The ability to solve complex problems is the most valuable technical skill an instrumentation professional can cultivate. A great many tasks associated with instrumentation work may be broken down into simple step-by-step instructions that any marginally qualified person may perform, but effective problem-solving is different. Problem-solving requires creativity, attention to detail, and the ability to approach a problem from multiple mental perspectives.
“Problem-solving” often refers to the solution of abstract problems, such as “word” problems in a mathematics class. However, in the field of industrial instrumentation it most often finds application in the form of “troubleshooting:” the diagnosis and correction of problems in instrumented systems. Troubleshooting is really just a form of problem-solving, applied to real physical systems rather than abstract scenarios. As such, many of the techniques developed to solve abstract problems work well in diagnosing real system problems. As we will see in this chapter, problem-solving in general and troubleshooting in particular are closely related to scientific method, where hypotheses are proposed, tested, and modified in the quest to discern cause and effect.
Like all skills, problem-solving may be improved with practice and persistence. The goal of this chapter is to outline several problem-solving tools and techniques.