Friday, 6 September 2013

Problematic Problem Statements

We’ve recently held a couple of project scoping meetings where the participants have wrangled with creating a clearly defined problem statement. There seemed to be two main reasons for this:

1. People were frustrated with talking about problems. There was already a shared understanding that the process was problematic and a keenness to take action and improve things. Time is precious and satisfaction can be gained from changing things; it makes people feel productive and gives a sense of achievement. Root cause analysis can feel like going over old ground, focusing on negatives and it does not give an instant fix.

2. People appear to feel comfortable using words such as ‘inefficient’ or ‘inadequate’. There is often a shared understanding about which problems are difficult; but they find it difficult to drill down to precisely what is causing deficiency in order to define and measure the problem accurately.

These two reasons can lead to feelings of frustration in a scoping meeting. Yet a clear, explicit statement explaining the problem is incredibly powerful, and while spending time on getting it right may initially feel like going over old ground and fruitless, once defined it gives a concise shared understanding of the problem and makes the process of agreeing project deliverables and measures of success much simpler and efficient. Charles Kettering of General Motors Corporation said “A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved”.

Our challenge is not only using tools to help people formulate strong, focused and measurable problem statements, it is also to work with the project team to create awareness and understanding so that they truly value the problem statement.

1 comment:

  1. There are no "problems" only "challenges". A problem is something negative that people get hung up on, whereas a "challenge" is something that can be overcome or improved upon.

    Never say "We can't do this", instead "We haven't found a way of doing this yet".

    Tip from "Bear Grylls - A Survival Guide for Life". Highly recommended, motivational reading.