Define the Problem

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions. – Albert Einstein

There are a lot of organizational problems we try to solve, but when it comes to strategic planning, the key is to find the problem to solve. Spending time thinking about the correct, singular problem to solve and not one of the many additional problems can be time well spent by a planning team.

Albert Einstein said that if he was given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution. Why? Because people like to jump to solutions. Especially in the world of communications we naturally jump to solutions like social media, ads, blogs, etc. If someone is quick to provide solutions without spending time thinking about the problem, then they may spend a lot of time and effort solving the wrong problem. One way to help define the problem is through Problem Framing.

Problem Framing involves understanding and isolating the root causes of an issue. It should involve staff from across the organization in order to get a variety of inputs and perspectives. The goal of Problem Framing is to not only understand (A) the current environmental state or where you are at, and (B) the desired environmental state  or where you want to be, but also be able to write  a problem statement that accurately sums up the problem of getting from A to B.

The problem statement should begin with the words, “How to…” As an example, this could be a potential problem statement: “How to…increase customer awareness about new features coming in the next hardware update 3 months prior to the annual release.” A problem statement should concisely define the problem or the problem set to solve taking into account time and space.

Here are some of the techniques to use in Problem Framing:

  • Keep Asking Why
    • Step 1: Identify an element of the issue
    • Step 2: Ask ‘why?’
    • Step 3: Consider the Response
    • Step 4: Ask ‘why?’ again
    • Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you run out of responses
  • Challenging Assumptions
    • Step 1: Write the issue down
    • Step 2: Identify the underlying assumptions
    • Step 3: Challenge and discuss each assumption
  • Challenging Boundaries
    • Step 1: Write the issue down
    • Step 2: Underline key aspects
    • Step 3: Challenge key aspects
  • 5W’s
    • Step 1: Define the issue in brief, precise terms
    • Step 2: Use the 5W’s to question (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and frame a series of questions about each
    • Step 3: Analysis (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and see if you can gain new insights into the issue
  • Environmental Scanning
  • SWOT Analysis
    • Create a quad-chart ad identify Internal Strengths, Internal Weaknesses, External Opportunities and External Threats.
  • Fishbone Diagrams
    • Write the main problem on the right at the head of the fishbone
    • Identify 3-6 possible casual groups or “bones”
    • Draw the diagram by sub-dividing the groups into process variables, generally 4-5 levels
    • Conduct analysis
    • Rank order the most likely causes of the situation being examined.




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