Identifying the Right Problem to Solve: A 4-Step Framework

Identifying the Right Problem to SolveThe votes are in, the consensus is clear- the #1 challenge for decision makers across industry is now selecting the right problem to solve and more precisely- being confident that that selection is the best problem to focus on.

In a recent study 85% of executives agree that their organizations are bad at problem diagnosis and 87% agree that this flaw carries significant costs. These costs are typically associated with time, resources, and missed opportunities, more commonly known as opportunity cost.

Albert Einstein is known for summarizing the importance of identifying the right problems to solve by saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” There is of course more to be said regarding time spent on solutions, however that will be address in a later blog article!

Adam Grant, in his recent book Originals, points out that procrastination can be a powerful creativity tool to ensure the right problem is addressed. He states that if you start working on a solution to a problem immediately after hearing about it, you limit your ability to consider multiple perspectives and multiple solutions. I wish I had that answer ready to go for my Professors in college!

The 4-Step Framework to Problem Identification:

  1. Gather, review, and prioritize existing knowledge:
    • Existing Information (Stakeholder Feedback, Financial Trends, Known Issues, Emerging Trends)
    • Relatable Data Modeling (Conceptual Models, Logical Models, Practical Models)
    • Previous Expertise (Credible Industry Experts, Applicable Anecdotes, Notable Failures)
  2. Challenge all knowledge and ask “Why?”
    • Why was this information relevant before?
    • Why did this data model produce these results?
  3. Set Expectations:
    • Define what success means (Quantitative vs. Qualitative)
    • Define available resources (Local vs. Global)
    • Define timeline (Long-term vs. Short-term)
    • Define scope of solution (Core business vs. New Business)
  4. Set success metrics:
    • New Revenue Growth
    • Cost Savings
    • Time Saved
    • Employee Satisfaction
    • Customer Satisfaction

As you consider this framework potential problems will begin to emerge. It is important to remember that this framework is a brainstorming activity and all problems, big and small, are worth considering. The problems that impact your work in more significant ways will natural be identified as you begin setting expectations in stage 3, however, all ideas are important to track and review even if they present a smaller impact.

Finally, you may consider evaluating multiple problems simultaneously in an effort to assess the potential for a larger unforeseen impact due to a multiplier effect.

To learn more about this four-step problem identification methodology, check out our webinar on the subject. 

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Sean Miller, Innovation Strategy Advisor at IdeaScale.

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