The Problem Solving Process*


The problem solving process generally includes the following four connected phases/stages: Designing, building, testing, and analyzing & refining.

·       Designing involves the understanding of what is to be created and for what purpose. This phase involves a study of the specifications, objectives, and constraints (e.g., time, budget, material, safety, etc.) of the design. Brainstorming techniques are often employed to generate a variety of economical solutions to the problem. Sketches or rough drawings are often used to help communicate solutions to others. When working in a group it is important that all ideas should be considered to have serious potential to solve the problem. Upon closer scrutiny one or more solutions will usually rise to the top of the pile as having the greatest potential for success. When this point has been reached, it is time to move on to the building phase.

·       Building involves the process of producing a solution to the problem based upon the design(s) selected for development. Prototypes are often produced without the strict attention to details that would be present in the final solution. First-generation prototypes rarely solve the problem with total success. They often need to be modified or refined many times and some times even discarded in favor to other designs. Once a promising prototype has been generated, it is time to move on to the testing phase.

·       The testing phase is where the rubber meets the road. The important question here is whether the prototype will perform up to expectations. It is important to review the solution in relation to all measurable criteria provided in the problem specifications.

·       Analyzing & refining provides an opportunity to review the findings that were generated during the testing phase. More often than not, an initial solution does not perform exactly as planned. This is where analysis is critical and some refinement is necessary. The analysis and refinement stage may be the most time consuming of all stages. If a major problem persists, then a return to earlier stages of the problem solving process may be necessary.


(Click on this link for a brief slide presentation on Engineering Design).

* Based on “Design Challenges for Computer-Controlled Lego Products”, Len Litowitz (LEGO Dacta/Pitsco, Pittsburg, 1998).