So what’s the problem?

No matter what your job is, doing it well and getting promoted usually means being able to solve problems at work.

So, it pays to have strong problem solving skills in your ‘toolbox’, right?

But problem solving can be tricky. Incomplete or ambiguous information can trip you up. At least if you have your own ‘problem solving style’ all set, it will make the mechanics second nature so that won’t be a hassle. Then you can just go ahead and dig into the task at hand.

Today let’s focus on the first and most important step – defining the problem.

I have found that people overlook problem definition 90% of the time. Why?

People think they already ‘know’ what the problem is and they jump right into the solution. Classic mistake.

Einstein himself said “if I had one hour to save the world I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”

Some examples might help here…

“Sales are declining.”

Well that certainly SEEMS like a straightforward problem. But hold on. Yes it’s a significant data point, but it’s much too vague to start solving. Sales of what products? In what sales regions? Declining relative to what baseline? A better problem statement would be “Sales of laptops have declined 50% this year in the Northeast region”. You will need specifics to do the work, so don’t start until you have the problem really nailed down.

“The project prioritization process isn’t working and needs to be revamped.”

This is a classic example of the problem statement with solution included. Not only is the problem too vague, but it falls into the common trap of implying a solution. Watch out for projects that start this way – it happens all the time and almost always lead to failure, if not disaster.

“Customer satisfaction levels on service calls in the Dallas call center have declined from 90% to 85% in the last six months.”

Much, much better. Here is why…

  • It is clear, concise, and specific without implying a solution.
  • It is stated simply enough that it is easily understood.
  • It is small enough in scope that it can be solved.

Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. On the job you will find any number of things that can be improved. Even small efficiency projects can be very effective in improving performance and furthering your career.

Just make sure you have a good process to rely on and always start with a well-crafted problem statement.

Remember what Einstein said….

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