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Problem Solving Strategies. Why should you be interested?. As engineers, you will be solving problems daily Student in CME 200: Simple problems Student in Design/Working engineer: More complex The more complex the problem, the more alternative solutions Goal : Pick the best solution.

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Problem Solving Strategies


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    1. Problem Solving Strategies

    2. Why should you be interested? • As engineers, you will be solving problems daily • Student in CME 200: Simple problems • Student in Design/Working engineer: More complex • The more complex the problem, the more alternative solutions • Goal : Pick the best solution

    3. Most Difficult Part of Problem Solving • Determining what the problem really is or what the homework problem is really asking for. • Example: Backpacking in Alaska • True problems are often disguised • Ill-defined or poorly posed problems can lead an engineer down the wrong path Defining the real problem is the 1st critical step to finding a solution!!!

    4. Example of Ill-Defined Problem • Upper floors of a high rise hotel were renovated to increase capacity. The guests complained that the elevators were too slow. • Problem??? • Solution???

    5. Ill Defined Problem Con’t • Problem: Elevators are too slow • Solution: Speed up the elevators • Could not speed up existing elevators • Put in another elevator

    6. Ill Defined Problem Con’t • Hidden Real Problem: People were bored while waiting • Solution: Installed mirrors on each floor

    7. Example of Ill-Defined Problem • Water flooding is commonly used in oil recovery in which water is injected into a well, displacing the oil and pushing it out another nearby well. A major oil company was having problems at a site where the recovery was much lower than expected. • Problem??? • Solution???

    8. Ill-Defined Problem Con’t • Problem: Oil recovery is low • Solution: Improve oil recovery • Spent thousands of dollars to determine how to get more oil through improved water flood techniques

    9. Ill-Defined Problem Con’t • Real Hidden Problem: Misinterpretation as to how much oil was available to recover. • Solution: Learn why the well was not producing the expected amount of oil.

    10. Also can have real problem defined, but wrong solution. • Nypro plant in England – 1974 destroyed and 28 men were killed when a vapor cloud of cyclohexane ignited • Why? Three units were connected in series, by a bent pipe. Rise in pressures caused the bent pipe to twist leading to leakage.

    11. 1981, hotel in Kansas City had three skywalks all connected. During a party, the lower two skywalks collapsed. • Why? Long rods were supposed to be used to support the skywalks, instead short rods were used causing more strain on the bolts.

    12. So……Important to…. • Make sure problem is defined properly • Proper solution is used to solve the problem. • This takes “EFFECTIVE PROBLEM SOLVERS”

    13. Characteristics of Effective Problem SolversHomework/Tests • Let’s list some!!

    14. Characteristics of Effective Problem Solvers • Attitude: • Believe the problem can be solved!!! • Have the motivation to solve the problem

    15. Characteristics – Con’t • Actions: • Re-read the problem statement • Re-describe the problem • Ask yourself questions • Create a mental picture • Draw sketches/write equations • Don’t jump to conclusions.

    16. Characteristics – Con’t • Solution Procedures • Break the problem into sub-problems • Start at the point you understand • Persevere when stuck.

    17. Characteristics – For Complex Problems • All of the above and…… • Use Heuristics!!!

    18. Good Problem Solvers are Usually Risk Takers • Definition of a Risk: • Actions with little chance of succeeding that require significant effort, resources, and/or time. However, if successful, they can lead to major impacts and great rewards

    19. Risk takers must have thick skin – be ready to be criticized • Greatest inhibitor – Fear of Failure • Outline risk and why it is important • Write down the worst possible outcome • Write down the options given the worst possible outcome and how you would deal with the failure. Failure can accelerate learning process by generating new information. Failure can also lead to successes 3M Post-It

    20. Things you can do to make yourself more comfortable with risk taking • Ask a question in a large lecture • Go somewhere you’ve never been before • Try a new sport (skydiving) • Volunteer to be the organizer of a group activity • Take a challenging course outside your major.

    21. Many times, problem solving will involve teams • Heuristic approach will give steps (roadmap) – but even with steps travelers can find themselves at a wrong destination or they can take too long to get there. Important thing is you agree on what direction to take. • Traveling with others • Look at map and agree • What happens with conflict? Problem solving is more effective if you work together and agree.

    22. List of Problems Encountered when Working in Teams • Floundering • Overbearing Experts • Dominating Participants • Reluctant Participants • Unquestioned Acceptance of Opinion • Rush to Accomplish • Discounting or Ignoring Group Member’s Statement • Feuding Team Members

    23. Solving Team ProblemsFloundering Make sure the mission is clear and everyone understands what is needed to move forward

    24. Overbearing Experts • Make an agreement among team members that there are no sacred cows and that all team members have the right to explore all areas

    25. Dominating or Reluctant Participants • List balance of participation as a goal and evaluate regularly. Make sure everyone has their defined tasks. • Ask questions of those who are not participating.

    26. Unquestioned Acceptance of Opinion • Ask for supporting data and reasoning • Accept and encourage conflicting ideas

    27. Rush to Accomplishment • Confront those that are rushing and remind them not to compromise the best solution. • Make sure a consensus is reached

    28. Ignoring/Discounting Group Member’s Statement • Learn how to listen effectively • Support the discounted person • Talk off-line with anyone who continually discounts other team members

    29. Feuding Team Members • Keep focus on ideas, not on personalities. • Get feuding team members to discuss the issues outside of meeting time.

    30. Effective Meetings • Show up on time • Bring all of your materials. • Appoint a leader who will work to make sure the team is effective • Prepare an agenda before the meeting • State why the group has come together • Keep the discussion focused • Draft an agenda/plan for the next meeting – what will you discuss and who is responsible for what?

    31. HomeworkDue Next Tuesday Nov 4. • Submit roles/assignments of team members on design project • Submit an agenda of one of your meetings • List 3 - 5 things that your group can do to improve your team work.

    32. Building Blocks of the Heuristic Approach • Define the Problem • Generate Solutions • Decide Course of Action • Implement the Solution • Evaluate the Solution

    33. Define the Problem • Gather Information • Collect and analyze existing data (sketches, graphs, drawings • Note: Data is better in graphs than tables • Talk to people • View the problem first hand • Confirm all findings and put all the information together to make sure it fits. Look for misrepresentation, distinguish between opinion and facts. • Make some rough calculations

    34. Case of the Dead Fish • A chemical plant discharges waste into a stream that flows into a river. Data was obtained as follows: • July 29: a large amount of chemical waste was dumped into the river.

    35. When talking to people • Ask questions that will • Look past the obvious • Challenge basic premises • Clarify Verbalizing the problem will help you understand it better.

    36. Who will you talk to?Leak in Flow Meter • Person who installed it • Technician who monitors the flow meter • Manufacturer who sold it • George

    37. Defining the Real Problem • Find out where the problem came from • Where did it originate • Who posed the problem statement • Can the person explain the reasoning as to how they arrived at that particular problem statement • Are the reasoning and assumptions valid • Has the person considered other possibilities

    38. Case of Dead FishWhere did the problem come from? • Stan is an engineer who is given the following instructions by his supervisor: “Design a new waste treatment plant to reduce the toxic waste from the chemical plant” Stan and his team must reduce the waste by a factor of 10. Stan did some quick calculations in gathering his information and found that it would cost over a million dollars for the new plant. He also found that the level of toxic chemicals in the river is below government regulations.

    39. Who Posed the Problem? • Stan approaches his supervisor to learn more. His supervisor tells him that it was not his decision but upper management.

    40. Can the reasons for arriving at the problem statement be explained? • There was a summer drought and a number of recent articles in the local newspaper about the unusually high number of dead fish in the river the last few weeks. It was his understanding that the drought brought the river to a low level and that the discharge was no longer dilute to be safe to the fish. Hence, to avoid the negative press and possible lawsuits, the company announced the planning of a new waste treatment facility.

    41. Are the assumptions and reasoning valid? • Stan realizes that the decision to design a build a waste treatment plant is based on an unusually large number of dead fish in the river, and not necessarily on the presence of high concentrations of toxic chemicals. • Treat the symptoms (dead fish) by removing toxins, thus solving the perceived problem but not necessarily the true problem (how to prevent the fish from dying). • No other possibilities were considered.

    42. Defining the Real Problem – Step 2 • Do some detailed exploring of the problem • Identify all available information • Recall or learn pertinent theories and fundamentals • Collect missing information • Hypothesize and visualize what else could be wrong with the current situation • Recall past or related problems and experiences • Collect more data and information • After using some or all the activities above, write a concise statement defining the real problem

    43. Case of the Dead Fish • Identify available information: There is a toxic discharge from the plant, the river level is low, and there are a large number of dead fish in the river. • Learn fundamentals: Stan calls a friend in the biology dept at a local university and asks her about the problem of what could be causing fish to die. She tells Stan that low water levels lead to significantly warmer water temperatures, and hence, lower levels of dissolved oxygen in water. These conditions make fish susceptible to disease.

    44. Case of dead fish – Con’t • Missing Information: She also tells Stan that a fungus has been found in two nearby lakes that could be responsible for the death of the fish. Upon checking the recent daily temperatures, Stan learns that the day before the fish began dying was one of the hottest days of the decade. Stan starts making phone calls to people upstream and downstream from the plant and learns that dead fish are appearing at the same unusually high rate everywhere, not just downstream of the plant.

    45. Case of the dead fish – Con’t • Hypothesis: The fish were dying all over the area as a result of the fungus and not from the plant discharge. • More information: Upon examination of the dead fish, it was discovered that the fungus was indeed the cause of death, and that the toxic chemicals played no role. • Define the real problem: Identify ways to treat the infected fish and prevent healthy fish from being infected.

    46. What would have happened if Stan was an OK Problem Solver • He would have designed a very good waste treatment plant that would cost the company a lot of money • Later, real problem is revealed, but Stan can blame it on upper management. • However, Stan won’t get any promotions for creative problem solving • Mary, the creative problem solver discovers the real problem and reports to the supervisor • Mary gets a promotion • Stan doesn’t.

    47. Summary • The first critical step in problem solving is to define the real problem. This involves information gathering, exploring, hypothesizing. Think out of the box! • Next: Is the problem with solving??? • Yes!! Let’s find the solution!!!