There are many toolkits available to aid with problem-solving. Design Development Engineer, Luke Brown, shares some of the creative problem-solving tools and techniques useful for new product development:

The fundamental role of a design development engineer is a problem solver. The process of design typically starts with a problem which requires a solution… Engineers are trained to think logically – it may also be this that attracts naturally logical thinkers to the career in the first instance. It can sometimes prove difficult to break down the barriers that logic presents in order to explore a more creative approach.

Creativity can be compared to a muscle which must be flexed and trained in order to grow. A good approach to training creativity is to implement more creative problem-solving tools, such as the ones outlined below. Firstly, it’s important to understand that a problem is simply a deviation from the norm and is considered to be a matter which is challenging to solve or settle. Most problems have solutions if the mind is properly focused.

It is also important to understand the difference between a problem and a symptom. A good explanation of this is the story of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which initially started leaning during early stages of construction. Thinking the solution to the problem was to install taller plinths on the southern side of the tower to correct the lean mid-way up, the lean became worse. The increased weight on the southern side caused it to sink further into its poor foundations. The leaning of the tower was a symptom of the underlying problem, which was its poor foundations made of clay, fine sand and shells.

Problem Identification Tools:

Before potential solutions can be explored, a problem must be correctly identified and well understood. An initial analysis should be carried out to identify the distinction between fact and opinion, the scope is then captured (who or what is involved) before the cause of the problem should be established (distinguish between cause and symptom) and determining the cause of the problem.

5 “W” s

This refers to five basic questions to ask when gathering information or solving a problem: Who? What? Where? When? And why?

Problem Statement

The answers to the 5 W’s form the basis of the problem statement, which is a concise description of the problem to be addressed. This is an important part of the problem-solving process as it helps clearly identify the goals and the scope of the project.

Fishbone Diagram

At this stage, a fishbone (or Ishikawa) diagram can be utilised to visualise the cause and effect of the problem. It is important to explore all the potential causes of a problem before attempting to find a solution.

Idea Generation Tools:

Creative brainstorming

The purpose of a creative brainstorming session is to generate as many ideas and concepts as possible as raw materials for subsequent discussion. There should be no judgement of ideas at this stage, wild and exaggerated ideas should be encouraged.

Affinity Mapping (Dottocracy)

After the completion of a successful brainstorming session, affinity voting can be deployed to quickly reduce a high number of ideas into a smaller, more manageable number. Each person in the group is allowed 10 votes to put against their favourite ideas, and the highest voted ideas are taken forward.

S.C.A.M.P.E.R Technique

This technique is a brainstorming tool devised to help draw the maximum of useful information and ideas out of a topic by following the process: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse. Using this tool, it becomes possible to adapt a solution to virtually any problem from an existing idea or pool of ideas.

Morphological Matrix

This is a powerful tool for generating a high number of ideas, based on potential variations in a problem’s characteristics. The problem is broken down into individual characteristics on a grid-list, and a number of alternatives are generated for each.

Solution Evaluation Tools:

Decision Matrix Analysis

A Decision Matrix Analysis or an Idea Judgement Matrix is a useful and widely used tool for decision making and is particularly powerful when a number of good ideas have been generated. All available options are organised in rows of a table, and the decision-making factors in the columns. The table is worked through and scored between 0-5, and the scores are totalled at the end to identify the best option. In addition, “weights” can be used on each of the decision-making factors, for an added layer of flexibility.

Probability/Consequence Matrix

A Probability/Consequence Matrix can be useful for evaluating potential risks that could occur if a solution is implemented. Each of the potential risks are evaluated in terms of the potential consequence and probability and plotted in a matrix. If there is a significant number serious risks that cannot be mitigated against, then alternative solutions should be considered.

Here at HD, we’re constantly solving problems throughout the design process from initial concept through to production and beyond – it is engrained into our service, thinking and approach. If you are encountering difficulties, need expertise, resource, or have a problem to solve then please get in touch.

Luke Brown - Design development Engineer at Haughton Design Luke Brown 24 March 2022

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Get in Touch with Luke Brown

Design Development Engineer

Luke graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Product Design and has since developed a broad range of skills from working in the HVAC & refrigeration industries to designing for sheet metal & fabrication. Luke has a keen interest in FEA and 3D CAD modelling as well as a strong knowledge of standards and patents – he is keen to contribute this experience to HD. Outside of work, Luke enjoys being creative be it through music or home improvements.

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