‘A problem well defined is a problem half solved’
Charles F Kettering
Are you solving the causes of your major problems or are you just trying to ease the symptoms? Undoubtedly the road to great problem-solving is littered with teams who failed because they either didn’t define their problem clearly or they chose to tackle the wrong problem.
Just as an anecdote, but an extremely useful one… a software company couldn’t understand why their pricing was consistently the reason they didn’t win the sale. Time after time they were short-listed but were never ultimately successful in winning the contract – apparently because of their price. Now, the obvious problem here is the cost of the product. Yet it wasn’t. The problem was the poor marketing that supported the product which actually outperformed its competitors quite easily. Their marketing simply didn’t get this across. The company spent a long time analysing and assessing its pricing structure before they understood they were resolving the wrong problem.
When something goes wrong it’s vital to look at the failure from a number of angles to see what exactly needs to be resolved. We know that different parts of a business view issues through its own particular lens – whether you work in finance, sales, R&D or maintenance! It’s a good idea to have mediators or management that has some cross-department knowledge to facilitate problem-solving.
It’s highly likely that as a business faces its problems there will be opposing views and different approaches on resolution. It’s important that there are processes in place for everyone to air and explore ideas for maximum efficiency and to maximise pooled resources and knowledge.
Effective problem-solving teams carefully define both the issue that they wish to address as well as the frequency and the wider impacts of the problem. Understanding frequency is important. Small but frequent inefficiencies can sap energy from an organisation just as significantly as one-off events.
Being clear about the exact problem is also the only way to evaluate and monitor the solutions to see if they have been effective – another vital stage of problem resolution.
Box 1: Have you clearly defined the problem that you want to solve?
Box 2: Have you understood the actual and realistic potential impact of your problem?
Every complex problem can be broken down into multiple issues that require solutions. It’s important that problem solvers recognise this and tackle the area of the problem that is appropriate to their skills, resources and organisational objectives.