The 6 Problem Types

An overview

The core of this new model for problem solving came in the discovery of a surprisingly small number of problem types. After reviewing hundreds of client engagements across several decades, we realized that problems are not infinitely unique; they cluster around a limited set of types.

The next discovery was even more significant. Upon reflection, we realized that each problem type required its own unique approach. What worked well for one type might be useful or even counterproductive for another type. We also discovered that each type required a relatively unique type of solution.

The Significance of the Problem Type

The consequence of identifying the dominant type(s) is

  • a definition of the essential nature of the situation, the features that cannot be ignored
  • clarification of the best roles for the executive sponsor, the individual contributors involved, and any neutral facilitator
  • an outline of the solution required
  • a skeletal statement of the best process to use in addressing the problem.

Although there is a classic model of problem solving that is widely accepted, it turns out to be useful for only one or two problem types, marginal for most others, and counterproductive for a few types.

One and Only One Type?

It would be nice if the world were so orderly that each problem would hold one and only one type, but we are not that lucky. Complex problems will often reflect two or more problem types.

Even in these more complex cases, however, there is almost always one problem type that provides the best entry. That is, there is one problem type that structures the most effective initial intervention. After some progress has been made within that understanding, it is then possible to shift the group's frame to a second problem type.

Exploring the Problem Types

Click here for a quick summary of all 6 types. Use the tab along the top of this page to go to a more detailed description of a specific type.