Problem Solving & Spreadsheet Modeling
This paper talks about the problem solving process along with examples, as well as one of more commonly used modeling and analytical techniques, i.e. spreadsheet modeling. It also talks about its dependency, its uses, disadvantages and well as explores ways to better this very new, but powerful technique.
Modeling is the process of creating a simpliﬁed representation of real life problems and representing them in an organized fashion in order to understand a particular problem. These models can take many forms such as mental, visual, mathematical or electronic spreadsheets to name a few. Their uses can be seen in almost every field of our daily lives such as businesses, governments, human resources, science and engineering, and medicine etc. Their primary function is to gain insight into a specific problem and after getting a clear understanding of the topic, one can easily approach it from different directions with possible solutions. This paper discusses this process in detail, starting with gaining insight into a specific problem by using a problem solving model, and then moves on to how it applies to spreadsheet modeling. It also discusses different aspects of electronic spreadsheet engineering, its uses and caveats, as well as its dependency in the business world these days. Before creating any models, visual, mathematical or spreadsheets, one has to start with the problem solving process. The problem solving process consists of six stages that can be followed to solve almost any problem. These stages or steps are employed and are repeated multiple times, not necessarily in the same order, to obtain an efficient and refined solution to a particular problem. The first of these stages is exploration of a “mess”. “A mess is a morass of unsettling symptoms, causes, data, pressures, shortfalls, and opportunities” (Baker & Powell, p.18). One of the key issues in solving any problem is to be able to take any given situation and extract key information, problems, issues as well as opportunities from it. A problem never presents itself in a clear, well-posed statement. It is usually hidden in a scenario, along with a lot of other trivial information and any problem solving should start by understanding a given situation and be able to extract key information from it. “During this phase, questions that are explored include listing problems or opportunities that are to be faced, gaps between current and desired situations, and thinking about stated and unstated goals.” (Baker & Powell, p.21) Baker and Powell use an example of a pharmaceutical company in their book, where majority of that company’s revenue is generated from the production and distribution of a single drug, and present a scenario where the patent for that drug heads towards its expiration date in upcoming months. Using this scenario, exploring the mess stage would involve the company officials to perform individual researches and evaluate any threats and affects the expiration of the drug patents would have on their revenues as well as taking initial steps to address the upcoming problems (Baker & Powell, p.21). Second stage of the problem solving process involves searching for information. “This includes opinions, raw data, impressions and published literature etc. and involves casting about widely for any and all information that might shed light on what the problem really is” (Baker & Powell, p.22). This is basically a “brainstorming phase”, and usually involves approaching the mess from different directions. In the case of the pharmaceutical company, for example, senior managers would handle this phase by holding meetings and addressing their discomfort towards the upcoming problem as well as hiring outside consultants to perform company as well as industry research and gathering all the necessary facts involving this problem. “This stage...
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