a tendency to jump on an issue and try to fix it immediately when sometimes what you need is to take a step back. Using the IDEAL problem solving checklist may save you time and help you choose the best solution.

TLG Learning can augment your problem solving resources. TLG Learning’s Private Coaching gives your staff the skills they need and the ability to analyze, change and enhance business processes and systems through one-to-one desk side private coaching and/or training.

1. John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein, The Ideal Problem Solver: A Guide to Improving Thinking, Learning, and CreativitySecond Edition edition, 1993. 

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