Practical Application: Choosing a Problem Solving Method in Management & Supervision

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This scenario will help you choose the best method to solve problems in the workplace. Here, we'll review a common problem a supervisor might have and look at possible solutions.

Why Use Problem Solving Methods?

As managers and supervisors we are tasked with solving many problems throughout the work day. Although we can just work through these freestyle, sometimes it helps to use a problem solving method, which provides us with clear steps to solving the problem.

You might have read about several of these in the lessons Types of Problem Solving Methods in Management and Supervision and Problem Solving Methods: Definition & Types. But, with so many choices, how will you know which problem solving method to choose for which problem? Today, we're going to look at a scenario where a manager needs to decide just that.


Latoya works as a manager in an interior decorating company. She oversees five other people and is in charge of several of the most important accounts. Latoya's days are filled with problem solving and decision making. Let's see how she chooses which problem solving method to use.

As soon as Latoya gets into work she has an issue to deal with. The fabric her client chose for the drapes in their office is out of production. Although this is a relatively small problem, it could be a big deal for her client and needs to be resolved quickly.

Trial and Error

Latoya doesn't have time to go through a multistep problem solving strategy and decides to use trial and error analysis with the existing fabric swatches she has. She goes through each one looking to see if they would be a suitable replacement for the fabric that is out of production. Eventually she makes a choice and sends the information to her client.

Five Step Model

Next, Latoya grabs a coffee and enters her Monday morning briefing with the whole company. The news isn't good. The heads of department explain that sales are down for the third quarter and the company needs to come up with a solution.

Since this problem is more complex and involves lots of decisions, it makes sense for Latoya and her colleagues to use a multistep problem solving method. They decide to use the five step model and spend the remaining time in the meeting brainstorming possible solutions and then choosing the best one to act on. They agree to record more data on sales over the next month and then come back together to evaluate their success.

Divide and Conquer

When Latoya exits her meeting she is greeted with an e-mail from one of her existing accounts. They are opening up a new office across town and would love for Latoya to be in charge of the interior design. With sales down, this is a perfect opportunity for Latoya to get ahead.

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