Solve Problems Faster Using The Phoenix Checklist

Posted by on May 30, 2021 in Phoenix Checklist, Problem Solving | 0 comments

Asking questions give conscious direction to your thinking.  When you ask a question, you have to think about it.  And when you ask the right questions, it allows you to see the whole thing to comprehend it.  In order to do this, we use a question checklist.

A checklist of questions helps you make sure no aspect of a challenge is overlooked.  Unless the challenge is extremely easy to solve, you need to know what to ask.  The Phoenix checklist is a series of questions developed by the CIA to allow agents to look at a challenge from many different angles.  Using the Phoenix checklist is like holding a problem in your hand.  You can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from different views, change its position, imagine solutions, and be in control of it.

The Phoenix checklist can be used as a base to build your own personal checklist of questions.  You can add good questions when you hear others ask them, and keep adding them to your own checklist.  The process works like this:

  1. Write your challenge or problem down.  Isolate the challenge or problem you want to think about and commit yourself to an answer, if not immediately, by a certain date.
  2. Ask questions.  Use the Phoenix checklist to dissect the challenge or problem in as many different ways as you can.
  3. Record your answers.  Information requests, solutions, and ideas for evaluation and analysis.

Exploring the first set of questions—the problem set—can help to identify, clarify, and prioritize problems.  The second set of questions—the plan set—guides solution planning.

The questions are carefully ordered to allow the current question to be answered without depending on answers to later questions. Nonetheless, it is natural and useful to iterate through the list several times because addressing later questions often provides insights useful for addressing earlier questions.

To use the checklist, begin with a tentative problem statement or challenge statement. Start with the first question on the list, and consider, explore, deliberate, and answer that question. Continue addressing each question in the order they are listed. Write down the answers; revise them as new insights emerge. Iterate to integrate new insights. Continue until a firm problem definition emerges. With a firm problem definition in hand, begin addressing the planning questions to develop a firm action plan.

The Phoenix Checklist

The Problem

  • Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
  • What benefits will you gain by solving the problem?
  • What is the unknown?
  • What is it you don’t yet understand?
  • What is the information you have?
  • What isn’t the problem?
  • Is the information sufficient?  Or is it insufficient?  Or redundant?  Or contradictory?
  • Should you draw a diagram or figure of the problem?
  • What are the boundaries of the problem?
  • Can you separate the various parts of the problem?  Can you write them down?  What are the relationships of the parts of the problem?
  • What are the constants or things that can’t be changed of the problem?
  • Have you seen this problem before?
  • Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?
  • Do you know a related problem?
  • Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.
  • Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved.  Can you use it?  Can you use its method?
  • Can you restate your problem?  How many different ways can you restate it?  More general?  More specific?  Can the rules be changed?
  • What are the best, worst, and most probable cases you can imagine?

The Plan

  • Can you solve the whole problem?  Part of the problem?
  • What would you like the resolution to be?  Can you picture it?
  • How much of the unknown can you determine?
  • Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
  • Have you used all the information?
  • Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
  • Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process?  Can you determine the correctness of each step?
  • What creative-thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas?  How many different techniques?
  • Can you see the result?  How many different kinds of results can you see?
  • How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
  • What have others done?
  • Can you intuit the solution?  Can you check the result?
  • What should be done?  How should it be done?
  • Where should it be done?
  • When should it be done?
  • Who should do it?
  • What do you need to do at this time?
  • Who will be responsible for what?
  • Can you use this problem to solve some other problems?
  • What are the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
  • What milestones can best mark your progress?
  • How will you know when you are successful?

Solving a challenge or problem is like walking a tightrope.  If the rope is too slack, will fall; if it is too tight, it has no resiliency, and you will also fall.  The rope must be continually adjusted and supported at its weakest point.  In the same way, asking questions will constantly adjust and support lines of speculation as you work your way toward a solution.

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