Solving problems is like painting. Prepping is ninety percent. That means ensuring we’re solving the right problem. It’s a common problem.
As example, a call center supported software for sales people. The sales people were giving them poor reviews. Supervisors listened to calls. Support representatives answered questions well. Supervisors were puzzled. However, representatives were answering the right questions to the wrong problems. They weren’t qualifying sales people’s questions to ensure they were asking the right questions.
Writing down the problem helps to find the right one. In “Are You Solving the Right Problem?” (Harvard Business Review, September 2012 edition) Dwayne Spradlin outlines steps suitable for large teams and complex problems. Step 4 is “Write the Problem Statement.” He also gives three examples of “The Power of Defining the Problem.”
Trimming Spradlin’s approach to fit small teams and individuals, it’s similar to planning’s benefits. It’s the process not the outcome that helps us. In finding the right problem, it’s important to:
Surrounding these are our biases. They encourage us to view problems in ways comfortable to us. We make them fit our experience, expertise, budgets, schedules, understanding and many others.
There are eight generalized biases influencing our perspectives too. They encourage us to view problems in ways we can easily understand, accept and resolve. As a result, we’ll end up tackling the easy but wrong problem.
Problems are also like crime scenes. They need enough scope to contain the information and give the perspective we need. Our need for security often as certainty, clarity and simplicity will emotionally trigger us to overemphasize statistics. Expanding our scope means searching and analyzing different types of information, not just the quantifiable.
Details help here. A glass filled with sand looks full. Diving deeper, gaps appear among the sand particles, more spaces to fill. Analogously, they are the gaps hard data leaves to intangible factors. It also means challenging definitions, demanding more specificity and applicability.
Yes, this is work and difficulty, naturally deterring us. This can’t deter us from the right problem though. If it does, paint will peel, and we’ll soon be painting again.