Problem Solving | Problem Definition

One of the most difficult part of problem solving is the problem definition . If we cannot define a problem definition accurately then we may end up solving something else instead  of the problem .

Problem Solving | Problem Definition and skill level

We can classify problems into 3 main categories , small , medium and large sized problems . Small problems are relatively easier to solve than larger ones . In fact ,  types of problems needs to be matched with the type of skill set available in order to resolve a problem . This also means that  the problem definition has a high  dependency  on the skill set  of the person or team members .

Problem solving | problems and symptoms

There must be a clear understanding what is a problem and what are the  symptoms . One must be able to identify a problem and a symptom . A good example is someone having a severe  headache . To the person with the headache , the headache is the problem but to a doctor , the headache is the symptom .  Taking penicillin may relief the pain but not solve the problem .  The doctor will need to identify the cause of the headache in order  to solve the problem. Headache is the symptom and therefore the root  cause is something else . The problem definition of the person suffering from the headache and that of a doctor is significantly different .

In problem solving , the problem definition depends very much on the level of expertise . A patient problem definition is different from that of a doctor who is more capable . Its like a housewife whose problem definition could be “my car cannot start” in the morning versus a car mechanic whose problem definition cannot be the same as the housewife due to his technical expertise about cars . It will be a joke if a car mechanic define his problem statement as “my car cannot start” in the morning because we expect the car mechanic to have already done some level of checks in greater detail and therefore a more refine problem definition .

Problem solving | problem definition with quantifiable indices and time frame

A problem definition or statement ideally would have a set of measurable indices so that it is objective and an associated schedule or time line . In the early 60s , when the President of United States , JF Kennedy’s objective was to put man on the moon , NASA will have to put up with a series of plans along with a timeline by the end of the decade (end of 1960s) , that they are able to meet the goal and objectives set then . Scientists at NASA , will have to deal with the  amount of problem solving with high  level of complexity , working through those Apollo missions to put man on the moon .

Problem solving | Problem definition and clarity

In a nutshell , we need to have a clear problem definition or statement , as problem solving normally involve a group of people with different background , talent , capabilities and experience . There are a few approaches to this

1. The 5 Whys . This method involve asking the Why until we can go no further . For example

1st problem statement  is “We missed April revenue target of $5M as the actual revenue was only $4M” . Do we know why ? If we do , maybe the problem statement becomes “Customer X delayed delivery of 1 million parts affecting a loss of $1M in April’s revenue”   . Do we know why customer delayed the delivery ? If we do , then we have the next problem statement . We do this until we do not know the reason and that itself becomes the problem statement

2. Using pictures or drawings . As many people are involved and people may not speak the same language or have different cultures so how do we communicate the problem we have ? Try describing a cat to a foreigner who does not speak english versus say drawing a cat . Some problems that are a little abstract or  involving concepts , structures is best understood using drawings so that it has a better chance to connect to the audience that just mere words alone


problem solving

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