Crucial Steps Towards Effective Problem Solving In The Workplace | Hacker Noon

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@validragomirVali Dragomir

Tech addicted, gamer, crypto trader, father of a girl.

Every business – and everyone – encounters problems, whether it’s too few customers, a product now working, or a team not functioning as it should.

Being able to solve problems is important for businesses. In fact, the World Economic Forum stated that problem solving skills were the most critical for the future of businesses, along with critical thinking.

Problem solving effectively is especially important for startups and small businesses, as these often have limited resources, not a lot of time, and no dedicated department for strategizing and solving problems.

The good news is no matter your industry or region, any problems you encounter, even ones unique to your business, can be solved using a similar framework.

Create A Structured Framework

Having a structured framework to approach problems – specifically one that uses a shared language so everyone understands concepts – can shape the culture of your business and make your team’s efforts worthwhile.

There are no universal truths or right answers, but a framework can help you and your business solve problems effectively, efficiently, and creatively, without wasting time, money, and resources with every new problem.

Try using this 4-part framework:

  • WHY: Define your problem
  • WHAT: Identify your ideal outcome
  • HOW: Create a strategy for solving your problem
  • WHO, WHEN, WHERE: Make a plan and execute it.

For now, let’s focus on the first part of this framework: defining your problem, AKA the “why”.

To define your problem, start by creating a problem statement. This should be a few short but detailed sentences about your problem.

Create A Problem Statement

A good problem statement is one that’s important for customers or people you work with, quantifiable, focused, and not framed around a solution. If that sounds like a lot for a few sentences, don’t worry. We’ll outline what all this means.

First, it may seem obvious, but make sure your problem statement is important to people. Too often, people invest effort in problems that nobody cares about.

Before you spend time, money, and resource “fixing” your problem, make sure it’s actually important to your customers and stakeholders (AKA bosses, employees, investors, and anyone else who work you and make decisions).

Prioritize problems with the most impact. For example, saying “visits to our store are down” doesn’t describe what the impact of this is. Ask yourself, “So what?” In other words, why is the store visits being down a problem?

If you’re ever unsure, consult with stakeholders to confirm that you both believe the problem you’re solving is important. The earlier you do this the better, as it can help you avoid wasting your time on unnecessary matters.

A problem statement is easier to solve if it’s quantifiable. Be specific about what timeframe you’re talking about, who is affected, and other details.

Creating your statement can take time and you may need to gather data, especially if the problem isn’t obvious or if people disagree on what it is. This time will be well spent, as it can keep you from wasting effort on the wrong problem.

Focus your problem statement in terms of scope by identifying parameters, such as the set of customers you’ll focus on or region you’ll be working in.

Ask yourself, will it be more useful to solve a problem for a specific set of customers, such as the ones who ordered jewelry during a certain time period, or one that touches a larger portion of them, such as all customers from that period.

Look for the right balance between impact and what you can reasonably achieve – you don’t want to define a problem so big that you lack resources to solve it, but if you get too specific you could miss an opportunity for more impact.

The problem statement is for stating your problem, not a solution that will come later. A statement like “We need to start accepting online orders” might be part of the solution down the line, but doesn’t state why it’s important to customers, isn’t quantifiable, and doesn’t define the problem’s scope.

In the end, you should be able to create a problem statement that’s a few sentences long.

One Last Thing

Before you get to work, make sure there isn’t already someone trying to solve the problem.

Try not to overlap with someone else solving the same problem, whether that’s within your own business or within your own industry. If someone else is already working on solving a similar problem, can you learn from them?

Key Takeaways

  1. Knowing how to solve problems effectively is especially important for businesses with limited resources, not a lot of time, and no dedicated department for strategizing and solving problems.
  2. A good problem statement is one that’s important for customers or people you work with, quantifiable, focused, and not framed around a solution.
  3. Using a framework can help you solve problems effectively, efficiently, and creatively, without needlessly wasting time, money, and resources with every new problem.
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