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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  the literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:


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Ethics in systematic reviews


Since its introduction by the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki, the place held by ethics in biomedical research has been continuously increasing in importance. The past 30 years have also seen exponential growth in the number of biomedical articles published. A systematic review of the literature is the scientific way of synthesising a plethora of information, by exhaustively searching out and objectively analysing the studies dealing with a given issue. However, the question of ethics in systematic reviews is rarely touched upon. This could lead to some drawbacks, as systematic reviews may contain studies with ethical insufficiencies, may be a possible way to publish unethical research and may also be prone to conflict of interest. Finally, informed consent given for an original study is not necessarily still valid at the systematic review level. There is no doubt that routine ethical assessment in systematic reviews would help to improve the ethical and methodological quality of studies in general. However, ethical issues change so much with time and location, and are so broad in scope and in context that it appears illusory to search for a universal, internationally accepted standard for ethical assessment in systematic reviews. Some simple suggestions could nevertheless be drawn from the present reflection and are discussed in the paper.

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Ethics and Your Literature Review

November is Academic Writing Month, fondly known as AcWriMo. The AcWriMo focus on MethodSpace in 2019 was on writing and publishing books.

We’re pleased to have special guest posts this month from Dr. Helen Kara. You might remember  Helen  from previous contributions to MethodSpace, including presenting in the  Get Creative! Research with Pictures & Stories webinar .

conducting a review of related literature and studies ethical or unethical brainly

by Dr. Helen Kara

An earlier version of this article was originally published in ‘Research Matters’, the quarterly newsletter for members of  the UK and Ireland Social Research Association  (SRA). The SRA now has  a blog  with topical peer-reviewed articles by and for researchers. They are also interested in contributions from readers so, if you fancy writing a guest post, you could  give them a try . They even have a ‘secret researcher’  option for posting anonymously  if you have something really controversial to say.

Researchers often use existing literature to set their research in context. ‘Literature’ is the academic term, referring to peer-reviewed scholarly work such as journal articles. Practice-based researchers may also contextualise their research, though more often with policy and project documents, in part because they are openly available. However, these distinctions are not so hard-and-fast these days. Academics increasingly recognise the value of ‘grey literature’, as they call relevant information that has not been through the peer review process. Practice-based researchers can read more and more academic literature, with the growth of open access, and through schemes such as the SRA’s member benefit of access to  around 6,000 social science journals through EBSCO . Also, the definition of ‘literature’ has grown to include written phenomena and artefacts such as ephemera (leaflets, zines, etc), creative writing (novels, poems, and so on), and online writings such as blog posts and tweets.

When I ask people about the ethical issues of working with literature, they tend to look blank. So here are some pointers. First, define what you are using as literature, or background documents, and explain why you have chosen those types of material. This is important now that there is such a range of available literature: as with all decisions about research, you should be making well-informed choices for good reasons. Then make sure you know how well you can search that body of literature. For example, if you are searching online – as many people do these days – you need to understand the scope and limitations of the electronic tools you use. Google Scholar is many people’s go-to website for academic literature, but it doesn’t index everything, and  its search function is far from neutral . The  Directory of Open Access Journals  indexes work from developing countries that does not find its way into Google Scholar. Even more work from developing countries can be found through the  Journals Online project  run by international research development charity  INASP , which currently covers work from Africa, Latin America, the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Even if your work focuses on a single country or locality, you may find relevant literature from far afield. You are not obliged to search everything; you simply need a clear rationale for your search.

You should record your search strategy – where you searched, terms you used to search on, dates of searches – so your readers can assess the effectiveness of your approach. Sadly, these days you will also need to check whether material you plan to cite is bona fide, as directories and repositories may still index and hold literature that has been retracted, or is a spoof that may not be instantly recognisable as such. This means researchers need to be on their guard, and make use of services such as  Retraction Watch  where possible.

Many search strategies will yield far more literature than any researcher, or team, can read. There are ethical dimensions to choosing what to focus on. Bias can creep in here: it is important to read literature representing a good spread of views and opinions, not only those you agree with. Then, when you have chosen what to read, it is ethically necessary to read that work carefully. Take the time to understand the arguments being presented and what they are based on. If you skim-read or cherry-pick, you risk misunderstanding the author’s argument, because you won’t understand their reasoning. Also, superficial reading doesn’t enable you to assess the quality of someone else’s work, so you won’t know how much weight to give it within your own research.

Then of course you need to cite others’ work correctly and not plagiarise or self-plagiarise. Having said that, self-plagiarism isn’t so much of a problem if you plan to self-publish, whether as an online pdf, e-book, or zine. However, if you plan to publish formally, self-plagiarism is unethical as publishers expect to publish original material.

Taking this kind of an ethical approach to working with literature shows respect to authors of the work on which our own work is based. Also, this approach helps to avoid the replication of errors, which in turn helps to raise standards in research.

More Methodspace posts about research ethics

Ethical Issues in Creative and Visual Research

Images or other creative expressions generated by participants can offer rich sources of data. What are the ethical issues in such studies, and how can we navigate them? Find examples and guidance in this collection of open-access articles.

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Ethical decisions are present throughout the process of academic writing and publishing. This collection of open-access articles offers insights about some of the issues writers face.

Peer Review: Practices and Controversies

Learn more about the peer review processes and ideas from the field about how to improve it. Find a variety of perspectives in this collection of open-access articles.

Prepare for Research in Global Crisis

SAGE MethodSpace partnered with Prepared to Zoom into the meeting and hear selected delegates provide statements on the difficulties of research during global crises and suggestions on how stakeholders can work together better in the future. View the recording!

What’s the role of the higher ed community in supporting intellectual freedom? View webinar recording.

SAGE Publishing offered a free webinar during Banned Books Week. View the recording here.

Independent Research and IRB Reviews

Many Methodspace researchers conduct independent research, or are in situations where they do not have access to an Institutional Review Board or other ethics review options. Working with a private agency is an option, as described in this guest post.

Social media research and ethics: what does the user want?

Dr. Stommel brings clarity to the messy world of data collection on social media.

How do researchers foster trust?

Explore researchers' roles and practices for developing trust in this collection of open access articles.

Ethical Issues and Consent in Research with Indigenous Peoples

This post offers research examples in open-access articles about ethical, respectful, research with Indigenous people and communities.

Addressing Scientific Misconduct

In this 2018 interview Dr. Benson Honig discusses ethical research conduct.

Ethics in Big Data and Computational Social Science Research

This collection of open-access articles offers multiple perspectives on the use of Big Data and ethical protocols for computational research methods.

Ethics in Cross-Cultural Research

Sometimes we cross borders as well as cultures, other times we find very different cultures in our own neighborhoods. Ethical issues carry more weight when languages, norms, and expectations are grounded in cultural identities. This collection of open-access articles offers insights into research ethics in cross-cultural studies.

Informed Consent Agreements

Does a signed agreement verify that someone is truly informed and willing to volunteer as a research participant? There are no simple answers to this question! This collection of open-access articles offers a variety of perspectives on the forms used for informed consent agreements.

Ethics and Extant Data Collection in Online Research

This wealth of material available online is irresistible to social researchers who are trying to understand contemporary experiences, perspectives, and events. The ethical collection and -use of such material is anything but straightforward. Find open-access articles that explore different approaches.

Ethical Dilemmas and Fair Practices in International Research

The Methodspace focus for August 2022 is on research ethics. While following the guidelines and protocols from your institution can be challenging, the dilemmas multiply when you conduct international research. Find open access resources and articles in this post.

How to take a social media sabbatical as an academic

How multimedia has changed social media and what it means for academics.

METHODS ch. 5 "how to review literature and conduct ethical studies"

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Research sub po yan lLet’s Try (Evaluation) Directions: Tell whether the following situations are ethical or not. Explain your 4 answer (2 pts. each). 1. Submitting the same paper to different journals without telling the editors 2. Using animals in research 3. Bypassing the research peer review process 4. Conducting a review of related literature and studies. 5. Not reporting an adverse effect in a human research experiment​ pasagot naman po plssssss yung maayos po wag sagutin kung di alam​​


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Literature Review On Unethical Behavior

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Tyson Foods Organizational Ethics

Within this essay I’m going to discuss the Organizational ethic of the company that I’m currently employed with Tyson Foods. The brand I’m going to discuss is Hillshire brands which was a large company itself that was bought out by Tyson foods in 2014. Organizational ethics are the principals and standards by which businesses operate. They are demonstrated through the acts of fairness, compassion, integrity, honor and responsibility. The key for the companies managers and executives to ensure that all employees understand these ethics. One of the best ways to communicate organizational ethics is by training employees on company standards.

Importance Of Accountability In Healthcare

Why is Accountability so important in the health care industry? Even though a situation may be positive or negative, every aspect of health care needs to be credited to something or someone, with accountability, errors can be fixed and then prevented and helps keep costs down. An employee accountability is measured by customer satisfaction, results of performance, and the cost and impacts of the employee over time, and affects an organization’s working culture by their values, integrity and work ethics. A successful organization follows the checks and balance process, maintains a positive working culture, and stays clear from blame.

Robert Solomon It's Good Business

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Unethical Business Practices: A Case Study

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Toyota Crisis Management Case Study

Crises pose certain risks to an company – potentially affecting critical aspects like reputation, image, brand equity, credibility, publicity, financial viability, legitimacy, community standing, etc. (Smudde, 2001). In auto industry vehicle recalls happen all the time and everywhere. However, the Toyota massive recalls show a very different situation and involves more serious consequences. We have seen that almost 9 million of Toyota vehicles around the world had to be recalled within a few months, and the potentially defective quality involved were mainly focused on unintended acceleration problems, which were closely related to the most important thing for drivers – safety driving. It’s thus hard to believe that there was nothing wrong with Toyota’s “quality” cars. The massive recalls were indeed a disaster for Toyota: not only means that they had to pay for the extensively financial losses due to repairing costs, market and stock share dropping down, production suspending, civil penalty, and other relevant expenses for dealing with the troublesome issues; but also it has heavily hit to Toyota’s intangible assets – its brand image and reputation of quality, which have been ethically shaped over time

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National Institutes of Health (NIH) - Turning Discovery into Health

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Nih clinical research trials and you, guiding principles for ethical research.

Pursuing Potential Research Participants Protections

Female doctor talking to a senior couple at her desk.

“When people are invited to participate in research, there is a strong belief that it should be their choice based on their understanding of what the study is about, and what the risks and benefits of the study are,” said Dr. Christine Grady, chief of the NIH Clinical Center Department of Bioethics, to Clinical Center Radio in a podcast.

Clinical research advances the understanding of science and promotes human health. However, it is important to remember the individuals who volunteer to participate in research. There are precautions researchers can take – in the planning, implementation and follow-up of studies – to protect these participants in research. Ethical guidelines are established for clinical research to protect patient volunteers and to preserve the integrity of the science.

NIH Clinical Center researchers published seven main principles to guide the conduct of ethical research:

Social and clinical value

Scientific validity, fair subject selection, favorable risk-benefit ratio, independent review, informed consent.

Every research study is designed to answer a specific question. The answer should be important enough to justify asking people to accept some risk or inconvenience for others. In other words, answers to the research question should contribute to scientific understanding of health or improve our ways of preventing, treating, or caring for people with a given disease to justify exposing participants to the risk and burden of research.

A study should be designed in a way that will get an understandable answer to the important research question. This includes considering whether the question asked is answerable, whether the research methods are valid and feasible, and whether the study is designed with accepted principles, clear methods, and reliable practices. Invalid research is unethical because it is a waste of resources and exposes people to risk for no purpose

The primary basis for recruiting participants should be the scientific goals of the study — not vulnerability, privilege, or other unrelated factors. Participants who accept the risks of research should be in a position to enjoy its benefits. Specific groups of participants  (for example, women or children) should not be excluded from the research opportunities without a good scientific reason or a particular susceptibility to risk.

Uncertainty about the degree of risks and benefits associated with a clinical research study is inherent. Research risks may be trivial or serious, transient or long-term. Risks can be physical, psychological, economic, or social. Everything should be done to minimize the risks and inconvenience to research participants to maximize the potential benefits, and to determine that the potential benefits are proportionate to, or outweigh, the risks.

To minimize potential conflicts of interest and make sure a study is ethically acceptable before it starts, an independent review panel should review the proposal and ask important questions, including: Are those conducting the trial sufficiently free of bias? Is the study doing all it can to protect research participants? Has the trial been ethically designed and is the risk–benefit ratio favorable? The panel also monitors a study while it is ongoing.

Potential participants should make their own decision about whether they want to participate or continue participating in research. This is done through a process of informed consent in which individuals (1) are accurately informed of the purpose, methods, risks, benefits, and alternatives to the research, (2) understand this information and how it relates to their own clinical situation or interests, and (3) make a voluntary decision about whether to participate.

Respect for potential and enrolled participants

Individuals should be treated with respect from the time they are approached for possible participation — even if they refuse enrollment in a study — throughout their participation and after their participation ends. This includes:

More information on these seven guiding principles and on bioethics in general

This page last reviewed on March 16, 2016

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A systematic literature review of the ethics of conducting research in the humanitarian setting

Conflict and Health volume  14 , Article number:  27 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Research around humanitarian crises, aid delivery, and the impact of these crises on health and well-being has expanded dramatically. Ethical issues around these topics have recently received more attention. We conducted a systematic literature review to synthesize the lessons learned regarding the ethics of research in humanitarian crises.

We conducted a systematic review using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines to identify articles regarding the ethics of research in humanitarian contexts between January 1, 1997 and September 1, 2019. We analyzed the articles to extract key themes and develop an agenda for future research.

We identified 52 articles that matched our inclusion criteria. We categorized the article data into five categories of analysis: 32 were expert statements, 18 were case studies, 11 contained original research, eight were literature reviews and three were book chapters. All included articles were published in English. Using a step-wise qualitative analysis, we identified 10 major themes that encompassed these concepts and points. These major themes were: ethics review process (21 articles, [40.38%]); community engagement (15 articles [28.85%]); the dual imperative , or necessity that research be both academically sound and policy driven, clinical trials in the humanitarian setting (13 articles for each, [25.0%)]; informed consent (10 articles [19.23%]); cultural considerations (6 articles, [11.54%]); risks to researchers (5 articles, [9.62%]); child participation (4 articles [7.69%]); and finally mental health , and data ownership (2 articles for each [3.85%]).


Interest in the ethics of studying humanitarian crises has been dramatically increasing in recent years. While key concepts within all research settings such as beneficence, justice and respect for persons are crucially relevant, there are considerations unique to the humanitarian context. The particular vulnerabilities of conflict-affected populations, the contextual challenges of working in humanitarian settings, and the need for ensuring strong community engagement at all levels make this area of research particularly challenging. Humanitarian crises are prevalent throughout the globe, and studying them with the utmost ethical forethought is critical to maintaining sound research principles and ethical standards.

Defined as both natural and man-made disasters, along with both acute and chronic conflicts, humanitarian crises threaten the lives and livelihoods of over 131 million people in the world today [ 1 ]. With more than 68.5 million people currently displaced, 25.4 million of whom are refugees outside their country of origin, the global community is witnessing urgent humanitarian issues that are crossing borders and impacting even those states and communities once thought immune [ 2 , 3 ]. Humanitarian aid is the impartial, independent and neutral delivery of services to populations in immediate danger [ 4 ]. Since the end of World War II, the humanitarian aid sector (in the form of health services, water and sanitation services, nutritional goods and security) has grown tremendously [ 5 ].

With expansion in humanitarian aid delivery and the deepening awareness that humanitarian crises can destroy health systems and have long-term impacts on public health, ensuring that the services provided are effective and acceptable is crucial. Following several highly publicized failures of the humanitarian community, veteran humanitarians from across the spectrum of governmental and non-governmental organizations have attempted to improve humanitarian response [ 6 ]. Initiatives such as the Sphere Project and others aimed to create minimum standards and evidence-based protocols for the delivery of five core components of humanitarian response—water supply and sanitation, nutrition, food aid, shelter and site planning and health services [ 7 ]. Over the past several decades, a key component of the assessment process has been conducting formal monitoring, evaluation and research on humanitarian aid delivery. Studies ranging from randomized control trials to population surveys and qualitative assessments evaluating the full spectrum of humanitarian aid delivery have burgeoned [ 8 ].

Parallel to the increase in professionalization of humanitarian aid, the public health community has been grappling with how to ensure that research on vulnerable populations is conducted ethically and with a focus on the rights and best interests of the community. Spurred by a backlash to unchecked human experimentation carried out through the twentieth century during World War II and the decades afterwards, there is more recognition of the critical importance of considering research ethics, particularly when studying vulnerable populations [ 9 ].

Few populations are as vulnerable to the potential adverse ethical challenges of research as those experiencing a humanitarian crisis [ 10 ]. Faced with weak government protections, disrupted health systems, insecure living conditions, and unreliable food and unsafe water, disaster-affected populations can be particularly at risk of inadequate consent processes and coercion. Furthermore, humanitarian emergencies require timely evaluation and management, making traditional ethics review—typically a protracted process—impractical [ 11 , 12 , 13 ]. These unique challenges, along with underdeveloped oversight and regulatory bodies of host countries and international mechanisms, make ethics considerations a crucial but difficult task in humanitarian research [ 14 , 15 ].

Despite increasing interest and an expanding literature base, there has been limited formal synthesis of the existing published data around the ethical issues of research in the humanitarian setting. We conducted a systematic review to (1) identify ethical issues surrounding research in humanitarian settings, (2) assess how these issues are managed in these unique circumstances and (3) develop an agenda for major issues that will require further discourse.

We conducted a systematic review using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines [ 16 ]. The PRISMA checklist has been provided as Supplementary Table  1 . Articles relevant to research ethics in the humanitarian setting were identified and analyzed. We chose to limit the search to articles published after January 1, 1997, when the initiation of the Sphere project marked a paradigm shift in how humanitarian aid was envisioned and carried out. This allows for review of nearly 25 years of literature, therefore spanning a wide swath of potential ethical research. We used the Sphere project dates because it included explicit language highlighting the need for evidence-based practices, which would require significant augmentation in research efforts to provide such an evidence base [ 7 ]. Our search included articles published as late as September 1, 2019, when this study was first undertaken.

Search strategy

We searched PubMed and Scopus for articles with significant discussion of the ethical issues of humanitarian research ethics. After a qualitative assessment of relevant keywords, we identified all pertinent articles based on the following terminology categories (articles could be in any language): (1) humanitarian settings (terms such as humanitarian, global health, disaster, emergency and/or conflict), (2) ethics (terms such as ethic(s), bioethics, human rights and/or rights) and (3) research type (terms such as research, program evaluation, monitoring and evaluation and/or investigation). The full search strategy and MeSH terms can be found in the Appendix . The initial search results of 1459 articles underwent a title and abstract review followed by a full text review by two different authors (WB and RH) (Fig.  1 ). A priori inclusion criteria included the 22-year timeframe mentioned above and selected for articles with robust discussion of ethical issues in the context of conducting research in humanitarian settings. Any article deemed by both reviewers to contain only a superficial mention of ethical issues and to not substantively (1) discuss ethics or (2) focus on research (3) in the context of humanitarian settings was excluded from the final analysis. Ethics was defined broadly as engagement with specific research ethics, as well as human rights issues, and other non-formal discussions of right versus wrong and other moral concepts. Research was defined as discussions including any types of data collection including quantitative and qualitative, as well as data collection for monitoring and evaluation for other programmatic and academic purposes. Humanitarian settings included diverse contexts including conflict and post-conflict states, post-natural disaster settings and refugee camps that requires specific interventions to prevent large scale suffering of the populations. Two authors (WB and RH) reviewed the final list of articles meeting the inclusion criteria.

figure 1

Stages of Systematic Literature Review Utilizing PRISMA Guidelines

Analytical methods

We used a modified meta-ethnographic approach to inductively identify key concepts and synthesize the major themes [ 17 ]. We chose the meta-ethnographic approach as it has been shown useful in other systematic reviews of qualitative health literature in that it utilizes an inductive approach that can account for differences in methodology and focus, and has the potential to provide a higher level of analysis and generate new research questions [ 18 , 19 , 20 ]. We conducted three steps of analysis: (1) Identifying original concepts and ideas from each paper that related to cross-cutting themes; (2) synthesizing these ideas into cross-cutting themes; and (3) identifying major themes. These steps are outlined in Table  2 . Original concepts were topics discussed in each paper, which the authors felt had some relevance to this paper’s focus on humanitarian research ethics. Cross-cutting themes were key concepts that were identified in at least two different articles. We assessed how the cross-cutting themes may fall into broader overarching ideas and coded these into related non-mutually exclusive groups we termed major themes. The synthesis process of extracting these major themes was one of reciprocal translation and constant comparison of concepts across studies. The process elucidated tensions and areas for future research within each major theme, as shown in Table 2 . Any disagreements on the analysis were resolved with discussion and consensus.

This research, based on previously published literature, did not meet criteria for Institutional Review Board approval.

Of the 1459 unique articles resulting from our search terms, 52 matched our inclusion criteria (Table 1 : List of Included Articles). The articles took the shape of five non-mutually exclusive categories of analysis: 32 were expert statements, 18 were case studies, 11 contained original research, eight were literature reviews and three were book chapters. All included articles were published in English. Thirty-four of the 52 (65.38%) articles were published in 2015 or later, ten between 2007 and 2014, and eight were published in the 1997–2006 decade (Fig.  2 ). Of the 52 articles included for final analysis, 23 were published by international teams (meaning that they were comprised of members from at least two different countries), 12 were from the United States, six from the United Kingdom, three from Canada, two each form Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Switzerland, and one each from Australia and India.

figure 2

Included articles by publication date

Thematic analysis

The step-wise analysis is presented in Table 2 . First order analysis of the articles meeting our final inclusion criteria revealed ideas and issues within the context of ethics related research in humanitarian settings. In the second phase of the analysis, qualitative review of the reports identified cross-cutting themes between the papers, and 10 major themes that encompassed these concepts and points. These major themes in descending order of prevalence were ethics review process (21 articles, [40.38%]); community engagement (15 articles [28.85%]); the dual imperative , or necessity that research be both academically sound and policy driven and clinical trials in the humanitarian setting (13 articles for each, [25.0%]); informed consent (10 articles [19.23%]); cultural considerations (6 articles, [11.54%]); risks to researchers (5 articles, [9.62%]); child participation (4 articles [7.69%]), and finally mental health , and data ownership (2 articles for each [3.85%]).

Ethical review

Discussion of the ethical review process was the most commonly identified theme, with 21 articles having a substantive focus on this [ 11 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 ]. Independent ethics review prior to the start of a study is a core component of research ethics. Tansey et al. conducted a survey of ethics review board members with experience in reviewing research ethics in disaster settings. Their results suggest a general feeling that research in this setting is not only of particularly high social value, making it a desirable pursuit, but also necessitates a higher level of justification due to the inherent vulnerability of the research subjects [ 33 ]. There is also general agreement that the innate fluidity and urgency of humanitarian situations make swift and efficient ethics review of paramount importance [ 11 , 25 , 29 ]. Hunt et al. report, “where research is launched in response to a sudden-onset disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, researchers may need to initiate their protocols quickly in order to answer research questions pertinent to the acute phase of the disaster response” [ 11 ]. However, as mentioned above, the particular vulnerability of the subjects being studied leads many research ethics committees to automatically identify humanitarian research as requiring “the highest level of stringency”. On the other hand, framing research as “needs assessments” and/or “monitoring and evaluation,” which is often done in evaluating aid needs and programs, may act to sideline rigorous ethical review and jeopardize the well-being of the recipient population [ 11 ]. This contradiction of values makes ethical review of humanitarian research particularly challenging.

Authors suggested strategies to mitigate the inherent challenges of ethics review in this setting [ 25 ]. For example, Hunt et al. suggest pre-approved research protocol templates which can be quickly customized for use in individual emergencies [ 11 ]. Eckenwiler et al. propose what they refer to as ‘real-time responsiveness,’ which is an iterative strategy of constant dialogue between ethics reviewers and researchers while studies are being conducted [ 24 ]. Given the potential for misstep in an expedited initial ethics review, Chiumento et al. describe the utility of a post-research ethical audit. The authors explain how this could help to evaluate “procedural ethics against in-practice realities”, which could help inform future studies [ 21 ]. Ethical analysis after data collection may also offer the added benefit of offering lessons on the review and practice process to the reviewers and researchers.

Our results highlighted the particular case of how the humanitarian aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF), who conducts substantial research in humanitarian settings, has devised an independent Ethics Review Board (ERB). The ERB utilizes several of the strategies mentioned above such as pre-approved protocols, engaging in ongoing dialogue between researchers and the ERB and conducting post-research evaluations [ 29 , 31 ]. Saxena et al. reported on a joint panel conducted by the WHO and the African Coalition for Epidemic Research, Response and Training. The authors outline the group’s recommendations for “rapid and sound ethics review”, which includes “preparing national ethics committees for outbreak response; pre-crisis review of potential protocols; multi-country review; coordination between national ethics committees and other key stakeholders; data and benefit sharing; and export of samples to third countries” [ 32 ]. Indeed, as Mezinska et al. point out in their systematic review of ethical guidelines, most of the analyzed documents included in their report did “not attempt to give researchers and other stakeholders a comprehensive overview of how to proceed ethically in all types of research and in all types of disasters”, which the authors see as problematic given that “disaster research is unavoidably context and time sensitive, making generalized guidance less applicable” [ 35 ].

Community engagement

Substantive involvement of the community being studied was identified as an imperative for researchers and a major theme of discussion in 15 articles [ 21 , 22 , 30 , 32 , 33 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 ]. It was generally agreed that active participation is necessary in order to fulfill the ethical requisite that research be of use to the community being studied (also known as beneficence) [ 22 , 48 , 50 ]. As Chiumento et al. identified in their systematic review of mental health literature, the right to participate in research can be viewed as a basic right in and of itself, insofar as it relates to other rights such as self-determination and autonomy [ 22 ]. One important strategy described was involving local community health and government officials in an effort to maximize community support [ 43 ]. More practically speaking, this effort can help limit potential for a community’s misunderstanding of research, which can jeopardize a project’s legitimacy and undermine its acceptance [ 46 ]. Early involvement of community actors, potentially via consultation during study protocol design or community meetings, was suggested [ 21 , 42 ].

The discussions within the articles suggest that community involvement also involves strengthening local institutions, effectively improving their ability to conduct their own research [ 21 , 22 ]. Despite being recognized as an important component of ethical research, it was generally agreed that there is a critical shortage of local capacity to carry out studies, particularly in post-conflict zones where formal institutions are often eroded [ 45 , 47 ]. In their study on the research capacity of Somaliland, Boyce et al. identified potential harms of a “dominance of authors from [High-Income Countries]” [ 45 ]. They explain that, for example, the unrelatability between researcher and subject could lead to a reduced relevance of the research question.

Despite the agreement for “a set of practices that help researchers establish and maintain relationships with the stakeholders to a research program”, Tansey et al. discuss some of the inherent challenges in community participation. Particularly when conducting disaster research, the practicality of including locals can be difficult when “you don’t know when the disaster is going to hit. .. so it would be hard to set up community approvals and engagement beforehand” [ 33 ]. Furthermore, lack of adequately trained researchers and poor local infrastructure are perennial problems [ 45 ]. While ethically desirable, partnering with the local community may, in many circumstances, often prove practically prohibitive.

While including local authorities in research may seem prudent on face value, as discussed in the section on cultural considerations, these articles make clear the potential for ethical ambiguity when dealing with such actors [ 47 , 49 ]. For example, in a civil war context, researchers may hope to adhere to humanitarian principles of impartiality to ensure access to participants and safety for researchers [ 49 ]. Furthermore, as Funk et al. describe in their evaluation of the response to the Syrian conflict, remaining impartial can be impossible. One respondent explained, “You have to understand that even though we declare ourselves as a non-biased health organization with no political standing, the mere fact that we are not ‘pro-government’ makes us [perceived as] ‘the enemy’ and ‘anti-government’” [ 49 ].

The dual imperative

Thirteen articles discuss what humanitarian researchers refer to as the ‘dual imperative,’ which is the inherent tension between ensuring that research is both academically sound and practically relevant [ 28 , 41 , 53 , 55 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 71 ]. Despite the inherent challenges in humanitarian research, the general consensus is that it is justifiable insofar as it is needs-driven and not at the expense of humanitarian action [ 60 ]. However, as researchers attempt to construct sophisticated research and attract funding, there is a move toward a greater level of academic sophistication [ 59 ]. On the individual level, a member of a humanitarian response team may feel responsibilities as both service provider and researcher [ 58 , 61 ]. Wood, in her description of experiences researching conflict zones in El Salvador, describes an inevitable self-inquiry of why this research is worth pursing at the expense of a purely humanitarian medical relief mission. She concludes that her role as a researcher was justified in that a sound understanding of conflict is necessary for its abolishment. Wood does, however, concede that this conclusion may be predicated on the nature of the “relatively benign and coherent conditions” of her work. Specifically, she “did not have to make a decision whether or not to intervene to attempt to prevent or mitigate an attack on civilians.” She “did not have to decide how to leave an area under attack at short notice, retreating with one force or seeking shelter from another.” She was “never faced with direct threats [insisting] that [she] turn over material [she] had gathered” and did not have “to judge how far to press respondents about violence they had suffered or observed because of the focus of [her] research.” The implication was that had she been faced with one of these more charged situations, her resolve in the justification of research would be challenged. In fact, she ends her discussion by stating that “conditions in many civil wars simply preclude ethical field research” [ 62 ].

Another related point of contention identified in our search is a disagreement that arose between a researcher and aid agency. Due to an overtaxed and under resourced system, the Democratic Republic of Congo had engaged in rationing of AIDS medications. Rennie, a global health researcher, had intended to study the community attitudes toward this practice [ 55 ]. Feeling rationing medications to be unethical, the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), specifically MSF-Belgium, wrote a letter informing Rennie that they would not support his investigation [ 55 , 63 ]. They expressed concern that the research might be a form of acquiescence to the practice of drug rationing, which they see as antithetical to the humanitarian mission [ 63 ]. This tension between assessing an existing program and unintentionally bringing legitimacy to it is one of many practical conflicts in humanitarian research that requires further consideration.

Clinical trials in the humanitarian setting

Given that clinical trials are considered imperative for investigating medical interventions, many researchers advocate for these types of studies in the humanitarian setting. Thirteen articles explore the ethics of conducting clinical trials in the humanitarian setting [ 27 , 29 , 30 , 36 , 38 , 46 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 , 56 , 63 ]. Lanini et al. make the point that the principle of clinical equipoise should apply in the humanitarian setting as in any other, making randomized controlled trials (RCTs) the most ethical way to conduct research in this situation, using the recent Ebola outbreak and subsequent drug trials to illustrate their point [ 51 ]. With respect to Ebola, Perez et al. make the claim that, given the lethality of the disease, not including pregnant women and children (two groups often excluded from trials on grounds of inherent vulnerability) in Ebola trials is unethical [ 46 ]. This, however, presupposes a benefit to the experimental arm of a hypothetical trial, which would violate the principle of clinical equipoise and thus Lanini et al.’s justification of clinical trials outlined above [ 51 ]. Salerno et al. argue that the unique circumstances of conducting research in humanitarian settings necessitates that the researcher be less stringent in terms of study design. As the authors explain, “the recipients of experimental interventions, locations of studies, and study design should be based on the aim to learn as much as we can as fast as we can without compromising patient care or health worker safety, with active participation of local scientists, and proper consultation with communities” [ 52 ].

Again, with a focus on the recent Ebola outbreak, Calain makes an argument that insistence on RCTs, in which, by definition, one group of participants will be denied the experimental treatment, equates to a preference toward a collective interest (i.e. societal) over the individual (i.e. the patient) which could violate the basic principle of beneficence [ 53 ]. For Calain, in the face of a catastrophic illness like Ebola, randomization of interventions is seen as a “tragic choice” for humanitarian workers [ 53 ]. Furthermore, as Schopper et al. explained, there is justifiable concern that clinical trials during such an epidemic, which require significant amounts of resources and planning, would detract from the crucial work of directly caring for patients in a resource limited setting [ 29 ].

Informed consent

Like formal ethical review, informed consent is another core component of modern research ethics and was separately discussed in ten articles [ 21 , 22 , 23 , 27 , 37 , 38 , 44 , 46 , 65 , 66 ]. Our results highlight several unique considerations when contemplating informed consent in humanitarian settings. For example, Western norms of written consent might be impossible if research is carried out in a population with low literacy rates or when written consent can violate the need for complete anonymity or expeditious research [ 21 , 22 , 44 ]. Controversy surrounding traditional ideas of informed consent were highlighted by Chiumento et al. in their literature review [ 22 ]. The authors explain that despite the general consensus that informed consent was central to ethical research, there were some authors who emphasized a more informal process that considered “consent as a partnership between researchers and participants” [ 22 ]. Some authors surveyed in the study supported flexibility in informed consent by utilizing a “consent framework” that presumably ensures norms such as autonomy and capacity, but allows some latitude for the researcher to adapt to the circumstances. Germane to this point is what Black et al. describe as “dynamic consent”—where a participant’s willingness to be involved in a project is constantly reassessed [ 44 ].

Chiumento et al. explain that because of cultural norms, the typical processes of consent may be undesirable or even impossible [ 21 ]. In their case study of research conducted in a post-conflict setting in South Asia, they explain that the procurement of informed consent first required permission from gatekeepers (i.e. household males and village elders) [ 21 ]. They outline the concept of negotiated consent in which collaboration with researchers helps to distil what exactly culturally specific consent would look like and proceed with an ad-hoc consent process [ 21 ].

Our results suggest that special attention be paid to informed consent during clinical trials conducted in the humanitarian setting [ 29 , 46 , 51 ]. Particularly illustrative is the idea of informed consent for experimental therapies during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014–2015 [ 46 ]. Authors raise the question as to whether or not informed consent, free of coercion, can really be possible when potential subjects are faced with such a deadly disease [ 23 ].

The use of participatory visual methods (PVM) poses specific challenges with regard to informed consent. The methods ask researchers to encourage subjects to engage in creative forms of communication and expression, such as drama, photography, film, drawing, design, creative writing and music. The products can then be used to engage the community and answer research questions.

However, as participants are synthesizing novel content during the study, and are often encouraged to draw on traumatic experiences as inspiration for this content, fully informed consent is impossible. This is because neither participants nor investigators can completely anticipate which direction their facilitated creative endeavors might turn [ 44 , 65 ]. This type of research may require more creative or dynamic forms of consent such as frequent check-ins with participants, or “dynamic consent”, as described above.

Cultural considerations

The importance of strong appreciation, humility, and understanding of local culture was discussed to a robust degree in six articles [ 21 , 47 , 50 , 57 , 64 , 67 ]. As Black et al. explain, research can only be legitimate if it accepts the people as central actors [ 57 ]. They describe how community and cultural dynamics may be vital to ensuring that the products of research not be utilized in perverse ways [ 57 ]. The authors explain that analyzed and interpreted data on a particular population could be of strategic value to belligerents in a conflict setting [ 57 ]. This notion presents an obvious ethical challenge as it has the potential to make researchers active participants in conflict or surveillance. One may conclude that the solution is for researchers to refuse to share data with any local authorities. This, however, conflicts with what Ditton et al. refer to as a vital aspect of ethical field research, namely “the importance that the researcher has an appropriate relationship with the legitimate gatekeepers [and policy makers] of a field site” [ 47 ]. As the authors note, local authorities may have perfectly legitimate reasons for demanding cooperation and transparency from researchers. For example, in Thailand, government control of researchers might be justifiable since they espouse it as necessary to ensure that the local population is the ultimate beneficiaries of the research produced within their communities. The government, being responsible for the public’s well-being, argues that having some control over research activities is necessary for them to meet this responsibility [ 47 ].

Despite general agreement about the importance of respect for local customs, there is more ambivalence toward which, if any, customs might justifiably be ignored. Bennouna et al. in their survey of researchers explain that 15% of respondents did not believe that local attitudes should be taken into account when deciding on including children in a study, because “what if they tell us not to listen to children?” implying that local norms should not preclude children from having a right to be heard [ 67 ]. In contrast, Chiumento et al. suggest “that ethical conduct of research does not equate to importing cultural norms.” The authors continue to describe a common “ethically charged dilemma” in which consent or access to participants first requires permission from a “gatekeeper.” Cultural norms may dictate that (often male) household or community leaders are to make decisions in terms of participation and access to research, depriving some members of the community of basic “ethic and human rights norms” such as autonomy and the right to participate or refuse [ 21 ]. These points highlight an unanswered question regarding the universality of ethical principles.

Not only might respect for cultural norms be inherently ethically desirable, but it may also be important for ensuring community participation. As Mfutso-Bengo et al. explain, respect for cultural norms may be necessary “to ensure active community involvement as the community does not perceive overt threats to their way of life” [ 50 ]. Balancing fundamental ethical principles of inclusion and autonomy with cultural norms, the articles agree, requires deep cultural understanding.

Risks to researchers

Five of our included articles discuss the potential risk to researchers working in a humanitarian setting [ 21 , 23 , 49 , 68 , 69 ]. With the inherent instability of many of these contexts, Chiumento et al. summarize the wide range of potential risks to the wellbeing of researchers, stating that “threats to physical safety; risk of psychological distress; potential for accusations of improper behavior; and increased exposure to everyday risks such as infectious illnesses or accidents” must be recognized [ 21 ]. The very nature of conducting research in disaster settings exposes researchers to the potential of witnessing “human carnage and physical destructiveness” [ 23 ]. While researchers have personal decision-making responsibilities, host organizations must also acknowledge their obligations to provide security and mitigate risks while ensuring the researchers are fully informed of potential dangers [ 23 , 69 ].

Child participation

Child participation in research was discussed in four articles [ 43 , 65 , 67 , 70 ]. There was a general consensus that despite being particularly vulnerable, researchers had an ethical responsibility to include children in their studies. This action is necessary, the authors conclude, in order to ensure that children’s voices are heard and that they are not excluded from potential benefits of the research [ 67 ].

D’Amico et al. explain “researchers need to develop specific approaches that ensure children understand the benefit of participating voluntarily in research and that consent is informed and an ongoing process” [ 65 ]. The challenge, however, as the authors explain, is that through research, particularly qualitative forms such as PVM, “dangerous emotional terrain” might be breeched [ 65 ]. The implication is that it is difficult to know whether anyone can fully consent to these unforeseen emotional responses, especially children.

Data ownership

Two articles describe the unique ethical concerns surrounding data ownership when conducting research in the humanitarian setting [ 45 , 57 ]. Often, none of the researchers in question are from the communities being studied, so the potential ethical pitfalls of an abusive extractive nature of data collecting might be created [ 45 ]. The concern arises when researchers from high-income countries collect data on lower income communities and the ultimate benefits are seen in the former [ 57 ].

Mental health

Mental health research, which was discussed in two articles, has some unique features, which create special ethical issues [ 21 , 22 ]. For example, Chiumento et al. describe how community mistrust, stigma and paranoia can be particularly significant with regard to mental health, complicating mental health research [ 21 ]. There is also a particular importance for confidentiality and anonymity during mental health research given the potential for discrimination and stigmatizing behavior [ 22 ].

With the drive toward professionalization of humanitarian practice comes a need to develop a strong evidence base. While the latter half of the twentieth century has seen promising trends in favor of ethical standards for research, the unique conditions of humanitarian work and the particular vulnerabilities of the communities being studied makes exploration of humanitarian research ethics imperative. The time-sensitive nature of the work in combination with complex cultural and security dynamics makes conducting research in the humanitarian setting inherently difficult from an ethical perspective.

Efforts to better understand the nexus between research and humanitarian emergencies are expanding. Other research, including an ongoing review of ethics of humanitarian research and more focused analyses of ethics among specific crises will service to expand this knowledge base [ 72 ]. We hope that this paper, representing a broad review and meta-ethnographic analysis of ethical issues in research over more than two decades, strengthens ethical processes and decision making in the humanitarian sector.

Among the 52 articles included in the analysis, 10 major themes regarding the ethics of humanitarian research were extracted for future analysis. In our qualitative analysis of the articles, we found a general acceptance by authors that the increased vulnerabilities of crisis-affected populations lead to several unique issues. Though identified and described in our search, many of these issues have yet to be adequately resolved in a way that might be useful to further researchers. For example, with regard to respect for local cultural norms, our results highlight a unique conflict between a cultural or political demand to share research with a local authoritative body and moral or ethical apprehensions to do so [ 47 , 57 ]. Authors identified both acceptable and unacceptable reasons for an authoritative body to demand access to research [ 47 , 57 ]. The researcher must then decide whether they cooperate with authorities by sharing products of their research, and risk being complicit in less socially desirable actions, or refuse and risk access to their study population, potentially depriving them of the fruits of their work. And to the related point embodied in the disagreement between MSF-Belgium and Rennie, controversy persists as to whether cooperating with an authoritative body to study a practice in which they are engaged suggests support of that practice [ 55 , 63 ]. Further exploration of these questions is essential as the role of research on humanitarian response expands.

Our results suggest that themes of cultural considerations, community engagement and mental health research incorporate ethical dilemmas related to cultural relativism. Accepting cultural norms such as gaining a husband’s consent for his wife’s participation in a research study, or excluding children from a research project on the grounds that including them is too high risk, equates to denying some of the fundamental principles of ethical research. Therefore, researching these populations may mean conceding to certain undesirable cultural norms and rejecting others that would require the researcher to compromise ethical standards. But where should the line be drawn? What guiding principles can future researchers employ? Bennouna et al.’s survey, which revealed most researchers claimed they would, if necessary, ignore local customs and include a child’s point of view in a study might help answer the question [ 67 ]. More of this type of research needs to be done in order to identify and resolve potential conflicts of local norms and traditional research ethics.

A surprising result of our study was that some researchers held the view that certain components of traditional, modern research ethics, such as formal consent, may be applied less rigidly in the humanitarian setting [ 21 , 22 , 44 ]. For example, arguments have been made that any consent is impossible in the case of experimental treatment for Ebola victims, and the failure to meet traditional standards should not preclude one from conducting this research [ 52 ]. On the other hand, there may be certain universal ethical principles of conducting research that should never be compromised. Exactly which principles these are, if any, have yet to be elucidated.

There are further unanswered questions with regard to the involvement of local institutions. Though our results point to a general agreement about the magnanimity of significant local involvement in research, including the development of local capacity for such work the inherent challenges have yet to be addressed [ 27 , 33 ]. Humanitarian research is often conducted in places with little or no infrastructure and limited numbers of qualified researchers. Including local aid workers as researchers, solely for the inherent value of doing so, may prove costly and distract from other research mandates and aid delivery, particularly in disaster relief. As Tansey et al. put it, “while the global health research literature strongly endorses community engagement in all research, there have been few suggestions for overcoming challenges to carrying it out in the disaster setting” [ 33 ]. Future work must come to terms with this inevitable conflict of ideals.

Despite the unavoidable ethical challenges, the results of this systematic review suggest that not only is it possible to conduct research in this context, but there is an ethical obligation to do so [ 41 , 48 ]. If the global community is compelled to provide assistance in the form of humanitarian action, than those in the humanitarian field must acknowledge the responsibility to develop rational, evidence-based approaches that are, at their core, ethically responsible [ 41 ]. This impulse is reflected in our results, which demonstrate an increasing number of publications on humanitarian research ethics since the inception of the Sphere project. The growing body of literature bodes well for researchers looking to ground their future work in a strong ethical foundation.

We would like to note, however, that the vast majority of articles included in this study were from high-income and Western countries. This highlights a finding in the research itself—that community participation and involvement of researchers from the countries and regions affected by crisis is limited. Addressing this inequity should be prioritized as the field of humanitarian research ethics progresses.

It should be noted that our study has limitations. We attempted to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature with a systematic review, augmented by known grey literature, but may have missed some potentially relevant literature that did not fit the search terms and was not identified via the grey literature review. This review is based primarily on published research literature and may exclude operational or programmatic reports with valuable insights. Also, though our initial search did include book chapters via the Scopus database, and dozens of chapters have been written on the subject, relatively few were screened into our final list of included literature. The reason for this is not immediately apparent. The authors did note a relative difficulty in the searching for and screening of book chapters when compared with other types of articles. This may have lead to a preferential selection of the latter type of literature, at the expense of the former.

The selection of papers was systematic and reproducible, and the analysis of those papers relied on standard qualitative methods. While the analysis may be considered less reproducible, we utilized a standardized interpretive methodology that would reliably highlight the critical findings and points within the papers as evidenced by the strong consensus between the authors (WB and RH) on almost every inclusion and exclusion decision. Though the limited literature base makes drawing firm conclusions difficult, the consistency of issues raised between and within the articles confirms the importance of the major themes elicited in this analysis.

This study represents one of only very few attempts at a systematic review of research ethics in the humanitarian setting. We identified an increase in articles with robust ethical discussions particularly in the past few years. This promising trend could lead to further clarification and stronger ethical grounding of future research. Our data also highlight a number of unanswered questions related to fundamental conflicts that are unique to conducting research in the humanitarian setting. There is a clear need for further research and debate addressing these, and other important questions, such as: When is it appropriate to share data with local authorities? At what point should a researcher abandon a cultural relativistic point of view for an absolutist one? In a modern day humanitarian setting, what components of traditional ethics review may be anachronistic? How can researchers include local stakeholders as co-investigators when they may lack the training or infrastructure to do so? Mechanisms to translate these discussions into practical guidelines will need to be strengthened if the ideals of the Sphere Project are to be realized.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available as tables in the manuscript.


Ethical Review Board

Low and Middle Income Countries

Médecins Sans Frontières

Randomized Clinical Trial

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10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving

Posted august 3, 2021 by harriet genever.

Navigate uncertainty by following this 10-step process to develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue with confidence. 

When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly you plan, forecast , and test, problems are bound to arise. This is why as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to solve business problems effectively.

What is problem solving in business?

Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals . These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome. They may be present in a single team, operational process, or throughout your entire organization, typically without an immediate or obvious solution. 

To approach problem solving successfully, you need to establish consistent processes that help you evaluate, explore solutions, prioritize execution, and measure success. In many ways, it should be similar to how you review business performance through a monthly plan review . You work through the same documentation, look for gaps, dig deeper to identify the root cause, and hash out options. Without this process, you simply cannot expect to solve problems efficiently or effectively. 

Why problem solving is important for your business

While some would say problem-solving comes naturally, it’s actually a skill you can grow and refine over time. Problem solving skills will help you and your team tackle critical issues and conflicts as they arise. It starts from the top. You as the business owner or CEO needing to display the type of level-headed problem solving that you expect to see from your employees.

Doing so will help you and your staff quickly deal with issues, establish and refine a problem solving process, turn challenges into opportunities, and generally keep a level head. Now, the best business leaders didn’t just find a magic solution to solve their problems, they built processes and leveraged tools to find success. And you can do the same.

By following this 10-step process, you can develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue that arises with confidence. 

1. Define the problem

When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don’t thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn’t actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.

For instance, if you realize that your sales from new customers are dropping, your first inclination might be to rush into putting together a marketing plan to increase exposure. But what if decreasing sales are just a symptom of the real problem? 

When you define the problem, you want to be sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees. If you have a large issue on your hands, you’ll want to look at it from several different angles:


Is a competitor’s promotion or pricing affecting your sales? Are there new entrants in your market? How are they marketing their product or business?

Business model 

Is your business model sustainable? Is it realistic for how fast you want to grow? Should you explore different pricing or cost strategies?

Market factors

How are world events and the nation’s economy affecting your customers and your sales?

Are there any issues affecting your team? Do they have the tools and resources they need to succeed? 

Goal alignment 

Is everyone on your team working toward the same goal ? Have you communicated your short-term and long-term business goals clearly and often?

There are a lot of ways to approach the issue when you’re facing a serious business problem. The key is to make sure you’re getting a full snapshot of what’s going on so you don’t waste money and resources on band-aid solutions. 

Going back to our example, by looking at every facet of your business, you may discover that you’re spending more on advertising than your competitors already. And instead, there’s a communication gap within your team that’s leading to the mishandling of new customers and therefore lost sales. 

If you jumped into fixing the exposure of your brand, you would have been dumping more money into an area you’re already winning. Potentially leading to greater losses as more and more new customers are dropped due to poor internal communication.

This is why it’s so vital that you explore your blind spots and track the problem to its source.

2. Conduct a SWOT analysis

All good businesses solve some sort of problem for customers. What if your particular business problem is actually an opportunity, or even a strength if considered from a different angle? This is when you’d want to conduct a SWOT analysis to determine if that is in fact the case.

SWOT is a great tool for strategic planning and bringing multiple viewpoints to the table when you’re looking at investing resources to solve a problem. This may even be incorporated in your attempts to identify the source of your problem, as it can quickly outline specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. And then by identifying any potential opportunities or threats, you can utilize your findings to kickstart a solution. 

3. Identify multiple solutions with design thinking

As you approach solving your problem, you may want to consider using the design thinking approach . It’s often used by organizations looking to solve big, community-based problems. One of its strengths is that it requires involving a wide range of people in the problem-solving process. Which leads to multiple perspectives and solutions arising.

This approach—applying your company’s skills and expertise to a problem in the market—is the basis for design thinking.

It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. When you’re solving business problems, this applies in the sense that you’re looking for solutions that address underlying issues—you’re looking at the big picture.

4. Conduct market research and customer outreach

Market research and customer outreach aren’t the sorts of things small business owners and startups can do once and then cross off the list. When you’re facing a roadblock, think back to the last time you did some solid market research or took a deep dive into understanding the competitive landscape .

Market research and the insights you get from customer outreach aren’t a silver bullet. Many companies struggle with what they should do with conflicting data points. But it’s worth struggling through and gathering information that can help you better understand your target market . Plus, your customers can be one of the best sources of criticism. It’s actually a gift if you can avoid taking the negatives personally .

The worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is isolating yourself from your customers and ignore your competition. So survey your customers. Put together a competitive matrix . 

fill-in-the-blank LivePlan

5. Seek input from your team and your mentors

Don’t do your SWOT analysis or design thinking work by yourself. The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up. Their feedback is going to help you move faster and more efficiently. If you have a team in place, bring them into the discussion. You hired them to be experts in their area; use their expertise to navigate and dig deeper into underlying causes of problems and potential solutions.

If you’re running your business solo, at least bring in a trusted mentor. SCORE offers a free business mentorship program if you don’t already have one. It can also be helpful to connect with a strategic business advisor , especially if business financials aren’t your strongest suit.

Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” speaking to the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is , the more often innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization appear.

In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers. So whoever you bring in to help you problem-solve, resist the urge to surround yourself with people who already agree with you about everything.

6. Apply lean planning for nimble execution

So you do your SWOT analysis and your design thinking exercise. You come up with a set of strong, data-driven ideas. But implementing them requires you to adjust your budget, or your strategic plan, or even your understanding of your target market.

Are you willing to change course? Can you quickly make adjustments? Well in order to grow, you can’t be afraid to be nimble . 

By adopting the lean business planning method —the process of revising your business strategy regularly—you’ll be able to shift your strategies more fluidly. You don’t want to change course every week, and you don’t want to fall victim to shiny object thinking. But you can strike a balance that allows you to reduce your business’s risk while keeping your team heading in the right direction.

Along the way, you’ll make strategic decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. The best thing you can do is test your ideas and iterate often so you’re not wasting money and resources on things that don’t work. That’s Lean Planning .

7. Model different financial scenarios

When you’re trying to solve a serious business problem, one of the best things you can do is build a few different financial forecasts so you can model different scenarios. You might find that the idea that seemed the strongest will take longer than you thought to reverse a negative financial trend. At the very least you’ll have better insight into the financial impact of moving in a different direction.

The real benefit here is looking at different tactical approaches to the same problem. Maybe instead of increasing sales right now, you’re better off in the long run if you adopt a strategy to reduce churn and retain your best customers. You won’t know unless you model a few different scenarios. You can do this by using spreadsheets, and a tool like LivePlan can make it easier and quicker.

8. Watch your cash flow

While you’re working to solve a challenging business problem, pay particular attention to your cash flow and your cash flow forecast . Understanding when your company is at risk of running out of cash in the bank can help you be proactive. It’s a lot easier to get a line of credit while your financials still look good and healthy, than when you’re one pay period away from ruin.

If you’re dealing with a serious issue, it’s easy to start to get tunnel vision. You’ll benefit from maintaining a little breathing room for your business as you figure out what to do next.

9. Use a decision-making framework

Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, generated a number of ideas, and done some financial modeling, you might still feel uncertain. It’s natural—you’re not a fortune-teller. You’re trying to make the best decision you can with the information you have.

This article offers a really useful approach to making decisions. It starts with putting your options into a matrix like this one:

LivePlan Blog Images

Use this sort of framework to put everything you’ve learned out on the table. If you’re working with a bigger team, this sort of exercise can also bring the rest of your team to the table so they feel some ownership over the outcome.

10. Identify key metrics to track

How will you know your problem is solved? And not just the symptom—how will you know when you’ve addressed the underlying issues? Before you dive into enacting the solution, make sure you know what success looks like.

Decide on a few key performance indicators . Take a baseline measurement, and set a goal and a timeframe. You’re essentially translating your solution into a plan, complete with milestones and goals. Without these, you’ve simply made a blind decision with no way to track success. You need those goals and milestones to make your plan real .

Problem solving skills to improve

As you and your team work through this process, it’s worth keeping in mind specific problem solving skills you should continue to develop. Bolstering your ability, as well as your team, to solve problems effectively will only make this process more useful and efficient. Here are a few key skills to work on.

Emotional intelligence

It can be very easy to make quick, emotional responses in a time of crisis or when discussing something you’re passionate about. To avoid making assumptions and letting your emotions get the best of you, you need to focus on empathizing with others. This involves understanding your own emotional state, reactions and listening carefully to the responses of your team. The more you’re able to listen carefully, the better you’ll be at asking for and taking advice that actually leads to effective problem solving.

Jumping right into a solution can immediately kill the possibility of solving your problem. Just like when you start a business , you need to do the research into what the problem you’re solving actually is. Luckily, you can embed research into your problem solving by holding active reviews of financial performance and team processes. Simply asking “What? Where? When? How?” can lead to more in-depth explorations of potential issues.

The best thing you can do to grow your research abilities is to encourage and practice curiosity. Look at every problem as an opportunity. Something that may be trouble now, but is worth exploring and finding the right solution. You’ll pick up best practices, useful tools and fine-tune your own research process the more you’re willing to explore.

Creatively brainstorming with your team is somewhat of an art form. There needs to be a willingness to throw everything at the wall and act as if nothing is a bad idea at the start. This style of collaboration encourages participation without fear of rejection. It also helps outline potential solutions outside of your current scope, that you can refine and turn into realistic action.

Work on breaking down problems and try to give everyone in the room a voice. The more input you allow, the greater potential you have for finding the best solution.


One thing that can drag out acting upon a potential solution, is being indecisive. If you aren’t willing to state when the final cutoff for deliberation is, you simply won’t take steps quickly enough. This is when having a process for problem solving comes in handy, as it purposefully outlines when you should start taking action.

Work on choosing decision-makers, identify necessary results and be prepared to analyze and adjust if necessary. You don’t have to get it right every time, but taking action at the right time, even if it fails, is almost more vital than never taking a step.  

Stemming off failure, you need to learn to be resilient. Again, no one gets it perfect every single time. There are so many factors in play to consider and sometimes even the most well-thought-out solution doesn’t stick. Instead of being down on yourself or your team, look to separate yourself from the problem and continue to think of it as a puzzle worth solving. Every failure is a learning opportunity and it only helps you further refine and eliminate issues in your strategy.

Problem solving is a process

The key to effective problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. You can waste a lot of resources on staying the wrong course for too long. So make a plan to reduce your risk now. Think about what you’d do if you were faced with a problem large enough to sink your business. Be as proactive as you can.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2021.

Harriet Genever

Harriet Genever

Posted in management.

What Is Problem Solving in Business?

Problem-solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic business goals.

In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes. In addition, a true problem typically does not have an immediately obvious resolution.

Business problem-solving works best when it is approached through a consistent system in which individuals:

Why Problem Solving Is Important in Business

Understanding the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace will help you develop as a leader. Problem-solving skills will help you resolve critical issues and conflicts that you come across. Problem-solving is a valued skill in the workplace because it allows you to:

How to Solve Business Problems Effectively

There are many different problem-solving skills, but most can be broken into general steps. Here is a four-step method for business problem solving:

1) Identify the Details of the Problem: Gather enough information to accurately define the problem. This can include data on procedures being used, employee actions, relevant workplace rules, and so on. Write down the specific outcome that is needed, but don’t assume what the solution should be.

2) Creatively Brainstorm Solutions: Alone or with a team, state every solution you can think of. You’ll often need to write them down. To get more solutions, brainstorm with the employees who have the greatest knowledge of the issue.

3) Evaluate Solutions and Make a Decision: Compare and contrast alternative solutions based on the feasibility of each one, including the resources needed to implement it and the return on investment of each one. Finally, make a firm decision on one solution that clearly addresses the root cause of the problem.

4) Take Action: Write up a detailed plan for implementing the solution, get the necessary approvals, and put it into action.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are specific procedures that can be used to complete one or more of the four general steps of problem-solving (discussed above). Here are five important examples:

Using Emotional Intelligence: You’ll solve problems more calmly when you learn to recognize your own emotional patterns and to empathize with and guide the emotions of others. Avoid knee-jerk responses and making assumptions.

Researching Problems: An effective solution requires an accurate description of the problem. Define simple problems using quick research methods such as asking, “What? Where? When? and How much?.” Difficult problems require more in-depth research, such as data exploration, surveys, and interviews.

Creative Brainstorming: When brainstorming with a group, encourage idea creation by listening attentively to everyone, and recognizing everyone’s unique contributions.

Logical Reasoning: Develop standard logical steps for analyzing possible solutions to problems. Study and apply ideas about logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, and other areas of analytical thought.

Decisiveness: Use an agreed-upon system for choosing a solution, which can include assigning pros and cons to solutions, identifying mandatory results, getting feedback about solutions, choosing the decision-maker(s), and finishing or repeating the process.

How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

Learning how to solve business problems takes time and effort. Though some people appear to have been born with superior problem-solving skills, great problem solvers usually have practiced and refined their abilities. You can develop high-level skills for solving problems too, through the following methods:

Ask and Listen: Don’t expect to solve every problem alone. Ask for advice, and listen to it carefully.

Practice Curiosity: Any time you’re involved in solving a problem, practice researching and defining the problem just a little longer than you would naturally.

Break Down Problems: Whenever possible, break large problems into their smallest units. Then, search for solutions to one unit at a time.

Don’t Label Yourself Negatively: Don’t allow a problem to mean something negative about you personally. Separate yourself from it. Look at it objectively and be part of the solution.

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Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

Great problem solvers are made, not born. That’s what we’ve found after decades of problem solving with leaders across business, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders learn to adopt a particularly open and curious mindset, and adhere to a systematic process for cracking even the most inscrutable problems. They’re terrific problem solvers under any conditions. And when conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best.

Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success: (1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; (2) being imperfectionists , with a high tolerance for ambiguity; (3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; (4) pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly; (5) tapping into the collective intelligence , acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and (6) practicing “show and tell” because storytelling begets action (exhibit).

Here’s how they do it.

1. Be ever-curious

As any parent knows, four-year-olds are unceasing askers. Think of the never-ending “whys” that make little children so delightful—and relentless. For the very young, everything is new and wildly uncertain. But they’re on a mission of discovery, and they’re determined to figure things out. And they’re good at it! That high-energy inquisitiveness is why we have high shelves and childproof bottles.

When you face radical uncertainty, remember your four-year-old or channel the four-year-old within you. Relentlessly ask, “Why is this so?” Unfortunately, somewhere between preschool and the boardroom, we tend to stop asking. Our brains make sense of massive numbers of data points by imposing patterns that have worked for us and other humans in the past. That’s why a simple technique, worth employing at the beginning of problem solving, is simply to pause and ask why conditions or assumptions are so until you arrive at the root of the problem. 1 This approach was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.

Natural human biases in decision making, including confirmation, availability, and anchoring biases, often cause us to shut down the range of solutions too early. 2 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Better—and more creative—solutions come from being curious about the broader range of potential answers.

One simple suggestion from author and economist Caroline Webb to generate more curiosity in team problem solving is to put a question mark behind your initial hypotheses or first-cut answers. This small artifice is surprisingly powerful: it tends to encourage multiple solution paths and puts the focus, correctly, on assembling evidence. We also like thesis/antithesis, or red team/blue team, sessions, in which you divide a group into opposing teams that argue against the early answers—typically, more traditional conclusions that are more likely to come from a conventional pattern. Why is this solution better? Why not that one? We’ve found that better results come from embracing uncertainty. Curiosity is the engine of creativity.

We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians.

2. Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble!

When we think of problem solvers, many of us tend to picture a poised and brilliant engineer. We may imagine a mastermind who knows what she’s doing and approaches a problem with purpose. The reality, though, is that most good problem solving has a lot of trial and error; it’s more like the apparent randomness of rugby than the precision of linear programming. We form hypotheses, porpoise into the data, and then surface and refine (or throw out) our initial guess at the answer. This above all requires an embrace of imperfection and a tolerance for ambiguity—and a gambler’s sense of probabilities.

The real world is highly uncertain. Reality unfolds as the complex product of stochastic events and human reactions. The impact of COVID-19 is but one example: we address the health and economic effects of the disease, and their complex interactions, with almost no prior knowledge. We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians. Guesses based on gut instinct can be wildly wrong. That’s why one of the keys to operating in uncertain environments is epistemic humility, which Erik Angner defines as “the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence.” 3 Erik Angner, “Epistemic humility—knowing your limits in a pandemic,” Behavioral Scientist , April 13, 2020, behavioralscientist.org.

Recent research shows that we are better at solving problems when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties. 4 Annie Duke, Thinking in Terms of Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts , New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018. For example, when the Australian research body Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which owned a core patent on the wireless internet protocol, sought royalties from major companies, it was initially rebuffed. The CSIRO bet that it could go to court to protect its intellectual property because it estimated that it needed only 10 percent odds of success for this to be a good wager, given the legal costs and likely payoff. It improved its odds by picking the weakest of the IP violators and selecting a legal jurisdiction that favored plaintiffs. This probabilistic thinking paid off and eventually led to settlements to CSIRO exceeding $500 million. 5 CSIRO briefing to US Government, December 5, 2006. A tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to play the odds helped the organization feel its way to a good solution path.

To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty. You can do that in the nicest way by asking questions such as “What would we have to believe for this to be true?” This brings to the surface implicit assumptions about probabilities and makes it easier to assess alternatives. When uncertainty is high, see if you can make small moves or acquire information at a reasonable cost to edge out into a solution set. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving. It’s practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.

Good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties. Each move provides additional information and builds capabilities.

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3. take a dragonfly-eye view.

Dragonfly-eye perception is common to great problem solvers. Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Although we don’t know exactly how their insect brains process all this visual information, by analogy they see multiple perspectives not available to humans. The idea of a dragonfly eye taking in 360 degrees of perception 6 Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction , New York, NY: Crown, 2015. is an attribute of “superforecasters”—people, often without domain expertise, who are the best at forecasting events.

Think of this as widening the aperture on a problem or viewing it through multiple lenses. The object is to see beyond the familiar tropes into which our pattern-recognizing brains want to assemble perceptions. By widening the aperture, we can identify threats or opportunities beyond the periphery of vision.

Consider the outbreak of HIV in India in the early 1990s—a major public-health threat. Ashok Alexander, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s India Aids Initiative, provided a brilliant example of not just vision but also dragonfly vision. Facing a complex social map with a rapidly increasing infection rate, he widened the problem’s definition, from a traditional epidemiological HIV transmission model at known “hot spots,” to one in which sex workers facing violence were made the centerpiece.

This approach led to the “Avahan solution,” which addressed a broader set of leverage points by including the sociocultural context of sex work. The solution was rolled out to more than 600 communities and eventually credited with preventing 600,000 infections. The narrow medical perspective was sensible and expected, but it didn’t tap into the related issue of violence against sex workers, which yielded a richer solution set. Often, a secret unlocks itself only when one looks at a problem from multiple perspectives, including some that initially seem orthogonal.

The secret to developing a dragonfly-eye view is to “anchor outside” rather than inside when faced with problems of uncertainty and opportunity. Take the broader ecosystem as a starting point. That will encourage you to talk with customers, suppliers, or, better yet, players in a different but related industry or space. Going through the customer journey with design-thinking in mind is another powerful way to get a 360-degree view of a problem. But take note: when decision makers face highly constrained time frames or resources, they may have to narrow the aperture and deliver a tight, conventional answer.

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

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4. pursue occurrent behavior.

Occurrent behavior is what actually happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior. Complex problems don’t give up their secrets easily. But that shouldn’t deter problem solvers from exploring whether evidence on the facets of a solution can be observed, or running experiments to test hypotheses. You can think of this approach as creating data rather than just looking for what has been collected already. It’s critical for new market entry—or new market creation. It also comes in handy should you find that crunching old data is leading to stale solutions.

Most of the problem-solving teams we are involved with have twin dilemmas of uncertainty and complexity, at times combined as truly “wicked problems.” 7 A term coined in a now famous 1973 article: Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin Webber, “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning,” Policy Sciences , 1973, Number 4, pp. 155–69. For companies ambitious to win in the great unknown in an emerging segment—such as electric cars or autonomous vehicles, where the market isn’t fully established—good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties, not just relying on existing data. Each move (such as buying IP or acquiring a component supplier) and each experiment (including on-road closed tests) not only provides additional information to make decisions but also builds capabilities and assets that support further steps. Over time, their experiments, including alliances and acquisitions, come to resemble staircases that lead to either the goal or to abandonment of the goal. Problem-solving organizations can “bootstrap” themselves into highly uncertain new spaces, building information, foundational assets, and confidence as they take steps forward.

Risk-embracing problem solvers find a solution path by constantly experimenting. Statisticians use the abbreviation EVPI—the expected value of perfect information—to show the value of gaining additional information that typically comes from samples and experiments, such as responses to price changes in particular markets. A/B testing is a powerful tool for experimenting with prices, promotions, and other features and is particularly useful for digital marketplaces and consumer goods. Online marketplaces make A/B testing easy. Yet most conventional markets also offer opportunities to mimic the market’s segmentation and use it to test different approaches.

The mindset required to be a restless experimenter is consistent with the notion in start-ups of “failing fast.” It means that you get product and customer affirmation or rejection quickly through beta tests and trial offerings. Don’t take a lack of external data as an impediment—it may actually be a gift, since purchasable data is almost always from a conventional way of meeting needs, and is available to your competitors too. Your own experiments allow you to generate your own data; this gives you insights that others don’t have. If it is difficult (or unethical) to experiment, look for the “natural experiments” provided by different policies in similar locations. An example would be to compare outcomes in twin cities, such as Minneapolis–St. Paul.

It’s a mistake to think that your team has the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means.

5. Tap into collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd

Chris Bradley, a coauthor of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick , 8 Chris Bradley, Marin Hirt, and Sven Smit, Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds , Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2018. observed that “it’s a mistake to think that on your team you have the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else.” 9 For more from Chris Bradley, in a conversation with Rob McLean, see “ Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver ,” August 2019. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means. In an ever-changing world where conditions can evolve unpredictably, crowdsourcing invites the smartest people in the world to work with you. For example, in seeking a machine-learning algorithm to identify fish catch species and quantities on fishing boats, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) turned to Kaggle and offered a $150,000 prize for the best algorithm. This offer attracted 2,293 teams from all over the world. TNC now uses the winning algorithm to identify fish types and sizes caught on fishing boats in Asia to protect endangered Pacific tuna and other species.

Crowdsourced problem solving is familiar in another guise: benchmarking. When Sir Rod Carnegie was CEO of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), he was concerned about the costs of unscheduled downtime with heavy trucks, particularly those requiring tire changes. He asked his management team who was best in the world at changing tires; their answer was Formula One, the auto racing competition. A team traveled to the United Kingdom to learn best practice for tire changes in racetrack pits and then implemented what it learned thousands of miles away, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The smartest team for this problem wasn’t in the mining industry at all.

Of course, while crowdsourcing can be useful when conventional thinking yields solutions that are too expensive or incomplete for the challenge at hand, it has its limitations. Good crowdsourcing takes time to set up, can be expensive, and may signal to your competitors what you are up to. Beware of hidden costs, such as inadvertently divulging information and having to sieve through huge volumes of irrelevant, inferior suggestions to find the rare gem of a solution.

Accept that it’s OK to draw on diverse experiences and expertise other than your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and math to convince you they are clever. Seasoned problem solvers show you differently.

6. Show and tell to drive action

We started our list of mindsets with a reference to children, and we return to children now, with “show and tell.” As you no doubt remember—back when you were more curious!—show and tell is an elementary-school activity. It’s not usually associated with problem solving, but it probably piqued your interest. In fact, this approach is critical to problem solving. Show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action.

The show-and-tell mindset aims to bring decision makers into a problem-solving domain you have created. A team from the Nature Conservancy, for instance, was presenting a proposal asking a philanthropic foundation to support the restoration of oyster reefs. Before the presentation, the team brought 17 plastic buckets of water into the boardroom and placed them around the perimeter. When the foundation’s staff members entered the room, they immediately wanted to know what the buckets were for. The team explained that oyster-reef restoration massively improves water quality because each oyster filters 17 buckets of water per day. Fish stocks improve, and oysters can also be harvested to help make the economics work. The decision makers were brought into the problem-solving domain through show and tell. They approved the funding requested and loved the physical dimension of the problem they were part of solving.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and mathematics to convince you that they are clever. That’s sometimes called APK, the anxious parade of knowledge. But seasoned problem solvers show you differently. The most elegant problem solving is that which makes the solution obvious. The late economist Herb Simon put it this way: “Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.” 10 Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.

To get better at show and tell, start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions have.

The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity, embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential.

Charles Conn is an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office and is a board member of Patagonia and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust. Robert McLean is an alumnus of the Sydney office and is the advisory-board chair of the Nature Conservancy Australia. They are the authors of Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything (Wiley, 2018).

This article was edited by David Schwartz, an executive editor in the Tel Aviv office.

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business problem solving model

The Six Step Problem Solving Model

Problem solving models are used to address the many challenges that arise in the workplace. While many people regularly solve problems, there are a range of different approaches that can be used to find a solution.

Complex challenges for teams, working groups and boards etc., are usually solved more quickly by using a shared, collaborative, and systematic approach to problem solving.

Advantages of Six-Step Problem Solving

The Six-Step method provides a focused procedure for the problem solving (PS) group.

All six steps are followed in order – as a cycle, beginning with “1. Identify the Problem.” Each step must be completed before moving on to the next step.

The steps are repeatable. At any point the group can return to an earlier step, and proceed from there. For example, once the real problem is identified – using “2. Determine the Root Cause(s) of the Problem”, the group may return to the first step to redefine the problem.

The Six Steps

The process is one of continuous improvement. The goal is not to solve but to evolve, adjusting the solution continually as new challenges emerge, through repeating the Six Step Process.

Step One: Define the Problem

Step One is about diagnosing the problem – the context, background and symptoms of the issue. Once the group has a clear grasp of what the problem is, they investigate the wider symptoms to discover the implications of the problem, who it affects, and how urgent/important it is to resolve the symptoms.

At this stage groups will use techniques such as:

As this step continues, the PS group will constantly revise the definition of the problem. As more symptoms are found, it clarifies what the real problem is.

Step Two: Determine the Root Cause(s) of the Problem

Once all the symptoms are found and the problem diagnosed and an initial definition agreed, the PS group begins to explore what has caused the problem. In this step the problem solving team will use tools such as:

These techniques help collate the information in a structured way, and focus in on the underlying causes of the problem. This is called the root cause.

At this stage, the group may return to step one to revise the definition of the problem.

Step Three: Develop Alternative Solutions

Analytical, creative problem solving is about creating a variety of solutions, not just one. Often the most obvious answer is not the most effective solution to the problem. The PS group focuses on:

At this stage it is not about finding one solution, but eliminating the options that will prove less effective at dealing with both the symptoms and the root cause.

Step Four: Select a Solution

In the fourth step, groups evaluate all the selected, potential solutions, and narrow it down to one. This step applies two key questions.

Feasibility is ascertained by deciding if a solution:

Which solution is favoured?

Acceptance by the people who will use and implement the solution is key to success.

This is where the previous steps come into play. To users and implementers, a solution may seem too radical, complex or unrealistic. The previous two steps help justify the choices made by the PS group, and offer a series of different, viable solutions for users and implementers to discuss and select from.

Step Five: Implement the Solution

Once the solution has been chosen, initial project planning begins and establishes:

The group may use tools, such as a Gantt chart, timeline or log frame. Between Steps Five and during Step Six the operational/technical implementation of the chosen solution takes place.

Step Six: Evaluate the Outcome

The project implementation now needs to be monitored by the group to ensure their recommendations are followed. Monitoring includes checking:

Many working groups skip Step Six as they believe that the project itself will cover the issues above, but this often results in the desired outcome not being achieved.

Effective groups designate feedback mechanisms to detect if the project is going off course. They also ensure the project is not introducing new problems. This step relies on:

In Step Six, as the results of the project emerge, evaluation helps the group decide if they need to return to a previous step or continue with the implementation. Once the solution goes live, the PS group should continue to monitor the solutions progress, and be prepared to re-initiate the Six Step process when it is required.

Overall, the Six Step method is a simple and reliable way to solve a problem. Using a creative, analytical approach to problem solving is an intuitive and reliable process.

It helps keep groups on track, and enables a thorough investigation of the problem and solution search. It involves implementers and users, and finds a justifiable, monitorable solution based on data.

You can read more about the Six-Step Problem Solving Model in our free eBook ‘ Top 5 Problem Solving Tools ’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

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How to Solve Problems

business problem solving model

To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.

Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.

First, think of the last time you had to solve a problem. Maybe it was a big one: A major trade route is blocked and your product is time sensitive and must make it to market on time. Maybe it was a small one: A traffic jam on your way to work means you’re going to be late for your first meeting of the day. Whatever the size of the impact, in solving your problem you moved through five stages, according to “ Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together ,” by Al Pittampalli.

business problem solving model

Pittampalli finds that most of us, when working individually, move through these stages intuitively. It’s different when you’re working in a team, however. You need to stop and identify these different stages to make sure the group is aligned. For example, while one colleague might join a problem-solving discussion ready to evaluate assumptions (Stage 3), another might still be defining the problem (Stage 1). By defining each stage of your problem-solving explicitly, you increase the odds of your team coming to better solutions more smoothly.

This problem-solving technique gains extra power when applied to Alison Reynold’s and David Lewis’ research on problem-solving teams. In their article, “ The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams ,” they find that highly effective teams typically have a pair of common features: They are cognitively diverse and they are psychologically safe. They also exhibit an array of characteristics associated with learning and confidence; these teammates tend to be curious, experimental, and nurturing, for example.

business problem solving model

As you and your colleagues consider these ideas, think about the last problem you had to solve as a team. First, map out what you remember from each step of your problem-solving. Were all of you on the same page at each stage? What aspects of the problem did you consider — or might you have missed — as a result? What can you do differently the next time you have a problem to solve? Second, ask where your team sees themselves on the chart. What kinds of behaviors could your team adopt to help you move into that top-right quadrant?

business problem solving model

Partner Center

60 problem solving business ideas to start in [2023].

Are you interested in problem solving business ideas? If you want to establish a business that solves daily difficulties, there are several areas you might focus on.

This post highlights some creative problem-solving business ideas you can consider.

In this list of ideas, you can find:

Here is the full list:

1. Start an appliance repair business

An appliance repair business helps clients install, repair, and maintain common household appliances like microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, cookers, etc. An appliance repair technician can specialize in certain lines of appliances or offer general services.

To become an appliance repair technician, apply for the prerequisite training course and focus on acquiring the necessary work experience. You may work under an appliance engineer and kickstart your business when you have relevant skills.

How Much Can You Make? $4,000 — $100,000/month View all 2 case studies Time To Revenue 210 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Business model Consulting See More

My name is Allen Chiang, and I founded Retro Radio Farm, where I repair and restore old radios. I offer Bluetooth MP3 upgrade if the customer wants to play digital music.

Right now, I make about $50K a year for the work I put in primarily on weekends. While it’s highly profitable, it has not yet lucrative enough yet for me to quit my day job. Although, the business has been growing 20% every year.


2. Start an equipment cleaning & repair business

The equipment repair market is witnessing an upsurge and will maintain the momentum over the next decade.

Given the rise in demand for electronic products and home appliances, there will be an increase in equipment cleaning and repair, services critical to the continued functionality of various equipment. It is only a matter of time before an appliance break needs a bit of upkeep or even some cleaning and greasing.

Thus, if you have basic mechanical or electrical engineering skills and experience, why not take your knack for keeping things running and turn it into a good equipment cleaning and repair business? To start, you may operate door-to-door from your neighborhood and open a physical location as the business grows.

How Much Can You Make? $708,333/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $700,000 Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills Negotiation Skills Customer Service Skills See More

My name is Frank Pedeflous and my wife Sandy and I bought a small business named Ultrasonic Blind Cleaning Systems twenty-five years ago. The business originally manufactured hard window covering cleaning equipment and sold it as a business opportunity to new start-ups and retailers selling window coverings.

We bought the company originally for $535,000, and today our revenues are approximately $10,000,000 annually.


3. Start an auto repair business

Many people just love to tinker with, fix and repair cars. This is an all-consuming hobby for some people. They like to take things apart and figure out how things work. The process of fixing and repairing cars is almost therapeutic for them.

An auto repair business is a rewarding way to make extra money or build an entire business.

You can do it in the comforts of your own home, working around your schedule and getting paid handsomely for it. The United States automotive service market is expected to reach $75B by 2026 .

How Much Can You Make? $415,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $200,000 Skills Writing & Research Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

My name is Johnny Van, I am the President and Owner of Finish Line Towing & Auto Repair. I have always been interested in cars, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles… you name it. My father was a major contributor to my love for automobiles, he started a towing company when I was a child. He always had about 2 or 3 trucks while working a full-time job also and he did this for around 25 years.

FLT does around $5,000,000 in sales a year between all our services and we are focusing on growing to other markets in Wisconsin and soon Illinois.


4. Start an ac repair business

Research shows the HVAC market will grow at a CAGR of 6.1% and reach $82.5 billion in the next few years.

The growing construction business in major emerging economies and the ever-increasing end-user markets, such as data center markets, are some of the major factors driving the growth of the HVAC services market.

Like other electrical appliances, HVAC units break often and require regular maintenance. As a result, the demand for HVAC repair is high.

Therefore, starting an AC repair business can be profitable. To start, you need a skilled AC repair technical team. Target commercial and residential customers, and market your business online as most people search for AC repair services through the web.

How Much Can You Make? $200,000 — $1,878,618/month View all 3 case studies Average Initial Investment $10,342 Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills Negotiation Skills See More

Hi, I’m Bill Spohn, President, CEO, and majority owner of TruTech Tools, LTD. Eric Preston is my trusted business partner. Our business continues to grow as we complement each other's personalities so well. TruTech is one of the largest online stores in the niche market of tools and test instruments for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVAC/R) Technicians. We are also the major supplier to a smaller market of technicians that do energy audits and assess building performance, including indoor air quality. We serve customers in the US and Canada.

I founded the company with Jim Bergmann, Jr, and his dad, Jim Sr. (who passed in 2016). The business was intended as a retirement “hobby” for Jim Sr. as both his son and I had full-time jobs. After I bought them out (with Eric noted above) in 2014, we have continued to have a great relationship with Jim Jr. and have continued to build each others’ businesses. The interesting thing is, I have always worked remotely (100 miles away) from the majority of the staff at the offices/warehouse.


5. Start a chimney repair business

Brick and stone chimneys require maintenance and upgrade to keep them structurally sound and functional. Some regular chimney repair tasks will include repairing and replacing rain pots, rebuilding chimney crowns, and installing new bases and flashing counters.

Thus, starting your own chimney repair business can be a very profitable, so long as you have basic masonry skills and experience. To start, you can offer the services to your neighbors just to showcase what your business offers. If you are not an experienced mason, you can hire skilled professionals and outsource the orders to them.

How Much Can You Make? $21,000/month View all 1 case studies Time To Revenue 180 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Business model Brick & Mortar See More

Hi everyone, my name is Mitchell and I’m one of the three founders of Patriot Chimney. We sweep, repair, and build chimneys and also service and repair dryer vents around the Roanoke Valley in Virginia.

I studied marketing in college, but my experience in the past few years has been a mix between marketing and sales, so my focus is primarily around building the sales and marketing strategy for us. My brother (Matt) and a friend of his (Billy) focus on the operations, actually getting on the roof and doing some real dirty work.


6. Start a language translation service

Language translation services bridge the linguistic barriers, helping businesses reach a wider audience outside of a single language. A language translation job is an opportunity to cover a wide range of topics and meet people from different cultures.

To become a language translator , master a second language and earn some experience so you become fluent in the second language.

How Much Can You Make? $40,000 — $550,000/month View all 3 case studies Average Initial Investment $635,000 Time To Revenue 180 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Writing & Research Skills Business model Consulting See More

Hello, my name is Cédric Sigoire and I am the owner of the DEMAN Translations group.

We will reach more than 6 million euros in the year 2021 and my target for 2022 is 10 million euros!


7. Create an online course

Online course businesses are one of the fastest-growing online business models. Creating an online course is an awesome way to generate extra income because it allows you to monetize the knowledge you already have. More people are taking online courses every day, and the COVID pandemic has accelerated that, with some online learning platforms having seen 15-fold growth in the number of users .

Another advantage is that these new platforms are so easy to use for instructors that you don't have to worry at all about the tech side of the business. You just need to focus on creating exciting content that is informational & engaging at the same time.

Starting an online course allows you to eliminate some of the huge costs associated with setting up a physical training facility, and it's a great way to reach as many people as possible.

How Much Can You Make? $350 — $3,735,000/month View all 50 case studies Average Initial Investment $6,531 Time To Revenue 150 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Business Savvy Skills Writing & Research Skills See More

Hey! We are Kelan and Brittany Kline the founders and co-owners of the popular personal finance blog The Savvy Couple.

We are currently on pace to make over $250,000 this year alone with our personal finance blog!


8. Start a child care business

Starting a childcare business is a great way to build a steady income. You will have the opportunity to be your boss and set your hours even from home. You will have the satisfaction of building one-on-one relationships with children and watching them grow over the years.

A childcare business is an excellent idea. It is both a personal and economical investment for its owners. This is especially true if you are considering starting your non-profit organization or becoming licensed to provide child care. Running a childcare business allows you to help children develop while also making money. As with any business endeavor, running a childcare business has its ups and downs, but it can be very rewarding.

Average Initial Investment $100,000 Time To Revenue 180 days Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills Business model Brick & Mortar See More

9. Become a social media influencer

Social media has become integral to people's lives and daily routines. Given the importance of social media, brands are flocking to different social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok in the hope of connecting with their target audience.

A popular approach taken by these brands is engaging social media influencers. A social media influencer has established credibility in a specific industry and has access to a vast audience they can persuade to act based on recommendations.

Anyone can become a social influencer so long as they have the right strategy. Choose a popular niche based on your interests and start creating relevant content.

How Much Can You Make? $2,500 — $300,000/month View all 4 case studies Average Initial Investment $601 Skills Writing & Research Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

My name is Asia Crawford and I am a Motherhood, Life, and Travel blogger that resides in Vancouver, Canada. I am a wife and mother to two sweet little girls aged 4 and 2!

I started with no community, 0 followers on any media page I had and in just two years have grown to 18.5K followers on Instagram, 1.2 MILLION monthly viewers on my Pinterest, 12.5K Pageviews a month on my blog website and have been nominated for 3 blogging awards.


10. Start an online fitness business

Thinking of starting an online fitness business?

Online fitness is growing rapidly in popularity because it’s convenient, affordable, and accessible to everyone. The best part is that you can stay in your home to start.

Starting an online fitness business can be a great way to make money and help people. When you start an online fitness business, you don’t have to worry about overhead costs like rent or maintaining a physical location - all you need is a computer and an internet connection to get started.

How Much Can You Make? $2,000 — $108,333,333/month View all 15 case studies Average Initial Investment $29,925 Skills Self Motivation Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Coding Skills Writing & Research Skills See More

I was once just an out of shape, overweight guy with a goal to make a change. I started my health and fitness journey by losing 90lbs. The discipline and drive it took to go from never exercising at all to achieving such significant weight loss taught me a lot about goals and how to attain them.

TeamFFLEX is my online personal training platform that coaches athletes, Hollywood actors, professional musicians and everyday people all around the world. Starting with literally 0 dollars and a hell of a lot of drive I successfully built my business into the 6 figures in less than a year. Today, TeamFFLEX LLC does $48,000 a month and is growing continually month after month.


11. Start an event planning business

Event planners handle different tasks related to making the business a success. Some of the event planner’s responsibilities include:

The events industry has grown enormously in the past year. According to research, consumers’ appetite for outdoor events is rising and will not slow anytime soon. Therefore, setting up an outdoor event planning and management company can be lucrative.

How Much Can You Make? $35,000 — $400,000/month View all 4 case studies Average Initial Investment $19,725 Time To Revenue 240 days Skills Negotiation Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Writing & Research Skills Business model Consulting See More

Hello, I am Akshay Patel from Albuquerque, NM the land of enchantment. I started an event rental and decor company that led me to an event venue. The View Event Center is a lavish space that is an indoor and outdoor event venue with panoramic city views. Our high-end venue with experienced staff will assist from venue decor to the smallest details entailed in making memories of a lifetime. Simply Decor, Tents, and Events ensures exclusive decor and thrives to bring your event to life through customized, elegant decor for all of their clients.

The full-service company will individually work with every client to design their event that will intrigue every eye in the room. Our company is broad that we get many different types of customers and we make many great connections with them as well. The company was making upwards of $380,000 a year.


12. Start a tutoring business

Starting a tutoring side hustle is a great way for teachers and students to earn extra monthly income. If you are considering becoming a tutor, find an ideal tutoring niche, and craft a tutoring website. Then, find your tutoring clients and market your side hustle online. You can choose to offer online tutoring as a part-time or full-time engagement.

How Much Can You Make? $1,000 — $375,000/month View all 8 case studies Average Initial Investment $1,723 Time Commitment Per Week Min. 5 hours/week Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Writing & Research Skills Interests Travel Books Work Tech Finance See More

Hey everyone! My name is Adam Shlomi and I am a 22-year-old senior at Georgetown University from South Florida. I am the founder of SoFlo SAT Tutoring, an online SAT/ACT tutoring company that provides exceptional test prep to students across the country. I started this business in my bedroom almost a year ago while I was recovering from ankle surgery. I couldn’t walk for 6 months and SoFlo gave me the motivation to get up in the morning.

SoFlo currently brings in average revenue of $15,000 a month and has seen a linear increase in student sign-ups each month since its official inception in March 2019. Since our customer lifetime is short –our students study for and take the SAT, get the score they want, and then no longer require our services– we invest in and rely heavily on the quality of the service we provide to attract future customers. Happy customers and significant score increases have helped spread the word and grow the brand.


13. Start an online language coaching business

The world has become more globalized. Businesses have become cross-border, and executives have to travel to meet new customers. One thing that is obvious is that there is a need for language translation services.

If you have proficiency in one or more foreign languages then you can consider working as a language coach.

Teaching a language online is intensive as you have to meet and communicate with the audience often, and check their progress. If you are looking for an opportunity to earn working online, consider starting online language lessons.

How Much Can You Make? $240 — $13,500,000/month View all 5 case studies Average Initial Investment $400 Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Writing & Research Skills Business model Consulting See More

My name is Marlena Jorn and I am the founder of Marlena Jorn Tutors. I offer private, one-on-one German lessons to both children and adults. I currently have a website and a Facebook page. I teach my lessons through Zoom and PowerPoint, and after every lesson, I provide the student with the PowerPoint with my voice attached to it so they can practice the vocabulary/grammar between lessons.

I currently have three students, and I am currently working on building rapport and a solid clientele. Throughout my own education, I have seen a decline in the availability of the German language. I aim to reverse that and make German available to anyone interested.


14. Start a junk removal business

Households and businesses need help hauling away broken furniture, clearing out trash, and even emptying properties during a foreclosure. Therefore, the demand for junk removal services is high. Starting a junk removal business can be profitable if you own a box truck and are looking for self-employment opportunities.

To begin, perform market research in your area, and apply for the necessary regulatory permits or licenses. Build a website and market your services.

How Much Can You Make? $4,000 — $37,000,000/month View all 6 case studies Average Initial Investment $44,425 Time To Revenue 300 days Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Business model Brick & Mortar See More

My name is Sam Evans. I am 23 years old and a recent graduate from Penn State Altoona. I am the founder of You Call We Haul Junk Removal, a junk removal company that removes anything from single items to hoarder home cleanouts. We’re located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and have been in business (part-time) since May of 2016.

Our main customers are middle-aged and up adults, typically with a higher income that do not want to or are unable to do the work themselves. We complete over 75 jobs per month, bring in about $20,000 in revenue per month profiting about 65% per job.


15. Build a home security system

Home security systems deter criminal activities and protect valuables. Homeowners install high-quality security systems so they can monitor their homes remotely. Besides, a modern home security system lowers homeowners’ insurance by up to 20%.

As homeowners prioritize protecting their investments, starting a home security systems business can be profitable. However, the profitability and success of home security systems depend on your approach. You can partner with a home security systems manufacturer as their distributor or technical expert. Alternatively, you can develop your line of security systems from scratch.

To start a home security business and become a successful business owner, you need a basic understanding of technology and electrical systems. With the proper knowledge, you can install the systems appropriately and earn recommendations from existing customers.

How Much Can You Make? $70,000/month View all 1 case studies Time To Revenue 240 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Coding Skills Business model Consulting Work from home Work From Home See More

I’m Nate Clark, founder of Konnected. Three years ago, I was faced with a challenge: I had a wired home security system but no way to monitor my home on my terms, from my own devices, when I was away. I developed what eventually became Konnected to provide a smart upgrade to my security system, using the existing wiring and sensors paired with some open-source software so that I can monitor my home right from my phone.

As the project gained popularity on GitHub, people began reaching out to me to build units for them. It quickly became clear there was a market need for a solution like Konnected for consumers wanting to breathe new, smart, life into their wired home security systems. Today, we are shipping approximately 9,000 orders per year, bringing in an estimated $1,000,000 in sales, and with the increasing demand, we’re able to further develop and expand our line.


16. Become a cybersecurity blogger

Cyber attacks hit businesses and private systems daily. Highlights of the Check Point Cyber Security Report show that cyberattacks against corporate networks increased by 50% in the past year.

Therefore, IT professionals and all computer users are interested in understanding the changing cybersecurity landscape.

Are you a cybersecurity expert? Did you know you could earn a good income teaching others about cybersecurity matters? A cybersecurity blog features articles, surveys, research, and everything related to cybersecurity matters.

Cybersecurity is a vast, dynamic, and somehow overcrowded niche. To start a cybersecurity blog, identify a target audience and understand their pain points. Then, understand what your competitor's content your competition covers and focus on channeling better content.

How Much Can You Make? $25,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $100 Skills Self Motivation Skills Writing & Research Skills Business Savvy Skills See More

Hey guys! My name is Josh Summers and I’m the founder of All Things Secured, a personal security and privacy brand that produces tutorials and educational content online. I started the company about 5 years ago while living in a sensitive part of China where the internet was highly censored and my activities were closely monitored, but have since moved to a more comfortable location in Thailand.

This past year, we crossed the 100,000 subscriber mark on YouTube and have continued to grow our content through email, live workshops, and other social media channels.


17. Start a digital agency

A digital agency’s task is to make a business reach its advertising, marketing, or technology-related goals. Anyone with enough knowledge and passion for digital marketing can start and run a profitable digital marketing agency. With the proper skill set, the right tools, and the right mindset, you can start a successful digital agency.

The global digital agency market reached a value of nearly $305B in 2020 . The future growth prospects of the digital agency market are projected to be high due to the rising population of people consuming and creating content through digital channels.

How Much Can You Make? $4,000 — $43,700,000/month View all 35 case studies Average Initial Investment $28,327 Time To Revenue 300 days Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Coding Skills Writing & Research Skills Self Motivation Skills Business model Consulting Subscriptions Work from home Work From Home See More

I am Hailey Brooke McFadden and I was a 4 season starter on the volleyball team at Wake Forest University, captain, and libero my senior year. I was a 4x Academic All-ACC honoree and 3x Dean’s list honoree and graduated from Wake Forest in 3.5 years with a BA in communication with a minor in film studies.

I wanted to make a company that knew how to market to women and also cultivated a culture internally that respects women and give them a chance to thrive. Ironically, PMM now works with several companies whose target audience is male and we have still been able to crush it!


18. Start a phone case business

With the number of mobile phone users increasing, there are opportunities for accessory makers such as phone case manufacturers to make a profit. Building a business around making and selling phone cases is relatively easier to produce. You can print labels on-demand, starting with a lower risk, or buy them in bulk and sell them online.

The global mobile phone protective cover market is expected to reach 75.62 billion in the next few years.

Phone protective covers often make a statement and reflect a person’s social and cultural preferences. Phone case manufacturers take advantage of such considerations and keep their products relevant and up-to-date to attract a more extensive customer base.

Remember, as with any industry with a low entry barrier, there will be competition. Therefore, you must study customers’ tastes and preferences and offer customized phone cases.

How Much Can You Make? $120,000 — $125,000/month View all 2 case studies Average Initial Investment $30,000 Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

Hi, I’m Andrew Moore, the founder, and designer at Felony Case, a Toronto based company designing unique iPhone cases. I founded Felony Case in 2012, and since then we’ve created several flagship iPhone case designs.


19. Start a supplements company

A supplement business makes money by selling dietary supplements, vitamins, protein powders, and health foods to customers.

These products are often sold directly to customers or through distributors and retailers.

Your target customers will likely include fitness enthusiasts, health-conscious individuals, wellness influencers, and those who prioritize their nutrition daily.

Starting a supplement brand is becoming increasingly popular because it's relatively inexpensive, and you can run the business from your home.

How Much Can You Make? $1,000 — $3,500,000/month View all 16 case studies Average Initial Investment $152,681 Time To Revenue 420 days Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

My name is Nick Bare and I own Bare Performance Nutrition. We are a sports nutrition and health supplement company based out of central Texas, just about 20 minutes north of Austin.

I built the brand while working as an active duty Soldier, sleeping very little and working very much. Bare Performance Nutrition has always specialized in sports performance (pre-workout, pump enhancers, whey protein, BCAAs) but is now adding to the line of health supplements (greens superfoods, red superfoods, multi-vitamin, joint support) due to the increased demand and popularity from the current customers. The flight is our flagship product (pre-workout) which launched the brand in 2012 and has been one of our fastest moving products to date.


20. Start a marketing agency

Marketing agencies can be a great option for businesses looking to advertise in different ways. For businesses, hiring a marketing company can help them achieve success as they don't have to spend money on employees or needed equipment. Marketing agencies are not inexpensive and there are many different variables that come into play when deciding which one is the best fit for your business.

You want to start a marketing agency, but don't know where to begin. You're not alone, there are thousands of entrepreneurs across the globe that have the same ambition. Luckily for you, compiled a list of how other agencies were able to grow their agency and scale effectively.

How Much Can You Make? $1,300 — $465,583,333/month View all 72 case studies Average Initial Investment $29,754 Time To Revenue 330 days See More

Hey there! I’m Jeremy Enns, the founder and Storyteller In Chief at Counterweight Creative, a podcast production and strategy agency.

I started the company 3 years ago, in 2016 with one client, making $15/hour and have grown into a team of 10 contractors producing more than 30 shows per week with revenue of over $10K/mo.


21. Start a life coaching business

Life coaching has become an increasingly popular career choice. A life coach helps people in various areas of their lives using a combination of emotional intelligence, professional knowledge, and experience.

Life coaching is a global industry worth over $2.85 billion, and the number of life coaches has increased by 33% between 2015-2019 .

This is a very profitable business and can be started at virtually no cost. You'll need a computer, a high-speed Internet connection, and a LinkedIn account to start. Then, you can begin coaching part-time in your spare time until you build up your clientele.

How Much Can You Make? $100 — $660,000/month View all 21 case studies Average Initial Investment $3,375 Time To Revenue 240 days Time Commitment Per Week Min. 5 hours/week Skills Self Motivation Skills Coaching Skills Work Ethic Organizational Teaching Leadership Interests Outdoors Books Art Food Business Fitness Health See More

Hi everyone! My name’s Fotis Panagiotakopoulos and I’m the founder of GrowthMentor, a platform where you can connect with vetted growth mentors for one-on-one calls.

The mentors are primarily made up of growth marketers, product managers, founders, and startup veterans with years of experience. Over 2,500 mentorship calls have been booked on the platform to date.


22. Start a furniture business

The furniture industry involves designing, manufacturing, and selling various types of furniture for household and commercial purposes. With the increase in flexible workspaces and the real estate industry’s growth, the furniture business’s demand is boosted.

The furniture business is easy to start and does not require high investments. However, it is first essential to know your niche, for example, office, domestic, home furniture, and luxury items.

The furniture business needs a lot of preparation and prior knowledge. Taking business classes, learning about your local market, and making a solid business plan is advisable. In general, if your products are unique and one of a kind, consumers will be willing to pay a higher, including the shipping cost.

How Much Can You Make? $1,700 — $999,999/month View all 13 case studies Average Initial Investment $163,333 Time To Revenue 390 days See More

My name is Sasha Weekes and I’m the 25 years old owner of Timber Grove Studios. Our home-based woodshop is nestled in the hills of PEI’s countryside, and we specialize in decorative shelving and home decor with a focus on minimalist design and simplicity. Each piece is made to order with 20+ color options, meaning it will be the perfect fit for each customer's space. We ship Canada and U.S. wide.

Moving twice in two years has definitely caused organizational, financial and opportunity hiccups, but the business has grown steadily regardless so we’re very excited about where 2020 will take us. We’ve learned what to focus on during which months, as revenue can range anywhere from $2000 during slow months to $10,000 during high months. Net profit has run anywhere between 20-50% throughout the life of the business and varies month to month. It’s closer to 20% right now as we’ve been spending all we can on new tools and materials for our new larger products and our Christmas stock.


23. Start a meal prep business

A meal preparation business is a service that delivers prepared meals to its clients in the comfort of their own homes. The meal preparation business is a fast-emerging niche that offers a real opportunity to earn good money. To succeed, the starter must be efficient in the meal preparation and ensure proper communication skills. Besides, the entrepreneur must keep time when it comes to delivery to avoid customer disappointment.

A global survey shows that demand for food delivery service is on the rise. This is as people get busier with their careers and other more important tasks, leaving limited time to prepare meals and bond with friends.

Therefore, starting a meal preparation business can be a great way to earn extra monies.

How Much Can You Make? $5,000 — $4,170,000/month View all 9 case studies Average Initial Investment $2,833 Time To Revenue 360 days Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

When we first started, we sold around 200 bowls each week. We currently sell around 10,000 bowls each month. Most companies like this start the same way, cooking from their primary residence for family and friends. We were no exception. But as we continued to grow, we spent time and money to work out of rentable commercial kitchens until we were able to afford our own.


24. Start a skin care product line

The skincare business is a multi-billion dollar one, and it shows no sign of slowing down. New anti-aging products are entering the market at a nearly exponential rate, and the competition for consumers' money is growing more and more.

The industry was valued at 130 billion USD in 2021 and will expand at an annual growth rate of 4.6% up to 2030. This is surely a type of business that you should not miss. You'll need to build your creativity on your products and make sure that it is all safe and useful in improving the skin of your customers.

How Much Can You Make? $300 — $1,000,000/month View all 26 case studies Average Initial Investment $99,213 Time To Revenue 360 days Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

Oh My Balm was founded two years ago and we make kitchen-crafted all-natural body products. Our tagline is “Two Mom’s Making it Real.”

We promote them through our marketing, as they work on several different projects that create a life of prosperity for African women and their families. You can find more about them here. The other charity that is close to our hearts is Behind The Scenes, which provides financial support to entertainment technology industry professionals if they, or their immediate dependent family, are seriously ill or injured. We make a body butter, “Crew,” and we give a portion of the proceeds of every tin sold to BTS. This got us mention in several entertainment industry magazines.


25. Start a freelance writing business

Freelance writing can be a good career choice for professional writers for offering writing services to different clients via online platforms. Working as a freelancer gives you the flexibility to define your work schedule. You can work from home at any time. Freelance writers work across various niches, writing about various topics assigned by the client,

To earn good money as a freelance writer, you need the following personal qualities:

How Much Can You Make? $700 — $320,000/month View all 13 case studies Average Initial Investment $405 Time To Revenue 90 days Skills Writing & Research Skills Business model Consulting See More

My name is David Tile. I own and operate a Content Writing Service, under the banner Article-Writing.co.

We don’t consider ourselves a content marketing firm. But a firm dedicated to the business of writing. Project management offers most often attached to marketing agencies. We work against marketing briefs delivering content on time and under budget.


26. Start a graphic design business

Graphic designers create logos, brochures, ads, and other marketing materials for companies and organizations. They also design websites and other digital content, including social media graphics.

Graphic designers may specialize in one type of design (such as print or web design), or they can be generalists who do everything from logo design to social media graphics.

Starting a graphic design business can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. It’s not easy, but if you’re passionate about design and want to make a living, starting your own graphic design business is a great way to go.

Consider a suitable pricing structure when starting a graphic design business. You may charge the customers per hour or fixed pricing based on the project’s nature.

How Much Can You Make? $2,500 — $1,000,000/month View all 25 case studies Average Initial Investment $135,133 Time To Revenue 300 days Business model Consulting See More

There are so many project examples but an interesting one in the early years was a portable vacuum to clean up dog poop when you walk your day. It was called the “Vacapoo”


27. Become a freelance app developer

A freelance app developer is a programmer who creates mobile apps for Android and iOS devices. Freelance app development business targets creating various apps that give a user-friendly experience.

To become a freelance app developer, first, touch up on your skills. There are several courses available online. Once you obtain the certification, choose your niche and focus on your skill set.

Then the best way to showcase your work is to build a portfolio website where you will display your skills, projects, and testimonials. Another way to promote yourself is to create your brand and blog. This will, in turn, build a network, and you will be able to connect with people and attract more clients.

How Much Can You Make? $10,000 — $91,000/month View all 5 case studies Average Initial Investment $350 Time To Revenue 240 days Skills Coding Skills Business model Consulting See More

Hi, I’m Andrew 👋I like to joke that I’m a jack of all trades and master of pun…


28. Start a natural beauty product business

Natural beauty products include aloe vera, honey, or cocoa butter. They contain no chemical or synthetic elements.

The global natural skin care products market size was valued at $6.7 billion in 2021 .

Thinking about launching a beauty product line? What’s holding you back? Check out our case studies below to see how others have done it!

How Much Can You Make? $300 — $325,000/month View all 11 case studies Average Initial Investment $78,370 Time To Revenue 360 days See More

Hello, my name is Mel. I run a skincare business called Flowerdale Valley. I named the business Flowerdale valley because that's where I live, in a small town called Flowerdale in country Victoria, Australia.


29. Start a bridal accessories store

Bridal accessories are a great way to help you complete your wedding day look. Bridal accessories are something similar that surrounds weddings in our society. Bridal accessories are all the rage nowadays. These pretty things create the perfect set of accessories for the bridal.

The Bridal Wear market in the USA is estimated at $26B in 2020 .

A bridal accessories store can provide you with high income and the ability to hire. Bridal occasions are exceptional and endure several phases. You could start a bridal accessories business with access to millions of customers from the first introduction until they get married.

How Much Can You Make? $50,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $100 Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills Business model Brick & Mortar E-Commerce See More

Hello! My name is Vivian and I’m one of the co-founders of East Meets Dress. We’re the first modern fashion company to bring Asian-American representation and inclusion to the traditional wedding industry by combining contemporary cultural designs, quality craftsmanship, and a dedicated customer experience.

East Meets Dress has been entirely bootstrapped from Day 1 (we got started with less than $100 over a weekend). Neither my co-founder nor I had any prior experience in fashion or entrepreneurship, but through a lot of hard work, hustle, and trial and error, we've been able to grow our team and company to a 6-figure annual recurring revenue ($25k/month) in one year and help hundreds of brides across the world celebrate their heritage in style.


30. Start a home decor business

Are you a talented interior designer? Do you know you can turn your hobby into a side income opportunity? Home décor as a side hustle is a great opportunity to build a brand as you earn extra income. You first need to work on your portfolio to launch a successful home décor side hustle.

The portfolio communicates to your potential customers your potential when it comes to home décor. You may use your home as an example or request a friend for an opportunity to do their home décor as a sample for your portfolio. Once you have a portfolio, market your business, and remember to include photos from your previous gigs to increase the chances of closing a sale.

How Much Can You Make? $2,000 — $415,000/month View all 6 case studies Average Initial Investment $2,400 Time To Revenue 270 days Time Commitment Per Week Min. 5 hours/week Skills Crafty Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills Time Management Creativity Organizational Marketing Interests Outdoors Work Sales Art Design Business Business model Brick & Mortar E-Commerce See More

My name is Sarah Giller Nelson and I am organized. I experience a sense of calm when I walk into well-ordered spaces. I enjoy feeling unencumbered. Knowing how to sift through, sort out, and organize all the “stuff” a household needs comes naturally to me and is a skill that I draw upon all the time.

I currently have a staff of three professional organizers operating in two states. We serve on average 95 households per year. About 85% of our clients are repeat customers, buying 10 hours or more of organizing services. Typically, they hire us to work on one space, like a closet or a kitchen. Once they see how quickly we can make the changes that they need, they hire us to organize many other rooms in their house as well.


31. Start a dating coaching business

A dating coach offers training and guidance to improve the client's success in dating and relationships.

The dating coach evaluates the results of the client's actions and decides what changes to make to the client's dating approach to improve the outcome. Besides, dating coaches offer guidance and support, helping clients negotiate the often confusing first stages of their early romantic experiences.

Dating coaches have been around for years. A more recent trend is dating coaches who help people with conditions like autism overcome their situations and begin dating people they love. Do you love helping people achieve their dating goals? You can start a dating coach service today!

To start, identify a niche and create a website, to help you reach more people. You can target teenagers, divorced people, or older adults and help them through their dating life.

How Much Can You Make? $1,500 — $683,333/month View all 4 case studies Average Initial Investment $20 Time To Revenue 240 days Time Commitment Per Week Min. 3 hours/week Skills Self Motivation Skills Coaching Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Language Problem Solving Organizational Leadership Interests Books Work Tech Business Psychology Business model Consulting See More

Hello! I'm Ta'Veca Collins, MSW, Registered Clinical Social Worker (Florida) Owner and operator of Romance On The Go, Concierge Services (ROTGO-Est. 2012), a small business that promotes romance and intimacy.

“Meet The Tolberts” - They spent their Honeymoon in Fort Lauderdale, FL. and we executed this sunrise picnic with a mini photoshoot.


32. Start a 3D Printing Business

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, makes it possible to produce a physical item by assembling a material layer by layer.

If you love creating stuff, then a 3D printing business may be for you.

How Much Can You Make? $42,000 — $330,000/month View all 4 case studies Average Initial Investment $407,500 Time To Revenue 240 days Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Design Skills See More

My name is Roy Kirchner, an entrepreneur from Odessa, Florida. After years spent in the automobile and marketing and advertising industries, I decided in 2014 to form a new company solely focused on emerging new technology, 3D printing.

I started my company with an initial, out-of-pocket investment of $65,000, and today we are averaging monthly gross sales of $330,000.


33. Start a travel-planning app business

In the past, arranging trips on your own was a challenge only a few people could take on. Travel agents were on the rise at the time and handled everything from hotel reservations to ticket booking and traveler's itineraries.

Today, travel agents are at the risk of becoming obsolete as more travelers embrace the online travel trend. According to research, the online travel booking service will experience a compound annual growth rate of 9.0% in the coming years.

Therefore, starting an online travel-planning app business can be a profitable venture. Some potential opportunities include:

The travel-planning apps should provide users with instant availability of information, a one-stop platform, & simplify transactions,

How Much Can You Make? $200 — $114,200,000/month View all 6 case studies Average Initial Investment $36,666 Skills Writing & Research Skills Coding Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

I'm Simone Semprini, CEO, and Co-Founder of TourScanner. I graduated with a degree in engineering and then entered the world of tech - an industry in which I stayed for several years. After that, I went on to establish TourScanner alongside our current founding team, Guillaume Picard and Joseph Dimucci.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered our business very hard, like most of the travel industry. However, we have recovered, and now our metrics are better than before the pandemic. Our current monthly net revenue is about $60k and we are planning to reach $1M ARR in 2022.


34. Become a solar consultant

Solar consultants help explain renewable energy systems and resources available to potential customers.

Solar consultants often travel to different sites to evaluate power needs and provide cost estimates to homeowners and businesses willing to install solar energy systems.

To become a solar consultant, you need basic education and experience with solar systems. Since the solar industry is evolving very fast, you must be able to study new systems and understand the latest developments in this industry.

How Much Can You Make? $2,000,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $100,000 Skills Writing & Research Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

Hello, my name is Alex K Williams, the founding partner at Solar Energy Partners (SEP). Our focus is to provide the best customer and consultant experience in the solar industry. We provide more premium options for customers and consultants alike.

Our overall growth has skyrocketed from more than 400% growth since inception.


35. Dog Transportation Business

Dog transportation businesses are yet another thriving and profitable business that an entrepreneur who is looking towards starting a pet-related business should consider starting.

These types of businesses transport dogs from one place to another, usually within a country or from one country to another. If you're interested in this kind of business, then you should consider getting into the pet transportation business.

According to internal statistics, the average dog transporter clears between $8,000 and $10,000 per month .

36. Start a metal scraping business

Metal scrapping refers to the recovery and processing of recyclable metal materials. Metal scrappers collect end-of-life products and structures and refine or sell them to metal product manufacturing and fabrication companies, where the scraps are reintroduced as raw materials.

To start a metal scrapping business, find out the possible sources of scrap metal and ensure you understand the legal and tax issues concerning operating the business. Spot a location where you will get a deal for your scrap metal business, and start collecting the scrap metals.

37. Become a drywall installer

Drywall installers work in specialty construction. They measure, cut, and fasten the drywall panels on the interior walls of residential and commercial properties. To become a drywall installer, you must complete a three-to-four-year apprenticeship program and possess a certificate. Their professional skills include moving heavy loads and performing physical tasks.

You can work under a certified and registered contractor, or start your own drywall installation business, so long as you have enough years of experience working as a junior drywall installer.

How Much Can You Make? $40,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $7,000 Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills Negotiation Skills See More

Innovation Plumbing started as an idea in 1990, and officially in 1991 when my dad got his C 36 plumbing license for the state of California. I was two years old at the time.

Over the years Innovation Plumbing has grown and evolved into a devoted list of repeat customers who are more like family to us. Makes sense, in a family business!


38. Create an order fulfillment software

The order fulfillment software integrates with the sales channels, making shipping and fulfillment stress-free, so businesses focus on scalable growth. To build your order fulfillment software, research what’s available in the market today, identify gaps, engage target customers on features they need most, and create unique software.

How Much Can You Make? $25,000,000/month View all 1 case studies Skills Writing & Research Skills Coding Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Negotiation Skills Customer Service Skills See More

Hi! My name is Jan Bednar and I’m the CEO and founder of ShipMonk, a technology-driven fulfillment center based in South Florida.

Last year, we were named America’s Fastest Growing Fulfillment Center and scored a spot at #29 on Inc. 5000’s list of fastest growing companies. We made the list again this year at #154. With projected revenue of $60M for 2019, we absolutely can’t wait to see what else is in store for us!


39. Start an interior landscaping business

Interior landscaping is the practice of designing, installing, and maintaining greenery and biophilic elements inside buildings.

Commercial and residential property owners are embracing interior landscaping at a higher rate than ever before. Interior landscaping offers an opportunity to replicate the beauty and environmental benefits previously associated with the outdoors.

If you enjoy home improvement and interior décor, consider starting an interior landscaping business.

40. Start a healthy food processing business

With the growing preference for healthy and functional food, starting a healthy food processing plant can be rewarding.

The advancements in the food processing industry, innovation in processing technology, and continuous growth in demand for processed food are some excellent reasons to consider opening a healthy food processing business.

To start a healthy food processing plant, find out a market gap, and research the demand. Understand customers changing tastes and focus on offering the best throughout.

How Much Can You Make? $52,944/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $30,000 Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills Negotiation Skills See More

I’m an elite ultramarathon runner, the world’s best wolf-dog dad, and the founder of Bluebird Provisions Bone Broth, North America's fastest-growing bone broth brand.

Now we’re doing 49,000 per month and growing 50% year over year. Our customers are active individuals aged 30-60 who are looking for natural ways to get better skin, and gut health and improve joint pain. We’ve increased our customer base by 5000% since we started.


41. Start a waste recycling business

If you have a passion for saving the planet and going green, starting a waste recycling business may be the right route for you to take. Waste recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be trashed and processing them into new products.

Starting a waste recycling business is not only profitable, but it can also benefit the community and the environment. To start a waste recycling business, research the industry and determine the costs involved. Then, register the business and equip your waste recycling facility.

How Much Can You Make? $230,000 — $37,000,000/month View all 2 case studies Average Initial Investment $1,000 See More

Hi! My name is Dustin Maze. I am the owner of SOCO Waste, a locally owned and operated residential waste removal business based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Originally the loan provided a trailer and 5 dumpsters. We now have 51 dumpsters, two roll off dumpster delivery trucks and two residential garbage trucks. We are projecting $700-800k in sales for 2020.


42. Start a typing speed testing business

Typing speed is an excellent skill that can increase marketability and job opportunities. Some of the jobs requiring a high typing speed include:

Employers within these industries use a typing speed program to evaluate the potential candidates, so they can reach a hiring decision. Therefore, if you have program development skills, you may consider creating a typing speed-testing tool.

Your target customers could be people preparing for typing jobs and employers who want to ascertain whether potential candidates have the required typing skills.

43. Start a shipping business

The shipping business is an exciting and dynamic way to earn a living, and it’s a perfect opportunity for those looking for a change of pace from the typical 9-5 office job. This business entails transporting goods and cargo from one place to another. It can involve everything from small packages and envelopes to large freight containers and pallets.

To run a successful shipping business, you should keep a few key things in mind. Firstly, it’s essential to establish a good working relationship with your clients. You need to be reliable, punctual and have excellent communication skills. This will ensure that your clients come back to you time and time again.

Another tip for shipping business success is investing in high-quality equipment and vehicles. This could include a variety of trucks, trailers, and cargo containers. The right equipment is essential to ensure that your cargo arrives safely and on time.

Lastly, it’s essential to be well-versed in the ins and outs of the industry. This could include understanding the different regulations and laws that apply to shipping and staying up-to-date with new developments in the field. Being informed and knowledgeable about the industry will give you an edge over competitors.

Overall, the shipping business is an excellent opportunity for those who want to be their boss and take control of their career. With hard work, dedication, and a little know-how, you can make your shipping business a booming success.

How Much Can You Make? $65,000 — $2,400,000/month View all 4 case studies Average Initial Investment $15,000 Time To Revenue 180 days Skills Customer Service Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills Business model Consulting See More

My name is Ben Elizer, and I am the Founder and President of Velocity International Group, a full-scale logistics company, offering SameDay delivery, Expediting, Distribution, Fulfillment, andmany Warehousing Services. We offer to consult and some other services as well to help our customers succeed in an ultra-competitive environment. Velocity started with 2 vans and many faces to face conversations. We now have 10+ vehicles, including trucks, and have grown to 25k+ square feet of warehouse space as well to best serve our customers.

Over the past 2 years, our revenue has grown over 300%, which has completely contributed to the great people and culture we have at Velocity. After having to move out of my apartment (because I put everything financially I had into this company), and move back into my mom’s house in my mid 20’s, it was difficult, but just 6 months later we had our first small office and warehouse space. I’m fortunate I had a support system to move back into, or else Velocity might not be here today. The business has grown ever since because of hard work, trust, and relationships. We focus on what is important.


44. Become a freelance web developer

Are you passionate about technology and looking for a way to earn extra income while working on your terms? How about becoming a freelance web developer? Firstly, web development is a highly sought-after skill in every industry. Secondly, the pay rate is higher than freelance writers, and freelance graphic designers earn. As a freelance web developer, you put yourself in a high-value proposition. However, it would be best to learn languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript to get started. Find a niche and start building anything and everything. Create a personal brand and build up your portfolio.

How Much Can You Make? $6,000 — $148,000/month View all 7 case studies Skills Writing & Research Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

I’m Ty Fujimura, Founder, and CEO of Cantilever Web Design and Development. We work with clients from the International Monetary Fund and IBM to local small businesses and startups. They come to us because they are looking for superior results from their websites, and we deliver that by providing their visitors with an outstanding experience and giving them a reason to come back.


45. Start a recruiting business

A recruiting business is a service and advice-based business that helps companies and organizations find the right candidates for their jobs. These businesses usually serve as a medium between the two entities to create a win-win situation. The job seeker can get the job of their dreams, while the business entity can get a fit candidate for the job.

Recruiting is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Over the past ten years, businesses are struggling to find quality employees and candidates are searching for more opportunities. If you know this, then you have everything you need to make money fast with recruiting.

Starting a recruiting business from scratch is easier than you think. You can have your own staffing agency in just a few weeks and start making a great income while working less.

How Much Can You Make? $100 — $125,000/month View all 5 case studies Average Initial Investment $252,000 Skills Writing & Research Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

Hi, I’m Kingsong, CEO of Techintern.io. We connect startups and tech companies with the best software developer students at colleges across North America like Waterloo, Harvard, Berkeley, and more. We work with startups to hire really strong and motivated technical interns, many of who have experience at top companies like Google or Facebook.

We’ve worked with companies like Afterpay, Zumper, and Yugabyte and recently achieved #1 Product of the Day and #2 Product of the Week on Product Hunt.


46. Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

According to a PWC report, more than 80% of companies now have a chief information security officer (CISO) on the management staff. This trend indicates that organizations are becoming aware of cyber threats, and they are taking steps to prevent attacks. CISOs are senior-level executives who ensure that an organization's cyber security plan is aligned with its vision, operations, and technology. They work closely with staff members to identify risks and devise ways to mitigate them without causing disruptions. They also manage security policies within the organization.

The average salary for a Chief Information Security Officer in the United States is $234,025 .

47. Start a business plan writing business

Another business idea you can start is helping entrepreneurs write business plans. You can create a subreddit community targeting people looking to start a new business and educate them on the importance of writing a business plan when starting a new business.

How Much Can You Make? $42,857/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $35 Skills Writing & Research Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

I'm Vaibhav Kishnani, an engineer but a passionate writer by profession. I established Content-Whale in 2017 when I was in my third year of engineering. Going by the maxim that quality writing is everything, Content-Whale caters to 42 different content types that form the backstory of every company’s digital presence and marketing efforts.

I started this content agency with a mere sum of Rs. 2,500. Today, we have drawn a revenue turnover of Rs. 4 Crores! In my opinion, it is not individual progress. Instead, a start-up is about connecting with the right individuals at the right time, who keep the show running ahead with their strife for perfection.


48. Start a dating app

A mobile dating app is one of the most popular mobile-only businesses for creating an ecosystem and generating revenue. But, with the help of a robust development team, you can surpass all your competitors and create a sleeker end product than anyone else in this market.

Dating apps have made their way into an industry that was gaining enough traction. The online Dating Market size was valued at $7.35B in 2020 and is projected to reach $10.87B by 2028.

How Much Can You Make? $11,250,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $150,200 Skills Writing & Research Skills Coding Skills Design Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

At age 22, Whitney Wolfe helped launch Tinder, one of the world's most popular dating apps. But a few years later, she left Tinder and filed a lawsuit against the company alleging sexual harassment. The ensuing attention from the media – and cyberbullying from strangers – prompted her to launch Bumble, a dating app where women make the first move. Today, the Bumble app has been downloaded close to 30 million times. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Michael Dixon, whose business Mobile Vinyl Recorders uses portable record lathes to cut vinyl at parties, weddings, and music festivals. (Original broadcast date: October 16, 2017)

49. Start an internet infrastructure business

Internet infrastructure is a collective term referring to all hardware and software systems that constitute essential components in internet operation. Common internet infrastructure includes routers, switches, hubs, bridges, gateways, load balancers, and servers.

The internet has become a critical component of every business we transact today. Its adoption is expected to continue multiplying. The new connections will require additional internet infrastructure, a trend that will create business opportunities.

Telecommunications companies have provided the infrastructure to allow data flow around the planet. Private entrepreneurs are also chipping in to help meet the demand for internet connectivity and deliver an excellent user experience.

Experts predict the network infrastructure segment will reach $191.8 billion . The largest subsegment will be the Service Provider Network Infrastructure. Therefore, starting an internet infrastructure company could be your next great business opportunity.

How Much Can You Make? $150,000/month View all 1 case studies Average Initial Investment $2,000,000 Skills Design Skills Writing & Research Skills Coding Skills Business Savvy Skills Negotiation Skills Customer Service Skills See More

Hi, Mark Kellett is my name. First and foremost I am a husband to Susan and father to Brandon and Ben, our two sons. My family is my greatest priority and gives me the most joy in life! So now to me, I would at the outset say that I have perhaps too often taken “the path less travelled”, to seek out adventure in life and business.

In 2019 I founded my company KelTech IoT, a next-generation energy and infrastructure company bridging the energy and telecoms gap by creating more efficient and sustainable solutions as network demands increase in the age of IoT. The company is intent on connecting and powering a sustainable world.


50. Start a Long Haul Trucking Business

Long haul trucking is one of the sectors contributing significantly to economic growth. Besides, with the modern marketplaces, consumers depend on long-haul truckers to bridge the gap between them and favorite suppliers across the globe.

Thus, if you have a passion for starting a business that focuses on trucking, a long-haul trucking business would fulfill your dream.

Before investing in a long-haul truck, study the market and identify the business opportunities that will be most pleasing to you. Then, buy or lease a suitable long-haul truck and focus on doing what it takes to keep your business profitable while satisfying your customers.

51. Start a travel company

Travel companies sell transportation, lodging, plan trips, and admission to entertainment activities to individuals and groups.

If you love traveling, you can start a company that organizes trips for different people. Choose a niche and ensure travel packages that suit them best.

How Much Can You Make? $10,000 — $114,200,000/month View all 20 case studies Average Initial Investment $151,788 Skills Writing & Research Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills See More

I’m Matt Wilson and my co-founder Jared O’Toole and I own Under30Experiences, a travel company for people aged 21-35. We run small group travel excursions around the world to destinations including Costa Rica, Iceland, Thailand, Greece, and US National Parks.

We’ve been named on Inc Magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in America and number 198 on Financial Times 1000 list of America's Fastest-Growing Companies. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were closing in on $5M in revenue and plan to be back to that level and more soon.


52. Start a recycling farm waste business

Farm waste is produced as a result of various agricultural operations. The farm waste can include manure, harvest waste, fertilizer from fields, pesticides, etc.

Recycled farm waste can be turned into energy, fertilizer, molecules, and other materials that benefit economic and environmental sustainability.

53. Start a drug testing business

Drug testing examines illegal or prescription drugs in urine, saliva, hair, or sweat. The purpose of drug tests is to look for drug abuse or misuse.

The drug testing profession is highly in demand at ports of entry and exit and the sporting sector. A drug testing business can be a lucrative business opportunity. You will need a fully equipped laboratory and an elaborate business marketing plan to reach the relevant customers.

How Much Can You Make? $100,000/month View all 1 case studies Skills Business Savvy Skills Self Motivation Skills Customer Service Skills See More

In 2013, Chuck realized that employers were losing time and money having employees go to a clinic to do drug testing. Nowadays, they are making $30k/month.

54. Start a personal styling business

A personal stylist advises individuals on aesthetic choices such as new fashion trends, clothing styles, colors, and make-up. To become a personal stylist, you must have a detailed style portfolio, a qualification in fashion, make-up, or a related discipline. Prior experience in the fashion industry will be an added advantage.

How Much Can You Make? $150 — $5,000/month View all 2 case studies Average Initial Investment $700 Skills Customer Service Skills Crafty Skills See More

My name is Brian McEuen, and I'm the founder of On Brand. We help guys shop for clothes online by curating personalized selections as if they were walking into their very own store. We're like Spotify for clothes! Another way to put it: imagine those “Top 25 T-Shirts for this Summer” lists curated just for you down to the right size, fit, style, and color!

I currently have about 75 users and an annualized revenue run rate of $1800.


55. Start a tourist guide business

There's no denying the profitability of a tourism business. If you know the state and cities well, starting a tour guide business can be a very lucrative idea. All you need is a license, and you can soon start working as a tour guide.

Listed are the steps on how to start a tour guide business.

How Much Can You Make? $200 — $8,110,000/month View all 3 case studies Average Initial Investment $300,100 Skills Business Savvy Skills Customer Service Skills Self Motivation Skills Negotiation Skills See More

Hi! I am Nan and I am the founder of No Code Map App - a no code builder for creating custom interactive maps with dynamic filters. It is designed for businesses to build an agency-quality interactive map without coding.

We launched 3 months ago and started monetizing at the end of March. April was our first full month of taking payments and we made >$400.


56. Start a mobile phone repair kiosk

A cellphone repair kiosk is a low-startup cost business; hence easy to start. However, the profit margins may be low as you start the business, but they increase over time as you become well-known and successful.

To start a mobile phone repair kiosk, find streets with high foot traffic, and open a store. Advertise your business widely to get more foot traffic to your shop.

57. Start a roof repair business

Roof repair and replacement services remain in demand among homeowners and commercial property owners. The need for roof repair services is often because of storms and old roofs that become leaky, requiring immediate replacement.

If you want a home improvement business opportunity, consider starting a roof repair business. To start the roof repair business, you need to be a registered professional roofer, equipped with the right roofing tools, and have the skills to re-design and re-roof properties.

Register your business and acquire the necessary licenses to start marketing the roof repair services.

58. Start an aviation maintenance and repair business

Mid-sized airlines are outsourcing repairs and routine maintenance services to specialty shops, a trend set to increase rapidly. Thus, starting an airline repair and maintenance service can be rewarding if you are an aviation engineer or are interested in the business. Services of an airline repair company include inspection, general maintenance, and repair to ensure the aircraft is operational and safe.

To start an airplane repair and maintenance business, you may target private or commercial airlines looking to outsource the repair and maintenance service. If you do not have the necessary skills, you may employ skilled and experienced aeronautical engineers, look for customers, and focus on growing your business.

59. Start a drone repair business

The drone industry is expected to grow by a CAGR of 28.58% over the next few years, reaching $47.38 billion. As drone usage is poised to go mainstream in many sectors, starting a drone repair business can be rewarding.

However, the drone repair business is capital intensive, so you will need huge capital to run a successful business. To start a successful drone repair business, research the market and decide the best niche to focus on.

60. Start a drain repair service

Over time, drain pipes at commercial and residences will become clogged and require regular servicing to keep the dirty water flowing. When it comes to the efficiency of drainpipes, residential and commercial property owners want to hire a reliable plumber.

To become a drain pipe specialist, you need at least a high school diploma or GED. To gain a higher skill level, you may take a degree course before joining a company for an internship to gain the necessary plumbing experience.

Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

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These hard-to-reach, low-key, founders are in the trenches building real businesses right now.

And we get the lowdown on the most essential, hard-hitting parts of building their business:

(1) How exactly did you find this opportunity? (2) What were the exact steps to build it? To launch it? (3) How did you get to 10, 100, and 1,000 customers? (4) How much money are you making?

^ Yes, we asked thousands of founders these questions. And we are asking more every day.

You might get too inspired when you actually see the answers behind thousands of successful, ordinary entrepreneurs.

You'll realize there is no “magic formula” , that building a successful business is actually quite straightforward.

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Consultant Toolbox: Frameworks for Solving Anything

When something is not right in a business, it can be confusing knowing where to start to fix it. Objective frameworks like issue trees, funnel analysis, and business canvases provide an organized and data-driven way of getting to the root of a problem and give cast-iron evidence toward plotting a route forward.

Consultant Toolbox: Frameworks for Solving Anything

When something is not right in business, the sincere urgency to try and fix it immediately can result in a haphazard approach. During an unstructured firefight, a hypothesis will be taken that a particular area is definitely not right, and the validity of it won’t be tested beyond just the depth of a hunch. Or, those tasked with fixing things will spread themselves around many areas, resulting in a dilutive, reactive effect.

Making a plan of attack for putting out a fire is neither indecisive nor an exercise in time-wasting. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back to assess the situation. Here, I will share some methods for business problem solving - beginning with appraising problems, then onto some area-specific tests for digging deeper into the root cause.

Business problems tend to manifest in quantitative ways: e.g., sales have fallen. Yet, their symptoms may be derived from qualitative factors: e.g., culture. While I will focus more on objective reasoning, I will conclude with some thoughts on rectifying the more subjective elements that manifest in the root cause of business problems.

Isolating Problems: Issue Trees

Income statements.

The core skills a finance professional learns early in their career and leans upon throughout the rest of it is the ability to read a financial statement and translate it into “words” for the layman. The supplementary notes to the financial statements are meant to provide such illumination but can oftentimes obfuscate root causes or just further frustrate with jargon.

One of the best ways to kick off a firefight is to use an issue tree analysis to pinpoint what has happened financially that has led to the problem at hand. While at first, it may be evident that “sales have fallen,” an issue tree analysis may identify a degree of mutual exclusivity with other factors that may have had a secondary effect on the headline figure.

Issue trees should be built following the MECE business problem solving framework, where everything is captured in a m utually e xclusive, c ollectively e xhaustive manner down to the smallest fragments. When applied to an income statement, it can help to break the numbers down and isolate the issue.

Example of a Profitability Issue Tree

Profitability Issue Tree

Not only does this allow the analyst to pinpoint the root cause of the issue, but it also provides a very clear way of demonstrating it visually.

Isolating which ratio has resulted in underperformance will then turn focus to efforts on rectifying the issue at hand in a more concerted way. For example, if sales have fallen due to price cuts in a specific geography, instead of castigating other regional sales teams, the company can focus efforts in a more proactive way on the problem territory.

Further Work

Balance Sheets

Issue trees can be expanded upon to include balance sheet related components if the problem is related to the broader financial health of the business. Frameworks such as DuPont analysis can combine income statement metrics with those of the company’s leverage to pinpoint the areas implicating issues with return on equity (ROE).

For older businesses that have more dividend-centric shareholder bases (e.g., banks) - who aren’t solely looking at a topline metric expansion (e.g., VCs) - relative income returns to equity capitalization are paramount. While a business may be profitable, if it’s being funded by a disproportionately larger equity base, it may not be financially efficient relative to the opportunity cost.

DuPont Analysis Issue Tree

DuPont Analysis Issue Tree

ROE is essential in an industry such as banking, which has in recent years been stuck at low levels . While on the face of it, a profitable bank may appear sound, using a DuPont issue tree to assess the interconnectivity of the income statement and balance sheet will uncover that while profits may have risen if equity has been recapitalized upward, it won’t lead to higher relative returns on equity.

In the face of lower interest rates , we have seen banks retrench from certain areas in order to increase their profitability with a view to enhancing their ROEs.

By again using a MECE mentality to list all factors, what a DuPont issue tree result shows is an almost complete financial picture of the company in a far more digestible manner than streams of spreadsheets and financial statements.

Liquidity: Cash Conversion Cycle

The cash conversion cycle is a metric regularly calculated by potential lenders and investors of a business. It assesses how quickly a firm can convert its operating activities into realized cash. The longer the cycle, the less liquid the business is in, and this, if left unchecked, can escalate and bring about serious implications. For example:

The formula for calculating the cash conversion cycle is as follows:

Cash conversion cycle = days inventory outstanding + days sales outstanding - days payable outstanding

Days inventory outstanding = average inventory in period / cost of goods sold * 365 Days sales outstanding = average accounts receivable in period / revenue * 365 Days payable outstanding = average accounts payable in period / cost of goods sold * 365

Graphically, the diagram below shows how the cash conversion cycle fits into the operating cycle of a company.

Cash Conversion Cycle Within the Operating Cycle of a Business

Cash Conversion Cycle Within the Operating Cycle of a Business

Continual monitoring of the cash conversion cycle will allow managers to be more on the front foot about changes happening to their liquidity positions. If a certain tolerance of acceptable days is extended to each part, once triggered, a review can occur in the specific area.

Once identified, further analysis can uncover the root cause, such as:

Starting a Turnaround: Business Canvas Exercises

After moving on from the financials, a business model canvas exercise allows for a deeper understanding of the commercial fabric of the business and how attuned the operation is to consumer needs. This is where a more qualitative insight comes into play. While the profitability tree may show that sales volume has dropped in a certain geography, it will not be particularly evident as to why this is happening. A canvas exercise will help to dig into the operational aspects of this issue.

Creating a canvas for the entire business will help to provide an eagle-eye view of the current operation. Most companies only ever touch on this kind of overview when writing their initial business plan. Aside from then potentially never reviewing it again, a verbose business plan may struggle to come to life in the eyes of the reader. A canvas exercise is both regularly reviewed and very expressive to conceptualize when read.

The Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas

In terms of what these boxes mean, below are brief explanations and examples.

Once complete, this exercise should help to uncover some red flags, depending on which box will determine how serious they are. For example, if a business struggles to settle on its key value proposition, then it will be quite evident why financials have underperformed and that a more profound turnaround effort is required. Yet, if it’s uncovered that customers desire a heavy touch approach to onboarding and support, and the business is currently offering a self-service model, the focus can quickly switch toward tweaking the plan.

Whenever I work on a project, irrespective of whether it’s forward-facing or a firefight, a canvas is the first thing I do. It helps to focus on the unique advantages that a business has and how it is capitalizing upon them in the market.

Product Market Fit: Jobs to Be Done

When addressing sales issues, the default approach can tend to be adjusting the seller’s manner of conducting sales. It is a rather binary assumption that spending more on marketing, adding more salespeople, or tweaking a website will help sales in a linear (or exponential) fashion. While all of these tactics are indeed valid approaches, they are enacted under the paradigm of appeasing the seller’s needs and having a slightly arrogant attitude toward assuming that customers will want what is being delivered to them.

What can go unnoticed here is what the consumer actually wants and how the product/service serves their needs. Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) is a concept developed by Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School, centered around a mentality of serving the needs customers are trying to fulfill from using a product or service. He says that “we hire products to do jobs for us.” While this may sound vague at first, the genesis of his idea - which came from studying commuters using McDonald’s drive-thru to buy milkshakes - explains it vividly.

The JTBD theory states that customers have three “jobs” they are trying to get done: functional, emotional, and consumption-led.

The last two are usually derivatives of functional jobs, which is the key job to be done. A visible way to see whether a company espouses JTBD thinking is when their products are named and targeted at outcomes people want to achieve. For example, LinkedIn Premium is not just one generic product but a number of tiered services aimed at users, whether they are job hunting or hunting for talent to fill other jobs.

Below are some tips for instilling a JTBD mentality in business.

Remove Bias from Surveys and Customer Outreach

When I was in graduate school, whenever group work involved testing a hypothesis for a business idea, groups would create surveys for their classmates, usually with the explicit goal of validating what they wanted to hear. Questions would go along the lines of:

“How would you feel about purchasing an internet-of-things connected teapot?”

Aside from the sample bias of sending a survey to a homogeneous stratum of classmates (i.e., similar psychographics), using such leading questions can corrupt a survey and fail to understand what needs the customer wants to fulfill. Questions like this return to the original point about companies trying to fit their round peg solution into a square hole. Remember when the iPhone came out? No one knew they wanted an iPhone before then, as they didn’t exist, so a leading question about their desires for one would have left consumers flummoxed.

Instead, a more useful question would be:

“When you prepare hot beverages, what do you do during the boiling period?”

Answers to this question would provide more insight into the job being done by the drinker and, thus, how the provider could serve them.

Job Statements

Writing down job statements for the jobs customers are doing helps to really simplify what it is they are doing and why. Statements are constructed using three parts: a verb, an object, and a contextual modifier. Here are some varied examples for products/services that have been tailored toward specific jobs consumers want done:

Once complete, job statements can be a powerful and concise way of remembering what it is customers are doing and how a business can strive toward making the contextual modifier as seamless as possible for them.

Outcome Expectations

Further to compiling job statements, work toward understanding the outcome expectations for both your customers and your business for the desired and undesired outcomes of the provision. Understanding the needs and avoidances of both parties serves to uncover friction that may appear during a service. For example, a taxi rider wants to get to a destination as soon as possible, while a driver will not want to break speed laws. Marrying these two frictions together can assist with uncovering stumbling points in service delivery and reaching the most optimal compromise.

Find Customer Workarounds

Look at data clues and customer patterns for how they are purchasing and using the service. If they are doing specific workarounds (e.g., ordering a product on specific days, using an app more than a browser, etc.), consider why this is happening and how that is fulfilling their needs more than how you initially intended.

Firefights Are Inevitable, so at Least Be Prepared

The more a business plans its activities using objective metrics, the less time it has to spend finding the causes of problems when they occur. Referring back to the introduction, when I mentioned qualitative issues, in a roundabout way, they can be the main reason why problems begin to occur quantitatively. Oftentimes, when budgets are set, they are done in a siloed manner, which can ignore debilitating competitive friction between teams, or the butterfly effect of one team’s goals negatively affecting another’s.

A balanced scorecard is a simple but effective way to appraise business performance on an ongoing basis and monitor the key metrics that contribute to holistic success. Such a method also accounts for the qualitative issues that can eventually spill over into finances. Goals and quantitative measures are collected along four key lines:

Each focuses on the aspects that matter to the core stakeholders of a business: investors, employees, customers, and non-human assets. Applying quantitative goals and prescribing how they will be measured ensures that periodically, they can be reviewed and then measures put in place to rectify underperformance. While firefights are almost always inevitable in business, having a firehose on hand and with water in the tank ensures that a response can be immediate and effective.

Further reading on the Toptal Finance Blog:

Understanding the basics

Why is a business model canvas important.

A business model canvas provides an eagle-eye view of the current operation and allows for a deeper understanding of the commercial fabric of the business and how attuned the operation is to consumer needs. There is a significant amount of qualitative insight required.

What is a problem tree analysis?

Problem trees list all of the factors that contribute to a final figure. For example, business profitability is affected by revenue and costs, so a problem tree will fork out toward those two factors.

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Purdue University

Effective Problem-Solving Techniques in Business

A business team discusses a problem in a conference room

January 20, 2023

Purdue Online

Problem solving is an increasingly important soft skill for those in business. The Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum drives this point home. According to this report, complex problem solving is identified as one of the top 15 skills that will be sought by employers in 2025, along with other soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and leadership.

Dr. Amy David , clinical associate professor of management for supply chain and operations management, spoke about business problem-solving methods and how the Purdue University Online MBA program prepares students to be business decision-makers.

Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Essential in Leadership Roles?

Every business will face challenges at some point. Those that are successful will have people in place who can identify and solve problems before the damage is done.

“The business world is constantly changing, and companies need to be able to adapt well in order to produce good results and meet the needs of their customers,” David says. “They also need to keep in mind the triple bottom line of ‘people, profit and planet.’ And these priorities are constantly evolving.”

To that end, David says people in management or leadership need to be able to handle new situations, something that may be outside the scope of their everyday work.

“The name of the game these days is change—and the speed of change—and that means solving new problems on a daily basis,” she says.

The pace of information and technology has also empowered the customer in a new way that provides challenges—or opportunities—for businesses to respond.

“Our customers have a lot more information and a lot more power,” she says. “If you think about somebody having an unhappy experience and tweeting about it, that’s very different from maybe 15 years ago. Back then, if you had a bad experience with a product, you might grumble about it to one or two people.”

David says that this reality changes how quickly organizations need to react and respond to their customers. And taking prompt and decisive action requires solid problem-solving skills.

What Are Some of the Most Effective Problem-Solving Methods?

David says there are a few things to consider when encountering a challenge in business.

“When faced with a problem, are we talking about something that is broad and affects a lot of people? Or is it something that affects a select few? Depending on the issue and situation, you’ll need to use different types of problem-solving strategies,” she says.

Using Techniques

There are a number of techniques that businesses use to problem solve. These can include:

“We have a lot of these different tools,” David says. “Which one to use when is going to be dependent on the problem itself, the level of the stakeholders, the number of different stakeholder groups and so on.”

Each of the techniques outlined above uses the same core steps of problem solving:

Data drives a lot of daily decisions in business and beyond. Analytics have also been deployed to problem solve.

“We have specific classes around storytelling with data and how you convince your audience to understand what the data is,” David says. “Your audience has to trust the data, and only then can you use it for real decision-making.”

Data can be a powerful tool for identifying larger trends and making informed decisions when it’s clearly understood and communicated. It’s also vital for performance monitoring and optimization.

How Is Problem Solving Prioritized in Purdue’s Online MBA?

The courses in the Purdue Online MBA program teach problem-solving methods to students, keeping them up to date with the latest techniques and allowing them to apply their knowledge to business-related scenarios.

“I can give you a model or a tool, but most of the time, a real-world situation is going to be a lot messier and more valuable than what we’ve seen in a textbook,” David says. “Asking students to take what they know and apply it to a case where there’s not one single correct answer is a big part of the learning experience.”

Make Your Own Decision to Further Your Career

An online MBA from Purdue University can help advance your career by teaching you problem-solving skills, decision-making strategies and more. Reach out today to learn more about earning an online MBA with Purdue University .

About the Author

Purpose of the Model

Philosophy of problem solving, fun: the bookworm, quick links.

This newsletter introduces the Problem Solving Model. This is a ten-step model to guide you (and your team) through a structured problem solving process. All too often, people jump from a problem to a solution. And it is often a solution that is short-lived or creates numerous other problems within the organization. The Problem Solving Model provides you a road map to continuous improvement.

As its name implies, this model is the road map to follow to solve problems. What makes something a problem?

a) When the process isn't doing what it is supposed to and people don't know why. b) When things keep going wrong no matter how hard everyone tries. c) When everyone believes that there is a problem to solve.

The first step in the model is to define the problem; it does not matter if it is late shipments, stock outs, computer downtime, typos, lost messages, or an agreed upon "red bead" that everyone keeps running into. Before you can solve the problem, you must truly understand what it is. This means brainstorming about the process, using a Pareto Diagram to prioritize potential obstacles and creating a process flow diagram of what is currently going on. After you have the problem defined, the model leads you through analyzing data you gather about the process, determining the root cause of the problem, and identifying possible solutions to the problem. Solutions to the problem will either be changes to the process which eliminate special causes of variation or changes which reduce common cause variation. After the best solution is implemented, the model leads the team to monitor the impact of its revisions to make sure that the problem is truly solved.

The problem-solving model, introduced below, incorporates an effective set of skills into a step-by-step process. The model combines the use of statistical tools, such as control charts and process flow diagrams, with group problem-solving skills, such as brainstorming and consensus decision-making. The statistical tools help us make data-based decisions at various points throughout the model. The group problem-solving skills help us draw on the benefits of working as a team.

Before we begin a discussion about the steps of the problem-solving model, we should talk a little about the philosophy that good problem solvers have about problems. Here are a number of ideas that are part of the philosophy.

Problem solving should occur at all levels of the organization. At every level, from top to bottom, problems occur. Everyone is an expert in the problems that occur in his or her own area and should address these problems. Problem solving is a part of everyone's job.

All problems should not be addressed with the same approach. There are some problems that are easily and suitably tackled alone. Not all decisions need to be made by teams nor do all problems need to be solved by groups. However, groups of people help to break mental sets (i.e., figuring out new ways of doing things). In addition, people are more committed to figuring out and implementing a solution to a problem if they are involved in the problem solving.

Problems are normal. Problems occur in every organization. In excellent companies people constantly work on solving problems as they occur. Problems are opportunities to make things better and should be viewed as such.

Be hard on the problem and soft on the people involved. When working on a problem, we should focus on solving the problem, not on whose fault the problem is. We should avoid personalizing the problem and blaming others.

People should address the problems in their own areas. Everyone has problems associated with their work area, and they should take ownership for trying to solve these problems instead of waiting for their supervisors or another team to tell them what to do.

Problem Solving Model

Step 1: define the problem..

Step 1 is a critical step; it determines the overall focus of the project. In this step, the team defines the problem as concretely and specifically as possible. Five SPC tools are helpful in defining the problem: brainstorming the problem's characteristics, creating an affinity diagram, using a Pareto chart, creating an initial Process Flow Diagram of the present process, and Control Chart data. The process flow diagram (PFD) will help the team identify "start to finish" how the present process normally works. Often the PFD can dramatically help define the problem. After the problem is well defined, Step 2 helps the team measure the extent of the problem.

End Product = A clear definition of the problem to be studied, including measurable evidence that the problem exists.

Step 2: Measure the Problem.

Baseline data are collected on the present process if they do not already exist. This permits measurement of the current level of performance so future gains can be subsequently measured. The team needs to make a decision on how to collect the present baseline data. In general, if data are collected daily, the time period should be a month. This way a standard control chart can be used. If data are collected weekly or once a month, baseline data will have only three or four points. Data collected less than once a month are of limited use; in such cases, historical data, if available, should be used. At this stage, the team must have measurable evidence that the problem exists. Opinions and anecdotes are a sound place to start, but eventually there needs to be concrete proof that there really is a problem.

End Product = A graph or chart with present baseline or historical data on how the process works; a collection of the present job instructions, job descriptions, and SOPs/JWIs (standard operating procedures and job work instructions).

Step 3: Set the Goal.

Goals provide vision and direction and help the team make choices and know which path to take. Be sure to state your goal(s) in terms that are measurable. This way, the team can evaluate its progress toward the goal. As the team imagines the goal, it will identify benefits of achieving the solution to the problem. This inspires a higher commitment and support from all.

End Product = A goal statement that includes the what, when, where, why, who and how of the ideal solved problem situation.

Step 4: Determine Root Causes.

In Step 4 the team studies why the process is working the way it is. If a control chart was developed in Step 2, determine whether the process is "in control" or "out of control." If the process is "out of control," the team should pinpoint the special causes and move to Step 5. If the process is "in control," the team will need to use tools such as cause and effect analysis (fishbones), scatter plots and experimental design formats to identify root causes currently in the system producing common cause variation.

End Product = A list of most probable root causes of the problem (common and special cause variation); selection by team of the primary root cause of the problem to be eliminated.

Step 5: Select Best Strategy.

The purpose of Step 5 is to select the strategy that best solves the problem. From the list of causes generated in Step 4, the team should brainstorm and strategically plan solution strategies. Fishbone diagrams and benchmarking can be helpful for this step. Then the team must reach consensus on the best possible strategy to solve the problem. This strategy should have the highest likelihood of success.

End Product = A well defined strategy to solve the problem is selected.

Step 6: Implement Strategy.

An Action Plan is developed by team. This includes who will do what by when to implement the solution. The team sees to it that the Action Plan developed is carried out and documented.

End Product = The Action Plan is implemented.

Step 7: Evaluate Results.

In Step 7 the team evaluates how effective the solution has been. Data must be collected to determine if the implemented strategy did, in fact, improve the process being studied. Performance must be clearly measured and evaluated. The team needs to monitor control chart data where appropriate and assess improvement; the process flow diagram should be checked for appropriate SOPs and JWIs. Additional feedback strategies such as histograms, process FMEAs, customer surveys and informal polls may also prove useful. What are the "customer" reactions (internal customer feedback)? What has produced measurable results? What hard data are available? Do people perceive an improvement? How have results matched customer needs? If the process did not improve, the team needs to discover if the wrong root cause(s) was identified or if the wrong solution was utilized. In either case, return to the steps above, beginning with Step 4. If the process improves, but the results are disappointing, there may be other root causes affecting the process. Again, return to Step 4 to further examine additional root causes. When the problem is solved (i.e. the "loop closed"), the team proceeds to Step 8.

End Product = The problem is solved; results of the improvement are measured.

Step 8: Implement Appropriate Changes in the Process.

Step 8 develops an ongoing process to assure that the gains stay in place for the long term. Sometimes a problem is solved and then later resurfaces. This happens when a solution is determined, but a system or process to keep the problem solved has not been successfully adopted. Permanent changes need to be implemented. This means revising the existing procedures. The new improved process will need to be tracked over time; the process must be checked frequently to maintain improvement. This also helps everyone to stay aware of opportunities to continuously improve the process where the problem occurred.

End Product = A permanent change in the process, Quality Improvement, and people "closest to the job" monitoring the change.

Step 9: Continuous Improvement.

This step is staying committed to continuous improvement in terms of this model - to remain actively alert to the ways the improved process can be made even better. This step is a conscious decision to allow others to innovate and to point out "red beads" in the process which the team has worked hard to improve. All involved, particularly those closest to the job, need to be encouraged to give constructive feedback and adjustments. Internal audits will monitor some processes to ensure effectiveness.

End Product = Commitment to continuous improvement.

Step 10: Celebrate.

This last step includes a recognition celebration and the disbanding of the team. Always take time for this maintenance function; people have achieved an important goal. They have earned this moment of recognition and closure.

End Product = Closure for the team members; disbanding of the team.

Each of the four volumes in the picture has the same number of pages and the width from the first to the last page of each volume is two inches. Each volume has two covers and each cover is one-sixth of an inch thick.

Our microscopic bookworm was hatched on page one of volume one. During his life he ate a straight hole across the bottom of the volumes. He ate all the way to the last page of volume four. The bookworm ate in a straight line, without zigzagging. The volumes are in English and are right-side up on a bookcase shelf.

Challenge: how many inches did the bookworm travel during his lifetime? ____________

We will give the answer in next month's newsletter.

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Dr. Bill McNeese BPI Consulting, LLC

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Problem Solving model

business problem solving model

We’ve discussed Problem Solving a fair bit here on this site covering how to use the principles of a problem-solving model, with examples & tools like 8d problem solving , 7 steps problem solving to general problem solving techniques like our 5 why’s template . However, it’s still surprising to see why so many businesses still elect to go about solving business issues in an ad hoc manner, without recognising the benefits that a systematic approach can bring.  

All too often you see business leaders charge off in a direction (often led more by gut-feel than data) only to eventually realise that they’ve made a mistake and wasted time and effort whilst not resolving their issue.

One of key success factors in problem solving is the method used, utilizing a problem solving model can help greatly.  In this guide, we’ll look at 

Why you should use a problem solving model

Problems with problem solving models

How to be good at problem solving.

So, let’s get at it!

What is a problem-solving model

Ok so the first question is what is a Problem solving model?

A Problem Solving model merely refers to a systematic, step by step method that can be used to resolve problems.

The Problem solving model typically has a number of stages as per below.

1/ Define the problem 2/ Define the should be state 3/ Capture data & measure the problem 4/ Determine the root cause 5/ Devise corrective action(s) 6/ Deploy Corrective action 7/ Evaluate

There are a number of tools associated with the model, these typically follow the various steps. One example is the seven step problem solving technique, which offers 7 systematic steps that take you from problem identification through root cause analysis to corrective action. 

When using a problem solving model, you and your team follow a series of defined steps in a particular sequence to bring about a resolution to the issue that has arisen.

The alternative to not using a model, is simply, mobilising a team and launching after a believed “fix”, usually without analysing the problem in too much depth or reviewing any appropriate data or fully understanding about whether the fix will work or not – “but hey it looks right and it’s better than nothing!”

Where a business has identified problems and issues and is perhaps driving various continuous improvement projects, delivering results at the first attempt is crucial.

Failing to deliver results is not only disappointing but can drive serious business issues in terms of Quality, Finance and Customer retention.  Severe problems not only result in business challenges but can in their worst cases end your business so getting your problem solving process right is essential.

As we pointed out in our introduction racing after a believed fix can often result in missing crucial aspects of the issue often leading to further cost and schedule impact further down the line, usually when you find your proposal doesn’t entirely fix the issue and you end up doing further work.

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a) When the process isn’t performing as expected and the resolution isn’t obvious. 

b) When there is a consensus that there is a problem to solve

c) When after attempts at fixing the problem, there is still evidence of the issue occurring 

Problem Solving Tools

business problem solving model

There are a number of popular problem solving models, below we’ll list some of those commonly used.  (Note this list isn’t exhaustive but gives a flavour of what’s out there (if you have a favourite that’s not listed, let us know in the comments section at the end of the post).

1/ 8d – 8d refers to the 8 disciplines of problem solving which utilizes a systematic methodology for resolving problems and issues. 2/ 7 step problem solving model 3/ 5 step problem solving model • Identify the problem, Analyse the problem, Plan, Implement the solution, Evaluate. 4/ Creative Problem Solving, • Clarify the problem, Generate ideas, Develop plan/Ideas, Implement. 5/ Team based Problem solving model • Identify issue, Develop Hypothesis, Discuss/select solution, Develop plan & Implement, Evaluate and revise 6/ 9 Step Problem Solving model • Understand the problem, Consider opinions facts & opportunities, review and see issues from all angles, Root cause analysis, develop & review alternative solutions, rank solutions, decide on solution, assign responsibility, evaluate results. 7/ The 5 Why Tool– while not strictly speaking a problem solving model, 5 why is a tool often used in root cause analysis that usually features in many problem solving tools

There are various others and you’ll usually find that they resolve around a theme of – analyze the problem, root cause analysis, corrective action, evaluate.

Benefits of using a problem solving model

5 reasons why using a problem solving model works

OK so given the plethora of problem solving models out there, let’s dig a bit deeper and look at the key reasons why utilizing one of these models works better than using other ad-hoc methods.

1/ Higher chances of success due to embodiment of root cause analysis 

As we discussed from the outset, there are two choices when it comes to problem solving

Sadly, effective root cause analysis takes time and many businesses may not have the patience to go through this stage believing that a “do it now” approach is required.  However true root cause analysis through data analysis offers a higher chance of identifying cause(s) of the problem leading to more complete solutions.

2/ Problem solving models are collaborative

Involving stakeholders in a team based environment offers many enhancements over one or two individuals chasing after a solution.  Utilizing inputs from a broad group, many of which should be close to the problem itself allows for greater number of ideas and details about the problem and solution.

3/ Problem solving model is an evaluation led process 

Within many of the problem solving models, evaluation steps are built in to review the corrective action & implementation allowing for the team to review work being done and assess it against expected results supporting development and “tweaking” of the implementation to suit the results obtained.

4/ Process utilizes data to drive results

The biggest advantage of problem solving models vs “fire and forget” methods is that decisions are based on facts and data which lead to the solutions being implemented .  When you contrast this with “fire and forget methods” these traditionally rely on gut feeling and are unlikely to utilize data or analysis in the development of solutions.  Clearly utilizing data, particularly in the development of root cause analysis offers a significant advantage as it takes what is actually happening in the workplace, and then uses that data to help understand possible root causes.  Models can then be drawn up, utilizing the data, to evaluate different solutions allowing the project team to select solutions that have a high possibility of success.

5/ Problem solving models usually develop multiple possible solutions, and prioritise corrective action based on highest chances of success.

Finally, problem solving models typically utilize a collaborative approach to identifying solutions often resulting in a variety of options.  While these solutions can be prioritised (with one or two being implemented) this doesn’t mean the others are merely discarded, but are kept on the back burner and can be utilized further when the solution implementation is evaluated.

Of course, just by following something you’re not always guaranteed of results so let’s now take a look at why problem solving projects sometimes fail.  It’s well worth reviewing this because by understanding what goes wrong you can engineer your own projects reducing the risk of these issues occurring.

1/ The team don’t follow the method

It sounds simple, but the first crucial step in any problem solving project is to follow the process.  There are numerous problem solving models to utilise as we detailed above.  Spend some time evaluating them so you select the model that’s most appropriate for you.   

Take the time at the beginning of the process to inform your team how the process will proceed, who’ll do what and when, and how you’ll evaluate during and at the end of the process.

Map out the steps against a timeline, being clear on who’s doing what so people can visualize it.

Don’t proceed until there is a rudimentary understanding by the team.

Do not be tempted to skip steps!!

Monitor adherence to the process during the project.

2/ The brainstorming solutions part fails

Most models include an element of brainstorming to capture potential causes of the problem (or solutions) Despite the fact that everyone thinks brainstorming is easy, it is in fact a key area where many projects fail – why?  here’s a few reasons

* The one with the loudest voice wins often causing team members who might have good things to say being drowned out.

* Your team are awful at assessing the brainstorm results

* Your team isn’t broad enough in functions and has a narrow view of likely causes/issues.

3/ The team chase after the first likely solution

There is often a tendency to jump to the first solution dreamt up, deploy it and move on without first assessing the consequences and whether it’ll in fact work.  

Whilst time constraints might make it difficult – it’s vital to take your time and assess various possible fixes ensuring that you select the most appropriate solution before moving to the deployment phase.

If it helps use a tool like a decision matrix to help analyse what’s been put forward and select an appropriate fix.

4/ Failure to capture multiple issues

Ahhh….how many times have I seen continuous improvement teams think that there is only one cause to a problem.  In complex situations, you might find multiple contributory causes to a problem.  By selecting only one to “fix” you may not drive the results you require and may not fix “everything”.

None of the models described above imply a “one solution to rule them all” approach.  Where there are multiple causes to a problem it’s a good step to assess the likely impact of each and the result of any required fix that you might deploy thereby empowering your resource decisions.

5/ The team don’t analyse data

Without data, fixing problems is guesswork.

All of the models above imply the utilization of data as part of the problem solving process, you should consider that the first step in any continuous improvement project is analyse the data.  

Get your hands on good quality data and use it to empower each stage of your problem solving project.

6/ The business loses interest

Whilst most continuous improvement projects get launched in a fan fare after time it’s natural that if left unmanaged interest could possibly wane with a focus on the next big thing.

The results of which are usually that resources get pulled from one project for another and the improvement tasks are left floundering.

Maintaining an appropriate level of interest is as much down to stakeholder management as any thing and the project leadership should consider from the outset how interest will be maintained and senior stakeholders interest kept.

7/ Lack of stakeholder engagement

Linked to the above – stakeholder management principles should apply to your project both in terms of engaging both management & workers. 

I’m always surprised how many projects don’t engage the people at the heart of the process who work it every day and are likely to have credible input into both the root cause and deployment.  Whilst it’s tempting to look from up high and think you can spot the fix that’s not always realistic and engaging those in the know is key.

8/ Results of “fix” aren’t monitored to ensure success

Again – a really common failure – how many teams spend loads of time up-front but then fail to monitor the success of what they’ve implemented – perhaps it’s been a great success but perhaps it’s crashed and burned following the deployment!  Having an appropriate KPI in place to monitor the success of your continuous improvement endeavour is vital in ensuring you’ve achieved what you set out to.

9/ Fixes aren’t supported with sufficient resources & funding

Again, a really common issue.  Businesses recognise they have issues, usually have sufficient resources to do the upfront work in reviewing the issue and suggesting a solution but then fail to effectively resource the deployment team.  You’ll often find this team is responsible for deploying numerous continuous improvement fixes and is simply spread to thin to effectively deliver.

10/ Actions aren’t tracked & progress isn’t monitored

You can follow models like 7steps/8d etc but if you fail to document and track what you’re doing there is a significant likelihood that your project will slip.  Staff typically have a workload that extends beyond your improvement project and you’ll most likely face conflicting priorities, tracking actions and owners is key to keeping on top of this so that if particular tasks are slipping you can reach out for help needed as required.

So given these risks what should you do when starting out?  How do you ensure your use of a problem solving model is a success?

1/ Select an appropriate Problem solving model from the variety of tools available.

2/ Map the process out and communicate it so your project team understand it.

3/ Ensure key stages have accountable people leading them.

4/ Communicate to stakeholders what will happen & when & how the problem model will help.

5/ Draw from a broad base of stakeholders for your team

6/ Continuously evaluate your activity, introduce gate reviews after each step in the model you’ve chosen to review progress.

7/ At the end of the project review lessons learned and feed them back into your problem solving model so that the business can learn, develop and improve it’s process.

Final thoughts on problem solving

Problem solving happens in all businesses and an ability to react appropriately and utilizing a methodical approach is vital and can offer a serious competitive advantage to your organization.

Hopefully this guide has offered you a good introduction in how you can use a problem solving model and has armed you with enough knowledge to give it a try.

Before I finish, I’d like to point towards our awesome Problem Solving Guide , you’ll find some great resources on Problem solving methods, tools and techniques.

Finally, I’d like to add one last (perhaps obvious) point. Make sure that whatever model you choose to use that you document the “What” and “how” parts of the process.  While problem solving may seem obvious to those close to it, the whole purpose of using a model is that enables you to use a broad spectrum of people in the process and by clearly documenting how you’ll use the model and who will do which aspects then your team will clearly understand the task ahead of them.

As ever we’d love to hear from you on your own experiences.  What problem solving model has your business followed?  What’s worked, what hasn’t?  How have you measured your success during your project (KPI’s, Data analysis?, communication feedback?).

Still have questions? Fire up the feedback comments below or message us via Twitter.

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DMAIC Model | The 5 Phase DMAIC Process to Problem-Solving

Summary: An Introduction to DMAIC

Dmaic – the dmaic model.

The DMAIC model remains the core roadmap for almost all Lean Six Sigma problem-solving approaches that drive quality improvement projects. It is used to ensure a robust problem-solving process is followed to give the best chance of the best solution being found.

A note about the structure and the approach used in this article.

Our approach to DMAIC follows Quentin Brook’s book “Lean Six Sigma & Minitab” which for anyone wishing to study Lean Six Sigma is a must for the  Green Belt Course  and the  Black Belt Course .

What is the dmaic model.

DMAIC is short for: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. These are the key phases that each project must go through to find the right solution.

As you can quickly see from the 5 DMAIC phases they follow a logical sequence as we will go through in more detail below. But they also make sure you do not try to jump to implementing a solution before you have properly, defined and measured what you are going to be an improvement.

We all love to jump to solutions, but the DMAIC problem-solving structure helps us have a more rigorous approach so that we do not short cut the process and perhaps miss the best solution or perhaps implement the wrong solution as well. It can help companies better structure their problem-solving approaches and be more robust in their approach.

DMAIC – The 5 DMAIC Process Phases

The phases throughout the DMAIC model have and can be broken down in many different ways. One of the best approaches we have found is from Opex Resources.

DMAIC Define Phase

The purpose of the Define phase is ultimately to describe the problems that need to be solved and for the key business decision-makers to be aligned on the goal of the project.

All too often, teams have identified solutions without actually defining what it is they will actually be trying to do or perhaps not do. This can lead to internal confusion and often solutions which completely miss the business requirements and needs.

DMAIC Measure Phase

In the measure phase, the goal is to collect the relevant information to baseline the current performance of the product or the process. In this stage, we want to identify the level of “defects” or the errors that go wrong and use the baseline to measure our progress throughout the project.

The key goal of this phase is to have a very strong and clear measure/baseline of how things are performing today so that we can always monitor our progress towards our goals. We need to understand our cycle times , process times, quality metrics.

Many projects are delivered without clear benefits being shown because the team never fully baseline the current status before making changes.

The Measure phase can be broken down into 5 key areas:

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DMAIC Analyse Phase

The goal of the Analyse phase is to identify which process inputs or parameters have the most critical effect on the outputs. In other words, we want to identify the root cause(s) so that we know what critical elements we need to fix.

During this phase, the teams need to explore all potential root causes using both analytical approaches, statistical approaches or even graphical tools such as VSM’s and Process maps to uncover the most important elements which need to be changed/fixed.

The Analyse phase can be broken down into:

DMAIC Improve Phase

The goal of the improvement phase is to identify a wide range of potential solutions before identifying the critical solutions which will give us the maximum return for our investment and directly fix the root cause we identified.

During this phase, the team brainstorm, pilot, test and validate potential improvement ideas before finally implementing the right solutions. With each pilot, the team can validate how well it improves the key measures they identified back in Define and Measure. When the team finally roll out the solution, the results should be seen if the right solution has been found and implemented correctly.

The Improve phase can be broken down into:

DMAIC Control Phase

The final part of the DMAIC Model is the Control phase where we need to ensure that the new changes become business as normal and we do not revert to the same way of working as before.

During this phase, we want to ensure that we close the project off by validating the project savings and ensuring the new process is correctly documented. We also need to make sure that new measures and process KPI’s are in place and, finally that we get the business champion to sign off on both the project and the savings. We may need to redesign the workplace following the 5S principles .

The Control phase can be broken down into:

The key closing documents of the Control Phase is a Control Plan that documents all the changes and process steps with key risks, standard work instructions and the Project Close-Out document signed by the business owners to accept the change and the validated benefits.

The DMAIC Model vs. A3 Management vs. 8D Problem Solving

The DMAIC model is not the only project management roadmap. Two others which are important is the A3 format which originally comes from Toyota and is very Lean focused and the 8D which draws more of the DMAIC structure but with the 1-page idea of the A3.

Everyone has their own preference but each method is interchangeable. The DMAIC Structure lends its self naturally to a multi-slide Powerpoint presentation. Whereas the A3 is a single-page document which is perfect for internal communication and adding into War Rooms and Control Towers.

What’s important is that every problem-solving approach follows the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) Scientific Problem Solving format. The reset is just a preference or using the right tool in the right circumstances.

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Lidia Hovhan SEO Analyst

In the world of business, one piece of advice you can probably abide by is to expect the unexpected.

7 Steps to Effective Business Problem Solving

Whatever the size of your business, you need to have a contingency plan for when problems arise since they are a part of every organization.

Regardless of how well you forecast, plan and test, challenges will always emerge in business. Having the right problem-solving plan can go a long way in ensuring you continue to function even amid unexpected and difficult circumstances.

What is problem-solving in business?

Problem-solving refers to the process to remove or mitigate obstacles that prevent a business from reaching its strategic goals. These can be issues that widen the gap between results and desired outcomes that do not have an obvious or immediate solution. They can be present in operational processes, teams or throughout an organization.

For instance, if the main problem a business is facing is productivity from remote employees, ensuring you equip them with the right work from home essentials by Omnicore can positively impact their productivity.

To be able to approach problem solving effectively, an organization should establish processes that can help in evaluating them, exploring the solutions, prioritizing execution and measuring success.

Why is it so important?

Acquiring problem-solving skills makes it easier for a team to tackle critical business issues or conflicts as they arise. This is a process that needs to be initiated by the management. A CEO or business owner should possess level-headed problem-solving skills to be mirrored by the employees.

With effective problem-solving techniques, the company and staff are better placed to deal with issues more effectively and even establish and refine how they deal with challenges in the future. A business can turn obstacles into opportunities with the right skills while keeping a level head.

In many ways, a problem-solving strategy should mirror how a business reviews performance through regular plan reviews. This calls for working through documentation, finding gaps, digging to find root causes and discussing possible options. Without such a process, problem solving cannot be effective or efficient.

Here are 7 steps you can take to create an effective problem-solving strategy.

1. Define the problem clearly

Whenever a problem crops up, it requires evaluating instead of jumping right into creating the solution. Failing to define and evaluate the root cause of the problem leads to the development of a strategy that will not work, as this is equal to just treating the symptoms.

For instance, when the sales numbers from a new customer start dropping, most businesses will rush into creating a marketing master plan to increase brand exposure as a way of driving up sales. While this may work in the short term, it does not solve the root cause of the drop in sales.

Defining the problem ensures you don’t miss the root cause of the symptoms. To do this, you need to look at it from different angles.

2. Think about multiple possible solutions

The success of any problem-solving process is dependent on how well a business can design a solution. The design thinking approach is one of the most used strategies for problem-solving since it helps to see the issue from different perspectives, leading to creating different possible solutions.

For this to be possible, the business needs to involve a wide array of people in the problem-solving process.

3. Conduct a S.W.O.T analysis

A S.W.O.T analysis is an excellent way or any business to have a look at its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the launch of a groundbreaking product may be a strength, but the low margins can be the weakness.

In a S.W.O.T analysis, a business will need to document all its external opportunities as well as strengths. This analysis is conducted to make it easier for an organization to become more self-aware. It is a strategic planning tool that helps you identify problems before they affect the business. This makes it easier for the organization to develop solutions before the problem actually arises.

4. Gather input from mentors and the team

When conducting analysis, it’s ideal to seek input from your team to get valued ideas, concerns and opinions on the issues the business is facing. The feedback you get from your mentors, and the team can make your moves more efficient and faster in your problem-solving agenda.

Bringing in your team ensures you use their experiences and expertise in your business to dig deeper and navigate all underlying issues that may have caused the problems you are experiencing. You can also use their ideas and input to craft possible solutions.

If you are a solo entrepreneur, you can benefit from gathering input from your mentors. It’s also advisable to connect with trusted business advisors to get a different view of your issues.

Having greater diversity amongst the people you bring into the problem-solving process can improve your chances of coming up with effective long-term solutions.

5. Prioritize potential solutions

When you allow different people to help you come up with different solutions for your problem, you increase the chances of having multiple possible solutions to a common business problem. With all the options you have, you can evaluate each solution's pros and cons and prioritize the best options in the list.

Always remember that no solution is foolproof. Taking time to go through possible solutions while evaluating their pros and cons increases your chances of implementing the best option of them all.

6. Make a decision

To be able to solve a business problem effectively, you need to decide on the solution to implement. The decision-making process involves settling on the right course of action and should be done as soon as possible to avoid further losses. Taking too long to make a decision only gives the problem more time to impact your business negatively.

Once you have possible, reliable solutions, you need to ensure you implement the solution immediately by choosing a solution and sticking to it.  

7. Track progress

The only way to know whether you have successfully solved a problem is by keeping track of the implemented solution. This can be achieved by defining what successful problem-solving looks like and determining how the solution should impact your business.

Some of the questions you can ask when tracking progress include:

The best way to track your progress is by identifying key metrics to track. For instance, you can choose to track your profit margins after implementing a solution. You can tell whether a solution is working by constantly setting and hitting milestones. It’s also important to keep an eye on other business metrics to ensure the solution does not bring rise to other problems. Keeping an eye on the progress will ensure you remain a step ahead of future challenges.

Don’t be afraid of going back to the drawing board to perfect your solution if you identify loopholes that require improvement. Problem solving is a continuous process.

The bottom line

When you are good at problem-solving, you become more valuable in your business, thus setting yourself up for more success. The simple steps highlighted above can make you a more efficient and effective problem solver for your business. Taking time to practice the steps and develop the skills makes the process more natural to you, making future problem solving a breeze.

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Lidia Hovhan

Lidia Hovhan

SEO Analyst


Lidia is part of the Content and Marketing team at OmnicoreAgency . She contributes articles about how to integrate digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing to help business owners to meet their online goals. You can find professional insights in her writings. 

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Denis Oakley & Co

Denis Oakley & Co


April 4, 2016 By Denis Oakley

What Problems does a Business Model Canvas Solve?

Sunday afternoon and I was sitting in a cooling mountain stream having escaped from the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur for a few hours.

It’s a Whatsapp message from Leander. As it’s a sunday afternoon and we have no outstanding jobs for customers it must be a deep philosophical message. It was; it was a crisis of faith even

To think about; what customer problem do we solve with bm.guru?

To deep for a Sunday afternoon. So I lay back and continued to watch the dragonflies buzzing across the waters

Five O’clock this morning and my fingers were itching to write an answer.

What problems does a Business Model Canvas Solve?

There are two ways of looking at this. TL;DR Clarity and Possibility

The Case for Clarity

When you first have a business idea there are often lots of thoughts involved. From my experience you tend to see possibilities and react against constraints. The result is more like a tangled mess of string than the cat’s cradle that you really want to produce.

So it is hard for you to get a handle on your idea; it’s harder still to communicate it across to other people. So what you normally do is to try and talk the tangles out. Alternatively, if you are more of an engineering mindset you fill pages of notebooks with aborted process charts and squiggles. You get some clarity, but not enough.

What a business model canvas does is to cut through all the tangles and give you a clear view on how  the business model for your idea works. So with 9 simple components it lets you tell the story of how your idea will become a functioning business in three simple paragraphs or an elevator pitch.

So for Business Model Guru

We will help our customers take the first step on the road to startup execution by  bringing a lot of clarity to their business model. We will reach them through word of mouth and content marketing and keep everything automated. This allows us to keep our costs down and our key resource is the process that enables us to quickly produce high quality business models using a standard process. We sell completed business model canvases and consultancy and our costs are for Leander and Denis’s time + the web infrastructure required for the sales and billing process

So a quick and simple way of explaining what it is that we do and how we do it. That then enables lots of further questions to be targeted on each of the different aspects of the business. You can pick apart the distinction between word of mouth and content marketing. Implicit in that is that we probably have a direct sales channel and if we do – doesn’t that start to unbalance our const structure? It does. And that is entirely the point.

We a quick and simple approach like the business model canvas we can see a lot more clearly many of the inconsistencies that lie at the heart of an idea and work out how to resolve them.

This is often one of the problems that people have when they start going it alone. When my wife set up her steel company he aim was to be low cost and provide better customer service. Without thinking though she copied her previous employer’s staffing approach and that delivered customer service at a high price. It then took another 8 years to resolve that tension in the business model at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. If she’d used the business model canvas (or indeed if it had been written a decade ago) that simple insight could have transformed her business.

So that’s the first problem that a business model canvas brings. It shines light onto what you are doing. When you do it yourself for the first time you get a lot of benefits. Even if you never think about buying a model from Business Model Guru it’s worth doing. Spending 5 minutes bring clarity/ an hour brings more and three is making your neurons squirm.

As you do more of them you start seeing patterns starting to emerge and it’s knowledge of those patterns that Leander and I use to help build much strong business models.

The Possibilities from Business Models

I did a philosophy degree, so, almost by definition, I’m not one of those people who gets shit done. I tend to analyse too much. Having an idea and leading off with massive imperfect action causes a different set of problems. Step back for a bit and think about things, under the shade of a Banyan tree is optimal,  and see what you can change.

If you go to any startup conference you get a bunch of entrepreneurs who will be saying ‘I’m doing the X of Y’  where X is a recognisable business mode, try Uber, LinkedIn or the latest flavour of smoked Unicorn and Y is almost any type of business under the sun. In the lats few years lots of possibilities have been focused on scalability, network effects or asset-lite models.

Step back and play.

Say you want to open a competitor to Uber. Let’s say that we decide not to use the Uber business model (they have umpteen billion dollars and a brand and we don’t) and so we need to come up with something that is going to disrupt their model. Hmmmm. Off the cuff that leads to brain pain and not talking much because the problem is too hard. So we start making some hairy suggestions

Customer – everyone. We are their car. How would that work?

Asset heavy – we own cars. What the biggest cost in Uber’s model? Drivers! How do we get rid of the drivers? Can we get rid of cars and drivers? If we can then who do we need our partners to be? Google or Tesla? But they are quite likley to be competitors? So can we change something else so that we can be working with autonomous vehicles lite – so half way between mass transit with it’s fixed lines and true any point to any point (because with network analysis we can see that passenger demands aren’t really any point to any point but are much more like the traditional hub and spoke model of airlines)

And so it plays out. This where Business Model Guru really works well. 40+ years of industry experience, multiple sectors of knowledge, and a seriously inquisitive approach to finding new ways to reinvent the wheel. How can we take your idea and provide you with a number of options that are going to let you become truly disruptive rather than living in the copy cat world of doing the X of Y where competition, capital and execution failure leads to a fast death.

So, to give a concrete example. A US charity came to us. they had a great service with brilliant word of mouth recommendations but they were always struggling to raise enough money to cover their operational costs. A marketing consultant would say – I have just the fundraising campaign for you. We didn’t do that. Instead we looked at totally different ways for the charity to monetise their services and in doing so we ended up really focusing on the value that they provided.

So when you sit down and have a new business idea

The thought experiments, I am a philosopher after all, may not transform your business, but your insight from doing them, and thinking about them will. That is what the real value of a business model is, and that, Leander, is the problem that we solve

About Denis Oakley

Explorer | Trail Runner | Mountain Lover

'Big' companies are civilisation. I stay in the wilderness guiding entrepreneurs and startups on their journey to becoming 'Big'.

Then I head back to the frontier

Strategy | Marketing | Operations

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What Problems does a Business Model Canvas Solve?

I help entrepreneurs transform their industries through wiser choices

Outcome : More Traction, Bigger Rounds, Better Products

Method : Problems, Customers, Business Models, Strategy

business problem solving model

Here is a six-step process to follow when using a problem-solving model: 1. Define the problem First, determine the problem that your team needs to solve. During this step, teams may encourage open and honest communication so everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns.

What is problem solving in business? Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals. These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome.

Problem-solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic business goals. In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes.

Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving. It's practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.

Problem solving has five basic steps: Step 1: Discover: Identify the problem. Step 2: Investigate: Gather information to define the problem. Step 3: Brainstorm: Produce as many alternatives...

The Six Step Problem Solving Model provides a shared, collaborative, and systematic approach to problem solving. Each step must be completed before moving on to the next step. However, the steps are repeatable. At any point the group can return to an earlier step, and proceed from there.

13 Problem Solving Models - University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

By defining each stage of your problem-solving explicitly, you increase the odds of your team coming to better solutions more smoothly. This problem-solving technique gains extra power when...

Modern business problems are ill-defined, ill-structured and require collective action in order to solve them. As a result, the authors argue, modern business problem solvers need to embrace Model-Based Problem Solving. They describe a new discipline that is nurtured by decades of scientific thinking and practice, with four components: model building, model testing, model calibration and model ...

Step 1: Find the Problem The first step is to identify a process that needs to be improved. Process improvements often follow the Pareto Principle, where 80 percent of issues come from 20 percent of problems. This is why identifying and solving one real problem can significantly improve your business, if you find the right problem to solve.

problem solving Business Ideas. "One of the only newsletters I never skip. I get a lot out of it." 1. Start an appliance repair business. An appliance repair business helps clients install, repair, and maintain common household appliances like microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, cookers, etc.

Here, I will share some methods for business problem solving - beginning with appraising problems, then onto some area-specific tests for digging deeper into the root cause. Business problems tend to manifest in quantitative ways: e.g., sales have fallen. Yet, their symptoms may be derived from qualitative factors: e.g., culture.

In this short video, we will explore the business problem solving model. Using the five steps of the business problem solving model, you can easily and effec...

The problem-solving model, introduced below, incorporates an effective set of skills into a step-by-step process. The model combines the use of statistical tools, such as control charts and process flow diagrams, with group problem-solving skills, such as brainstorming and consensus decision-making.

A Problem Solving model merely refers to a systematic, step by step method that can be used to resolve problems. The Problem solving model typically has a number of stages as per below. 1/ Define the problem. 2/ Define the should be state. 3/ Capture data & measure the problem. 4/ Determine the root cause.

Free Business Problem Solving Model tutorial, What Is Problem Solving in Business? Identify and define the problem. Prioritize the problem based on size, potential impact, and urgency. Complete a root-cause analysis. Develop a variety of possible solutions. Evaluate possible solutions and decide which is most effective. Plan and implement the solution.How do you effectively solve business ...

The DMAIC Problem Solving Approach is a process improvement methodology based on the Six Sigma approach that helps to improve business processes and products. It is used to identify, analyze, and solve existing processes that are inefficient or ineffective. The approach breaks down into five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

Refer to the Problem Solving stage model. Identify a situation in the workplace where you would have performed the recovery for a poor service in the Hospitality industry and explain the seven problem solving stages for that problem. ... Please solve the following financial problem questions!!! Business Law 101 Anticipate what business law may ...

What a business model canvas does is to cut through all the tangles and give you a clear view on how the business model for your idea works. So with 9 simple components it lets you tell the story of how your idea will become a functioning business in three simple paragraphs or an elevator pitch. So for Business Model Guru.

Annual Review of Ethics Case Studies

What are research ethics cases.

For additional information, please visit Resources for Research Ethics Education

Research Ethics Cases are a tool for discussing scientific integrity. Cases are designed to confront the readers with a specific problem that does not lend itself to easy answers. By providing a focus for discussion, cases help staff involved in research to define or refine their own standards, to appreciate alternative approaches to identifying and resolving ethical problems, and to develop skills for dealing with hard problems on their own.

Research Ethics Cases for Use by the NIH Community

For Facilitators Leading Case Discussion

For the sake of time and clarity of purpose, it is essential that one individual have responsibility for leading the group discussion. As a minimum, this responsibility should include:

How Should Cases be Analyzed?

Many of the skills necessary to analyze case studies can become tools for responding to real world problems. Cases, like the real world, contain uncertainties and ambiguities. Readers are encouraged to identify key issues, make assumptions as needed, and articulate options for resolution. In addition to the specific questions accompanying each case, readers should consider the following questions:

Is There a Right Answer?

Acceptable solutions.

Most problems will have several acceptable solutions or answers, but it will not always be the case that a perfect solution can be found. At times, even the best solution will still have some unsatisfactory consequences.

Unacceptable Solutions

While more than one acceptable solution may be possible, not all solutions are acceptable. For example, obvious violations of specific rules and regulations or of generally accepted standards of conduct would typically be unacceptable. However, it is also plausible that blind adherence to accepted rules or standards would sometimes be an unacceptable course of action.

Ethical Decision-Making

It should be noted that ethical decision-making is a process rather than a specific correct answer. In this sense, unethical behavior is defined by a failure to engage in the process of ethical decision-making. It is always unacceptable to have made no reasonable attempt to define a consistent and defensible basis for conduct.

This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Book cover

Systematic Reviews in Educational Research pp 41–54 Cite as

Ethical Considerations of Conducting Systematic Reviews in Educational Research

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Ethical considerations of conducting systematic reviews in educational research are not typically discussed explicitly. However, systematic reviews are frequently read and cited in documents that influence educational policy and practice. Hence, ethical issues associated with what and how systematic reviews are produced and used have serious implications. It becomes imperative for systematic reviewers to reflexively engage with a variety of ethical issues associated with potential conflicts of interest and issues of voice and representation. This chapter discusses how systematic reviewers can draw upon the philosophical traditions of consequentialism, deontology or virtue ethics to situate their ethical decision-making.

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Ethical considerations of conducting systematic reviews in educational research are not typically discussed explicitly. As an illustration, ‘ethics’ is not listed as a term in the index of the second edition of ‘An Introduction to Systematic Reviews’ (Gough et al. 2017 ). This chapter draws from my earlier in-depth discussion of this topic in the Qualitative Research Journal (Suri 2008 ) along with more recent publications by colleagues in the field of research ethics and methods of research synthesis.

Unlike primary researchers, systematic reviewers do not collect deeply personal, sensitive or confidential information from participants. Systematic reviewers use publicly accessible documents as evidence and are seldom required to seek an institutional ethics approval before commencing a systematic review. Institutional Review Boards for ethical conduct of research do not typically include guidelines for systematic reviews. Nonetheless, in the past four decades systematic reviews have evolved to become more methodologically inclusive and play a powerful role in influencing policy, practice, further research and public perception. Hence, ethical considerations of how interests of different stakeholders are represented in a research review have become critical (Franklin 1999 ; Hammersley 2003 ; Harlen and Crick 2004 ; Popkewitz 1999 ).

Educational researchers often draw upon the philosophical traditions of consequentialism, deontology or virtue ethics to situate their ethical decision-making. Consequentialism or utilitarianism focuses on maximising benefit and minimising harm by undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of potential positive and negative impacts of research on all stakeholders. Deontology or universalism stems from Immanuel Kant’s logic that certain actions are inherently right or wrong and hence ends cannot justify the means. A deontological viewpoint is underpinned by rights-based theories that emphasise universal adherence to the principles of beneficence (do good), non-maleficence (prevent harm), justice, honesty and gratitude. While both consequentialism and deontology focus on actions and behaviour, virtue ethics focuses on being virtuous, especially in relationships with various stakeholders. There are several overlaps, as well as tensions, between and across these philosophical traditions (Brooks et al. 2014 ; Cohen et al. 2018 ).

Recognising the inherently situated nature of ethical decision-making, I am selectively eclectic in drawing from each of these traditions. I discuss a variety of ethical considerations of conducting systematic reviews informed by rights-based theories, ethics of care and Foucauldian ethics. Rights-based theories underpin deontology and consequentialism. Most regulatory research ethics guidelines, such as those offered by British Educational Research Association (BERA 2018 ) and American Educational Research Association are premised on rights-based theories that emphasises basic human rights, such as liberty, equality and dignity. Ethics of care prioritises attentiveness, responsibility, competence and responsiveness (Tronto 2005 ). Foucauldian ethics highlights the relationship of power and knowledge (Ball 2013 ).

In my earlier publications, I have identified the following three guiding principles for a quality research synthesis (Suri 2018 ; Suri and Clarke 2009 ):

Informed subjectivity and reflexivity

Purposefully informed selective inclusivity

Audience-appropriate transparency

In the rest of this chapter, I will discuss how these guiding principles can support ethical decision making in systematic reviews in each of the following six phases of systematic reviews as identified in my earlier publications (Suri 2014 ):

identifying an appropriate epistemological orientation

identifying an appropriate purpose

searching for relevant literature

evaluating, interpreting and distilling evidence from selected reports

constructing connected understandings

communicating with an audience

To promote ethical production and use of systematic reviews through this chapter, I have used questioning as a strategic tool with the purpose of raising awareness about a variety of ethical considerations among systematic reviewers and their audience

1 Identifying an Appropriate Epistemological Orientation

What philosophical traditions are amenable for guiding ethical decision - making in systematic reviews positioned along distinct epistemologies?

Practising informed subjectivity and reflexivity, all systematic reviewers must identify an appropriate epistemological orientation, such as post-positivist, interpretive, participatory and/or critical, that is aligned with their review purpose and research competence (Suri 2013 , 2018 ).

Deontological ethics is more relevant to post-positivist reviewers who focus on explaining, predicting or describing educational phenomena as generalisable laws expressed through relationships between measurable constructs and variables. The ethical focus of post-positivist systematic reviews tends to be on minimising threats to internal validity, external validity, internal reliability and external reliability of review findings. This is typically achieve by using a priori synthesis protocols, defining all key constructs conceptually and operationally in behavioural terms, employing exhaustive sampling strategies and employing variable oriented statistical analyses (Matt and Cook 2009 ; Petticrew and Roberts 2006 ).

Teleological ethics is more relevant to interpretive systematic reviews aiming to construct a holistic understanding of the educational phenomena that takes into account subjective experiences of diverse groups in varied contexts. Ethical decision making in interpretive systematic reviews lays an emphasis on authentically representing experiences and perceptions of diverse groups, especially those whose viewpoints tend to be less represented in the literature, to the extent that is permissible from the published literature. Maintaining a questioning gaze and a genuine engagement with diverse viewpoints, interpretive systematic reviewers focus on how individual accounts of a phenomenon reinforce, refute or augment each other (Eisenhart 1998 ; Noblit and Hare 1988 ).

Ethics of care is amenable to participatory systematic reviews that are designed to improve participant reviewers’ local world experientially through critical engagement with the relevant research. Ethical decision making in participatory systematic reviews promotes building teams of practitioners with the purpose of co-reviewing research that can transform their own practices and representations of their lived experiences. Participant co-reviewers exercise greater control throughout the review process to ensure that the review remains relevant to generating actionable knowledge for transforming their practice (Bassett and McGibbon 2013 ).

Foucauldian ethics is aligned with critical systematic reviews that contest dominant discourse by problematizing the prevalent metanarratives. Ethical decision making in critical systematic reviews focuses on problematizing ‘what we might take for granted’ (Schwandt 1998 , p. 410) in a field of research by raising ‘important questions about how narratives get constructed, what they mean, how they regulate particular forms of moral and social experiences, and how they presuppose and embody particular epistemological and political views of the world’ (Aronowitz and Giroux 1991 , pp. 80–81).

2 Identifying an Appropriate Purpose

What are key ethical considerations associated with identifying an appropriate purpose for a systematic review?

In this age of information explosion, systematic reviews require substantial resources. Guided by teleological ethics, systematic reviewers must conduct a cost-benefit analysis with a critical consideration of the purpose and scope of the review and its potential benefits to various groups of stakeholders.

If we consider the number of views or downloads as a proxy measure of impact, then we can gain useful insights by examining the teleological underpinnings of some of the highly read systematic reviews. Review of Educational Research (RER) tends to be regarded as the premiere educational research review journal internationally. Let us examine the scope and purpose of the three ‘most read’ articles in RER, as listed on 26 September 2018. Given the finite amount of resources available, an important question for educators is ‘what interventions are likely to be most effective, and under what circumstances?’. The power of feedback (Hattie and Timperley 2007 ), with 11463 views and downloads, is a conceptual analysis primarily drawing from the findings of published systematic reviews (largely meta-analyses) conducted to address this important question. In addition to effectively teaching what is deemed important, educators also have an important role of critiquing what is deemed important and why. The theory and practice of culturally relevant education: A synthesis of research across content areas (Aronson and Laughter 2016 ), with 8958 views and downloads, is an example of such a systematic review. After highlighting the positive outcomes of culturally relevant education, the authors problematise the validity of standardised testing as an unbiased form of a desirable educational outcome for all. As education is essentially a social phenomenon, understanding how different stakeholders perceive various configurations of an educational intervention is critical. Making sense of assessment feedback in higher education (Evans 2013 ), with 5372 views and downloads, is an example of a systematic review that follows such a pursuit. Even though each of these reviews required significant resources and expertise, the cost is justified by the benefits evident from the high number of views and downloads of these articles. Each of these three reviews makes clear recommendations for practitioners and researchers by providing an overview, as well as interrogating, current practices.

All educational researchers are expected to prevent, or disclose and manage, ethical dilemmas arising from any real or perceived conflicts of interest (AERA 2011 ; BERA 2018 ). Systematic reviewers should also carefully scrutinise how their personal, professional or financial interests may influence the review findings in a specific direction. As systematic reviews require significant effort and resources, it is logical for systematic reviewers to bid for funding. Recognising the influence of systematic reviews in shaping perceptions of the wider community, many profit and not profit organisations have become open to funding systematic reviews. Before accepting funding for conducting a systematic review, educational researchers must carefully reflect on the following questions:

How does the agenda of the funding source intersect with the purpose of the review?

How might this potentially influence the review process and findings? How will this be managed ethically to ensure integrity of the systematic review findings?

In case of sponsored systematic reviews, it is important to consider at the outset how potential ethical issues will be managed if the interest of the funding agency conflicts with the interests of relatively less influential or less represented groups. Systematic reviews funded by a single agency with a vested interest in the findings are particularly vulnerable to ethical dilemmas arising from a conflict of interest (The Methods Coordinating Group of the Campbell Collaboration 2017 ). One approach could be to seek funding from a combination of agencies representing interests of different stakeholder groups. Exploring the option of crowdfunding is another option that systematic reviewers could use to represent the interests of marginalised groups whose interests are typically overlooked in the agenda of powerful funding agencies. In participatory synthesis, it is critical that the purpose of the systematic review evolves organically in response to the emerging needs of the practitioner participant reviewers.

3 Searching for Relevant Literature

What are key ethical considerations associated with developing an appropriate strategy for sampling and searching relevant primary research reports to include in a systematic review?

A number of researchers in education and health sciences have found that studies with certain methodological orientations or types of findings are more likely to be funded, published, cited and retrieved through common search channels (Petticrew and Roberts 2006 ). Serious ethical implications arise when systematic reviews of biased research are drawn upon to make policy decisions with an assumption that review findings are representative of the larger population. In designing an appropriate sampling and search strategy, systematic reviewers should carefully consider the impact of potential publication biases and search biases.

Funding bias, methodological bias, outcome bias and confirmatory bias are common forms of publication bias in educational research. For instance, studies with large sample-sizes are more likely to attract research funding, being submitted for publishing and getting published in reputable journals (Finfgeld-Connett and Johnson 2012 ). Research that reports significantly positive effects of an innovative intervention is more likely to be submitted for publishing by primary researchers and being accepted for publishing by journal editors (Dixon-Woods 2011 ; Rothstein et al. 2004 ). Rather than reporting on all the comparisons made in a study, often authors report on only those comparisons that are significant (Sutton 2009 ). As a result, the effectiveness of innovative educational interventions gets spuriously inflated in published literature. Often, when an educational intervention is piloted, additional resources are allocated for staff capacity building. However, in real life when the same intervention is rolled out at scale, the same degree of support is not provided to teachers whose practice is impacted by the intervention (Schoenfeld 2006 ).

Even after getting published, certain types of studies are more likely to be cited and retrieved through common search channels, such as key databases and professional networks (Petticrew and Roberts 2006 ). Systematic reviewers must carefully consider common forms of search biases, such as database bias, citation bias, availability bias, language bias, country bias, familiarity bias and multiple publication bias. The term ‘grey literature’ is sometimes used to refer to published and unpublished reports, such as government reports, that are not typically included in common research indexes and databases (Rothstein and Hopewell 2009 ). Several scholars recommend inclusion of grey literature to minimise potential impact of publication bias and search bias (Glass 2000 ) and to be inclusive of key policy documents and government reports (Godin et al. 2015 ). On the other hand, several other scholars argue that systematic reviewers should include only published research that has undergone the peer-review process of academic community to include only high-quality research and to minimise the potential impact of multiple publications based on the same dataset (La Paro and Pianta 2000 ).

With the ease of internet publishing and searching, the distinction between published and unpublished research has become blurred and the term grey literature has varied connotations. While most systematic reviews employ exhaustive sampling, in recent years there has been an increasing uptake of purposeful sampling in systematic reviews as evident from more than 1055 Google Scholar citations of a publication on this topic: Purposeful sampling in qualitative research synthesis (Suri 2011 ).

Aligned with the review’s epistemological and teleological positioning, all systematic reviewers must prudently design a sampling strategy and search plan, with complementary sources, that will give them access to most relevant primary research from a variety of high-quality sources that is inclusive of diverse viewpoints. They must ethically consider positioning of the research studies included in their sample in relation to the diverse contextual configurations and viewpoints commonly observed in practical settings.

4 Evaluating, Interpreting and Distilling Evidence from the Selected Research Reports

What are key ethical considerations associated with evaluating, interpreting and distilling evidence from the selected research reports in a systematic review?

Systematic reviewers typically do not have direct access to participants of primary research studies included in their review. The information they analyse is inevitably refracted through the subjective lens of authors of individual studies. It is important for systematic reviewers to critically reflect upon contextual position of the authors of primary research studies included in the review, their methodological and pedagogical orientations, assumptions they are making, and how they might have influenced the findings of the original studies. This becomes particularly important with global access to information where critical contextual information, that is common practice in a particular context but not necessarily in other contexts, may be taken-for-granted by the authors of the primary research report and hence may not get explicitly mentioned.

Systematic reviewers must ethically consider the quality and relevance of evidence reported in primary research reports with respect to the review purpose (Major and Savin-Baden 2010 ). In evaluating quality of evidence in individual reports, it is important to use the evaluation criteria that are commensurate with the epistemological positioning of the author of the study. Cook and Campbell’s ( 1979 ) constructs of internal validity, construct validity, external validity and statistical conclusion are amenable for evaluating postpositivist research. Valentine ( 2009 ) provides a comprehensive discussion of criteria suitable for evaluating research employing a wide range of postpositivist methods. Lincoln and Guba’s ( 1985 ) constructs of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability are suitable for evaluating interpretive research. The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD 2009 ) provides a useful comparison of common qualitative research appraisal tools in Chap.  6 of its open access guidelines for systematic reviews. Herons and Reason’s ( 1997 ) constructs of critical subjectivity, epistemic participation and political participation emphasising a congruence of experiential, presentational, propositional, and practical knowings are appropriate for evaluating participatory research studies. Validity of transgression, rather than correspondence, is suitable for evaluating critically oriented research reports using Lather’s constructs of ironic validity, paralogical validity, rhizomatic validity and voluptuous validity (Lather 1993 ). Rather than seeking perfect studies, systematic reviewers must ethically evaluate the extent to which findings reported in individual studies are grounded in the reported evidence.

While interpreting evidence from individual research reports, systematic reviewers should be cognisant of the quality criteria that are commensurate with the epistemological positioning of the original study. It is important to ethically reflect on plausible reasons for critical information that may be missing from individual reports and how might that influence the report findings (Dunkin 1996 ). Through purposefully informed selective inclusivity, systematic reviewers must distil information that is most relevant for addressing the synthesis purpose.

Often a two-stage approach is appropriate for evaluating, interpreting and distilling evidence from individual studies. For example, in their review that won the American Educational Research Association’s Review of the Year Award , Wideen et al. ( 1998 ) first evaluated individual studies using the criteria aligned with the methodological orientation of individual studies. Then, they distilled information that was most relevant for addressing their review purpose. In this phase, systematic reviewers must ethically pay particular attention to the quality criteria that are aligned with the overarching methodological orientation of their review, including some of the following criteria: reducing any potential biases, honouring representations of the participants of primary research studies, enriching praxis of participant reviewers or constructing a critically reflexive account of how certain discourses of an educational phenomenon have become more powerful than others. The overarching orientation and purpose of the systematic review should influence the extent to which evidence from individual primary research studies is drawn upon in a systematic review to shape the review findings (Major and Savin-Baden 2010 ; Suri 2018 ).

5 Constructing Connected Understandings

What are key ethical considerations associated with constructing connected understandings in a systematic review?

Through informed subjectivity and reflexivity, systematic reviewers must ethically consider how their own contextual positioning is influencing the connected understandings they are constructing from the distilled evidence. A variety of systematic techniques can be used to minimise unacknowledged biases, such as content analysis, statistical techniques, historical methods, visual displays, narrative methods, critical sensibilities and computer-based techniques. Common strategies for enhancing quality of all systematic reviews include ‘reflexivity; collaborative sense-making; eliciting feedback from key stakeholders; identifying disconfirming cases and exploring rival connections; sensitivity analyses and using multiple lenses’ (Suri 2014 , p. 144).

In addition, systematic reviewers must pay specific attention to ethical considerations particularly relevant to their review’s epistemological orientation. For instance, all post-positivist systematic reviewers should be wary of the following types of common errors: unexplained selectivity, not discriminating between evidence of varying quality, inaccurate coding of contextual factors, overstating claims made in the review beyond what can be justified by the evidence reported in primary studies and not paying adequate attention to the findings that are at odds with the generalisations made in the review (Dunkin 1996 ). Interpretive systematic reviews should focus on ensuring authentic representation of the viewpoints of the participants of the original studies as expressed through the interpretive lens of the authors of those studies. Rather than aiming for generalisability of the findings, they should aim at transferability by focusing on how the findings of individual studies intersect with their methodological and contextual configurations. Ethical considerations in participatory systematic reviews should pay attention to the extent to which practitioner co-reviewers feel empowered to drive the agenda of the review to address their own questions, change their own practices through the learning afforded by participating in the experience of the synthesis and have practitioner voices heard through the review (Suri 2014 ). Critically oriented systematic reviews should highlight how certain representations silence or privilege some discourses over the others and how they intersect with the interests of various stakeholder groups (Baker 1999 ; Lather 1999 ; Livingston 1999 ).

6 Communicating with an Audience

What are key ethical considerations associated with communicating findings of a systematic review to diverse audiences?

All educational researchers are expected to adhere to the highest standards of quality and rigour (AERA 2011 ; BERA 2018 ). The PRISMA-P group have identified a list of ‘Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols’ (Moher et al. 2015 ) which are useful guidelines to improve the transparency of the process in systematic reviews. Like all educational researchers, systematic reviewers also have an obligation to disclose any sources of funding and potential conflicts of interest that could have influenced their findings.

All researchers should reflexively engage with issues that may impact on individuals participating in the research as well as the wider groups whose interests are intended to be addressed through their research (Greenwood 2016 ; Pullman and Wang 2001 ; Tolich and Fitzgerald 2006 ). Systematic reviewers should also critically consider the potential impact of the review findings on the participants of original studies and the wider groups whose practices or experiences are likely to be impacted by the review findings. They should carefully articulate the domain of applicability of a review to deter the extrapolation of the review findings beyond their intended use. Contextual configurations of typical primary research studies included in the review must be comprehensively and succinctly described in a way that contextual configurations missing from their sample of studies become visible.

Like primary researchers, systematic reviewers should reflexively engage with a variety of ethical issues associated that potential conflicts of interest and issues of voice and representation. Systematic reviews are frequently read and cited in documents that influence educational policy and practice. Hence, ethical issues associated with what and how systematic reviews are produced and used have serious implications. Systematic reviewers must pay careful attention to how perspectives of authors and research participants of original studies are represented in a way that makes the missing perspectives visible. Domain of applicability of systematic reviews should be scrutinised to deter unintended extrapolation of review findings to contexts where they are not applicable. This necessitates that they systematically reflect upon how various publication biases and search biases may influence the synthesis findings. Throughout the review process, they must remain reflexive about how their own subjective positioning is influencing, and being influenced, by the review findings. Purposefully informed selective inclusivity should guide critical decisions in the review process. In communicating the insights gained through the review, they must ensure audience-appropriate transparency to maximise an ethical impact of the review findings.

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Suri, H. (2020). Ethical Considerations of Conducting Systematic Reviews in Educational Research. In: Zawacki-Richter, O., Kerres, M., Bedenlier, S., Bond, M., Buntins, K. (eds) Systematic Reviews in Educational Research. Springer VS, Wiesbaden. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-27602-7_3

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    NIH Clinical Center researchers published seven main principles to guide the conduct of ethical research: Social and clinical value. Scientific validity. Fair subject selection. Favorable risk-benefit ratio. Independent review. Informed consent. Respect for potential and enrolled subjects.

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    21.07.2007 Elaborate the importance of the review of related literature to a research paper brainly. Reeling the back, Sivilla goes to umostit the unfamiliar crowded place of unnoticed which still there were escaped at me, and to throat the bitter lump has risen: from type of blood has begun to stir.

  16. Annual Review of Ethics Case Studies

    Ethical Decision-Making. It should be noted that ethical decision-making is a process rather than a specific correct answer. In this sense, unethical behavior is defined by a failure to engage in the process of ethical decision-making. It is always unacceptable to have made no reasonable attempt to define a consistent and defensible basis for ...

  17. Ethical Considerations of Conducting Systematic Reviews in Educational

    Ethical decision making in interpretive systematic reviews lays an emphasis on authentically representing experiences and perceptions of diverse groups, especially those whose viewpoints tend to be less represented in the literature, to the extent that is permissible from the published literature.

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    1. It helps or guides the researcher in searching for or selecting a better research problem or topic 2. It helps the investigator understand his topic or research better. 3. It ensures that there will be no duplication of other studies. 4. It provides the conceptual or theoretical framework of the planned research.