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The Synectics Problem Solving Process

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


As a manager, one of your responsibilities will be to solve problems. Set aside the small day-to-day problems you are constantly tackling: when you have a bigger,more challenging problem, how do you handle it? Do you have a process?

One process for structured problem solving – ideal for teams to use – is called Synectics. The methodology was developed observing many problem solving sessions by two Arthur D Little consultants,  George Prince, Bill Gordon and their team in the 1950s. The story of its development is on the Synecticsworld website.

The process has nine steps:

Synectics Problem Solving Process

1. Task Headline

Define the problem in the form ‘How to…’

2. Task Analysis

Set out why the problem exists, and its background, the oportunity before you and what you have already tried or thought of. If you have one, set out your ‘dream solution’, so that later, you can see if there are ways to break down the barriers to achieving it.

3. Springboards

Invite provocative statements and random ideas to set off creative thinking, like:

  • ‘Why can’t we…’
  • ‘I want to…’
  • ‘If only we could…’
  • ‘One idea might be to…’
  • ‘With unlimited resources, we could…’

4. Selection

Select the most appealing ideas to emerge from the Springboard, to work on further. These may be practical, visionary or intriguing.

5. Ways and Means

Look for practical steps to develop selected ideas, and ways you may be able to implement them.

6. Emerging Idea

Allow one idea to emerge as the strongest potential solution.

7. Itemised Response

Evaluate the Emerging Idea, looking for ideas for how to make it work until you identify the best way forward, if the idea were finally chosen. Test out your level of satisfaction with the idea/implementation package: is this your possible solution?

If it is not, return to Step 6 and work with a new Emerging Idea.

8. Possible Solution

State and document the Possible Solution and the associated implementation approaches.

9. Next Step

Document the actions to be taken, by whom and to what deadlines?

Further Reading

  1. The Problem Solving Pocketbook
  2. There is a host of valuable resources about Synectics on the Synectics World website.

Seven more problem solving methods in The Management Pocketblog

  1. Going round in circles: Problem Solving Simplicity
    Fisher and Ury’s Circle Chart
  2. The Fertile Mind of Edward de Bono
    The Six Thinking Hats Methodology
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma
    Includes 5 Whys, Fishbone Analsys and SIPOC Analysis
  4. The DMAIC Solution Process
    An alternative to Synectics
  5. Go to the Gemba
    Argues for being at the right place to solve a problem
  6. Truly Radical!
    Appreciative Inquiry as a radical approach to problem solving
  7. Adapting and Innovating
    Two opposite approaches to problem solving
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