Thinking Tools/Phoenix Checklist
The Central Intelligence Agency developed the Phoenix checklist questions to encourage agents to look at challenges from many different viewpoints. 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—guide solution planning.
The questions are carefully ordered to allow the current question to be answered without depending on answers to later questions. None-the-less, 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.
- Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
- What benefits will you receive 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, insufficient, redundant, or contradictory?
- Should you draw a diagram or a figure of the problem?
- Where are the boundaries of the problem?
- Can you separate the various parts of the problem? What are the relationships between them? What are the constants?
- 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?
- Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
- What would you like the resolution to be?
- 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 problem?
- What is 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?
- Michalko, Michael (June 8, 2006). Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques. Ten Speed Press. p. 416. ISBN 978-1580087735. Chapter 14.
- Chapter four of the book Campbell, Joseph (March 21, 2014). The Phoenix Checklist: Turning Complex Problems into Simple Solutions. Campbell & Company Publsihing LLC. p. 104. expands on the problem phase checklist. Chapter five expands on the plan phase checklist.