The Importance of Defining a Problem Right Before Diving in to Solve It

Often times we fail to take out the time to really assess and determine the root of the issue. We do this because jumping to conclusions is much easier and less time-consuming. Sadly, corporation and communities have fallen because they failed to analyze and define a problem correctly. Figuring out the exact origin of a problem when confronted with one enables you to come up with appropriate solutions for it. Otherwise, you will just be putting the wrong key into a particular door. It is also a business and communication skill, and every business inclined person needs to master it for continuity’s sake because there are bound to be problems at different phases. Also, one shouldn’t see problems as setbacks but as an opportunity to improve the business by eliminating possible errors. In this piece, we will explain the importance and skill of defining a problem before attempting to solve it.

W. Edwards Deming

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing.

What to do

The problems may seem obvious at a glance, but when trying to fix them, you realize they are more complex or have other subsets called issues affixed to it. Hence the importance of determining the very core of the problem. To effectively define a problem, you will need to go through some of these questions. Questions like;

  • What do we know concerning this problem? (this could initially be facts or a hypothesis)
  • How can we clarify it?
  • Is the problem really mine (because you have no business solving someone else’s problems unless paid to)
  • How does it affect my business?
  • Can I really solve it?
  • Is it a recurring problem, does it require a quick or sustainable fix?
  • What are the risks of ignoring it? (what is at stake)
  • What is the problem’s foundation?
  • After going through these questions, the next thing to do is to figure out the cause of the problem you are facing. This part requires having substantial data and history of the problem before you can brainstorm to map out its solutions. You will also need to go through the following;
    Looking at the present situation, what could possibly cause this problem?

    List and organize your thoughts based on the above.

    Hence your problem definition should relate to important matters of the business by connecting specific goals. They should explicitly describe the gap between the company’s current state and the goal to be achieved. This target, current state and the gap in between are key variables and should remain neutral when diagnosis and solutions are concerned. Their small scope makes it easy and fast to tackle. Also, there is a need to analyze the root or causes you had come up within the precious subsections in order to exhaust all options and possibilities in knowing the core of the problem before attacking it.

    Usually, in business, religion, community, entertainment and even in households, there are factors that are common and often linked to effective solutions. The factors include Resources, Environment, People, Procedures and processes and lastly the Concepts. For the resources, are they limited? Is there enough funding? Are they misused or misappropriated? For Environment, Is it favorable? Are the authorities aware or supportive of the problem? For People, Is there enough manpower or skilled labor? For procedures, Are they followed? Are the processes swift? For Concepts, Are the terminologies understood and agreed upon? Are they all obvious?

    When these are highlighted, all recovered answers need to be documented. The next step is to examine the solution you have arrived at to determine if it’s feasible or not. Sometimes the restrictions and boundaries surrounding a solution may likely turn it to another problem, so one needs to do research on the solution plan before actualizing it. When trying to figure out solutions to a problem, try not to do it alone as factors like self-doubt, low esteem or personal issues may cloud one’s better judgment. In finding sustainable solutions, teamwork is important. Also, assumptions are only good as long as they are true, feel free to discard any assumption when facts prove them otherwise. And when coming up with possible solutions, focus solely on the problem at hand, do not deviate. The aim is to correct any issue the company faces.

    What not to Do

    Now we have established what to do when correctly defining a problem and its possible solutions, we can go ahead to put up some restrictions and things to avoid in this mission.

    Do not Work Alone

    Concerning projects like defining a problem in the workplace, do not work alone. Share ideas, views, and thoughts with coworkers. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it, remember a problem shared is already half solved.

    Do not Fail to State the Problem

    This is a common mistake as businesses and brands often fail to develop a problem statement. This is done as a means to visualize the problem and think of better solutions for it. Also, problem statements are made to facilitate a unanimous agreement between coworkers and also to reduce argument whereby increasing time efficiency.

    The Problem Statement Should not be Ambiguous

    Simplicity is key. No one wants to work on something they can neither understand nor relate to. This is why the problem statement should be narrowed down so that all minds be accommodated to fully understand it.

    Do not use Problem Statements as Diagnosis

    The gap between the problem and the solution needs to be observed, and problem statements should not be portrayed as diagnosis or solutions to the problem. Doing otherwise highlights that some steps have been skipped in carrying out a careful review of the problem and this leads to misinterpretations.

    Do not Jump to Conclusions

    It is important to take your time and conduct research to gain knowledge about what the problem is before defining it. Do not be in a rush to strategize solutions and jump to conclusions as this will only be detrimental to your business.

    Do not Give Poor Definitions or Assumptions

    If problems are defined based on assumptions and solutions are appropriate, this solution will not fix the issue because the solution provided is not for the problem defined. This causes a waste in resources and is the reason why problems should not be poorly defined.

    Do not Divert

    All attention, effort, time and resources should first be directed to defining the source of the problem, and any form of side distractions should be put aside to address the real underlying challenges. If one goes beyond the scope of the problem or abandons the main issue, the situation will only worsen over time.

    Importance and Benefits of Defining a Problem Correctly

    Now that we have examined how to identify a problem and easy tips when drawing up solutions to these problems let’s go further to highlight the importance of putting correct problem determination and defining before solution appropriation.

    Saves cost

    When you look at facts, details and do quality research on a problem to expose its core, you save the future cost of fixing a recurring problem. Correct problem definition also conserves the use of resources used in fixing it. It saves the problem of going through unnecessary measures to solicit for funding if it is above the capacity of the available business resources. It saves cost, resources, manpower and reduces the risk of having it recur in the future.

    Conserves Effort

    Having to channel all available resources into fixing a wrong problem would cost the business so much and require a lot of effort and expertise for correction to take place, especially if the solution to this wrong problem costs a fortune. Hence, all assumptions of problems need to be well rooted and researched upon to be true before solution strategies are established. This will conserve the use or exploitation of resources and in turn, save the company a lot of money.

    Keeps the Business Afloat

    There have been several businesses, institutions, and firms that have gone under because they failed in correctly determining the problem they were facing. Defining a problem correctly leads to breakthroughs and solutions which when inculcated, ensures the sustenance and continuity of that business. Doing this also yields maximum future profit and revenue for the business. Leaving its ratings growing, its sustenance intact and ensuring its ability to effectively manage future problems.

    Prevents Office Conflicts

    A particular problem may have so many embedded interrelated causes and defining it wrongly may lead to the wrong allocation of resources leading to conflicts, layoffs and general hostility in the workplace. A precise definition of problems also saves arguments from ensuing between workers when trying to consider its possible outcomes and strategies. These arguments occur because of the diversity in opinions which are colored by the problem’s nature as it directly affects their area.

    Increases the Business’ Efficiency

    When problems are correctly defined as soon as they arise in the business or company, it leads to the formulation of an applicable solution hence tackling the problem. When this skillful practice of correct problem definition and sustainable solutions is incorporated into the company’s lifestyle, there is no other way for the company to go but up. Hence this increases the business’ efficiency and gives them the assurance that they can weather any storm they face.
    Under this, we will cite an example. Let’s use NASA for instance. They had been dealing with solar flares for quite a number of years and needed a new way of forecasting it to protect astronauts and satellites when they were in space or in orbit and also to protect their power grids here on earth. The solar flare forecast model they were using was that which had been used for the previous 30 years. Hence they were in dire need of a more innovative model as this one had an accuracy of about 50% and could only predict the flares to reach the earth about 4 hours prior to the flare time. The Take notes that they already knew the problem, but hadn’t yet defined it to the general public. So what did they do?

    How they defined the problem

    Instead of asking scientists and problem solvers to come up with a better solar flare forecasting model, they pitched the problem and represented it as a data challenge where they called on experts with backgrounds in analytical methods. These experts were bestowed upon with 30 years of space weather data (one of NASA’s greatest assets) to develop a solar flare forecasting model. Now, this approach which was based on data assessment and pattern finding enabled researchers and solvers from different fields to participate. It also gave NASA the ability to provide instant feedback by using its archives (data) as a foundation for the accuracy of the proposed models.

    Their breakthrough

    They had a lead when an engineer of radio-frequency who at the time lived in the rural areas of New Hampshire, used data analysis methods and originally predictive algorithms to come up with a flare forecasting model. This new model had the ability and capacity to provide an 8hour lead time and had a stunning accuracy of 85 percent. For his hard work and solution, he was awarded a $30,000 gift prize.

    Also, institutions and brands like Starbucks, Exxon Mobil, Big Tobacco, Zara, and even renowned medical institutes have gone through similar situations which they needed to outsource for solutions and ended up being bigger and stronger.

    In summary, the first step to solving problems is to identify the problem. There is great need to correctly define problems when confronted with them. Running critical analysis and clearly articulating problems can only yield high standard and innovative solutions that are also sustainable. The definition of your problem should be your primal guide in generating solutions. It is important to add that if one deviates from the initial problem and focuses on other embedded issues, the generated solution can never work for the initial problem and therefore the problem gets worse over time if abandoned completely. The world’s largest companies and brands are all aware of the validity and ingenuity in defining a problem correctly before diving into a possible solution for it, this, of course, is one of the reasons why they’re on top.