If there is a problem then there is a solution. In the same way that a north pole exists there is a south pole. Most of the times the solution is inside the problem definition. How we define the problem will define how we find the solution.
Defining the Problem
Any problem can be broken down to a problem statement. Defining the problem correctly is the first step to getting the solution.
There are many different methods of defining the problem such that the solution will be easier
The 5 Whys
Asking why can bring you to the actual problem so that you don’t deal with the symptom and solve the symptom instead of the actual problem. For example
A person could be late to work and their problem might be defined as
I was late because there was too much traffic
We could accept that the problem is that there was too much traffic and analyse the person’s route and suggest a different route but chances are high that traffic is not the real problem.
So we ask why was there too much traffic at the time that you came
The problem answer could be
I was late because I came at the wrong time hence there was a lot of traffic.
Now this sounds more plausible and acceptable. We could live with this as this creates a responsibility that we can control. However this may not be the actual problem
Once again we ask why did you come at the wrong time. The answer could be
I was late because I slept late
For a moment we will believe that we now have the actual cause of why the person was late, however to be sure we ask , why did you sleep late. The answer could be that
Now we are getting to the actual problem which could be very far from the original problem definition
Asking Why does not mean you have to ask five times it could be more or less but its a guide to getting to the real problem. We could have accepted that the employee is to blame and he sleeps late and ordered him to arrive late, but if a person is sleeping three hours a day consecutively no matter how many alarm clocks they have they will eventually be late to work. It is better to find the actual problem instead of dealing with the symptom of the problem.
Constructing a Problem Definition
How we define the problem is important as it enables us to be able to deal with the problem. We could construct the probelm as an equation.
By constructing this equation we define the problem more informatively.
I come late on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays because I have to sleep late doing manual reconciliations as the system is down so I leave the house late.
The probelm definition has to be able to answer the following questions
What is the problem
The probelm is some one is always late
The problem is the system is down so employees are doing manual reconciliations
Why is there a problem
Because there is no one fixing the system
Because the employees have kept quiet about it
Because the system is not working
How is this a problem
It affects productive and employee morale
When is this a problem
From Tuesdays to Fridays it is a problem
Quantification in dollars
Some problems require that you quantify then in dollars so that they can be easier to understand them. Financial problems need to be quantified. This means for example that if we say
The problem is that our customer numbers have decreased we need to quantify this
Is there a loss?
What is the impact?
So our problem is that there is a decrease in customers by 10% which is causing a decrease in revenue by 15% for our main luxury product which contributes 30% to our normal sales trend.
Stating the problem like this will eventually lead us to the actual problem and hence the real solution.
Every problem can be quantified such that the numbers are known, this is extremely important in solving for the solution.
The solution is in the Problem
If the probelm has been defined well then the solution is easier to construct. If we know what the probelm is it becomes easier to construct the solution as every solution has the following elements
If the probelm has been defined well then it will be easier to identify the resources required to solve the problem. Every problem is a problem of resources
A properly defined problem gives us a solution as to what time element is required to be solved. If a problem does not lead us to find a solution in time then that problem is not an urgent or real problem.
Responsibility and accountability
A properly defined problem will hint on who is responsible and there will be no doubt as to who is accountable for dealing with the problem. However a problem must not finger point. The moment it finger points it stops being a problem and becomes politics. Always separate problem from people deal with the process or activity.
From this you can note that the litmus test for any problem definition is Resources, Time, Responsibility and Accountability. The solution is always in the problem it’s just that we may not have defined the problem appropriately hence we waste time and resources on the wrong problem.