Whenever we start working on a new product or project, we are often rushed into creating ‘the solution’. Pressure builds up from all directions and we are but forced to start delivering the solution from the day one. This is where my problem lies…not being able to work on and understand the problem itself, but still trying to solve it. For instance, whenever you go to a doctor with an ailment or complaint, he does not give you treatment straight away. The physician asks you a set of questions, listens to your responses, understands what your problems are and then starts giving you the correct treatment. They call it ‘diagnosis’ and we all are happy to be diagnosed without asking any question to anybody, including ourselves. Then why is the resistance to adopt the same approach in other spheres of our work and life? Taking specifically the case of you, me and all of us, IT professionals and experts, I write this post to highlight the approach we should adopt to understand, define and communicate the problems before resorting to solutions.
Problems, needs, challenges & opportunities
Most of us use the terms problems and needs interchangeably in varying contexts. I am not too tied down to using any one terminology over the other. Bottom line is that we have to make an effort to identify them, define correctly, and strive to solve the problems or fulfill the needs. Some people also use opportunities in the same vein to convey that these have to be understood, pursued and addressed. You might have also come across the suggestion to replace the negative connotation of problems with its more positive and pragmatic counterpart, challenges. As I said, I am flexible on this and you can choose whatever you might like among the four terms problems, needs, challenges and opportunities. However, from a product manager’s perspective, my personal preference is to use the terms problems or needs, because they convey some sense of urgency and cry for addressing them and solving them at the earliest
Texavi’s Model for Problems and Solutions
I would like to touch upon briefly the model I evolved at Texavi to have a better handle at problems and solutions. The image below provides a clear distinction between problem space and solution space. As you can see, focus on the problem domain first helps us understand the WHAT and WHY which enable us to get to define the TO-BE WHAT and HOW to reach there. Also, this platform independent model lets you apply the methods and rules to any platform, technology. I shall discuss more on this in a separate blog post.
Problems drive solutions
Yes, problems do drive solutions and not vice versa. It is imperative to specify the problems first and then accordingly, direct our attention to the solutions. I would like to take the analogy of train and engine to put forward my point about problems and solutions. My fascination for trains and being a son of a Railways employee, I couldn’t but think of a better example. A train is driven by the engine and not by the bogies attached to it. No matter whether the engine is placed in the front or back of the train, it still powers the train and makes it move. Similarly, understanding the problems always helps us to find the correct solutions to tackle those problems.
How do you get to the problems
Well, by now you might have been convinced that problems are as important as, if not more important than solutions. The next obvious question that might come to your mind is how we can identify the problems, in the first place. From experience, I realized that problem solving is best when it is solved where it has come from. To be able to spot the problems in the correct way, we need to really have an open mind, with an inquisitive approach leading to exploration and discovery. This is quite different when you approach the solutions, which might need a one-pointed focus, with deep dive approach leading to generation of ideas and implementation of solution.
I follow a set of unwritten rules when trying to work in the problem space. These facilitate me by providing the right directions for the flow of my thinking. You can find the following pointers helpful in structuring your thoughts and approach to problem identification:
- What are the problems?
- Whose problems am I trying to solve?
- Why are these problems existing in the first place?
- Where can I start with my solution? Which problems need my attention, first?
- When can these problems said to be solved?
- How can I solve these problems?
My mantra for problems and solutions
Based on my experience as an analyst over the years, trying to find problems and solve them, I created a small mantra to help myself. This helps me focus and leverage the powerful relationship between problems and solutions. It is applicable to most situations, and helps all of us in any sphere of work and life. In fact, this entire post is based on this one and I would urge you, especially the product managers and business analysts among you to note it well and try and put into practice.
Know problems…know solutions
No problems…no solutions!
I hope that you find this post helpful to set the direction and help change your views about the problems and solutions. I will cover more details on the proven methodologies that we evolved at Texavi Innovative Solutions. As always, your feedback is welcome. Until next post, Ciao!