This simple question is both the beginning and the end of the problem solving process.
We’re done already?
Solving problems is like navigating. If we don’t know our present location, we’ll never be able to reach our destination. But once our point of origin is determined, the path can be easily established … we know the way and we’re on our way.
I don’t know if that’s such a good analogy.
The more we know about our origin, the less likely we are to rely on trial and error to reach our destination.
Problem solving is the same way. The more we know about the problem, the more likely we are to efficiently and effectively develop a permanent and sustainable solution.
I guess that makes sense.
Any rigorous problem solving methodology, be it in engineering design, continuous improvement or crisis management, will postulate the importance of properly defining the problem. Why is it then, that so few of us do it, or even know how to do it?
I don’t know what you mean – we always start with a Problem Statement!
Let’s consider the Problem Statement – the traditional starting point for problem solving efforts. It is a description of the condition or situation of difficulty or disrepair wanting of resolution or remediation. And, it serves to provide focus and guidance; to ensure that our efforts are leading us toward the solution.
It is the problem statement, however, that often hampers our ability to solve the problem.
What are you talking about?
The problem – the difficulty in need of resolution – initially observed and documented in the problem statement is generally not the problem at all, but a sign or symptom of the problem. The problem is causal to the signs and symptoms …
I know that!
… and often not directly causal, but ultimately causal.
What does that mean?
What we’re saying here is that the ultimate or real problem is usually several cause-and-effect layers below the observable signs and symptoms. And, to truly define the problem we have to work our way through these layers of cause-and-effect to expose the root cause of the signs and symptoms. The root cause is the problem.
Are you saying that the problem statement doesn’t state the problem?
It’s important to recognize the following distinction: the problem statement documents the signs and symptoms of the problem, but not the problem itself.
So if that’s the case, how do I know when I’ve found the problem?
More in a few days.