Identifying the Problem

Over the last few years, I’ve been invited to observe or participate in a lot of working groups to solve problems. Some were touted as design thinking working groups and others just ended up being meetings to discuss situations. One common area I found with many of the underperforming groups that I observed was that solutions were readily provided, yet the problem had not been identified.

In a recent example, I had a teleconference with an organization to discuss a transformation that had already been briefed to senior management. When the presentation was over, I asked the group what the problem was they were trying to solve. The team had developed all sorts of interesting solutions, but it wasn’t clear to me what problem was being solved. Was there one problem or many problems? Were symptoms of problems separated from problems?

After stumbling for a minute or so, the team lead replied that the organization was just not happy with the way things were going. I asked what specific things the organization was not happy with.

“I don’t know, higher management just wants changes and they don’t know what they want,” came the reply from one of the team members.

Creative solutions are great…if we know the problem we are tackling. We may have great ideas and awesome solutions, but we might be trying to solve the wrong problem.

It is critical that we properly identify problems before we generate solutions, even if we are experimenting to probe the situation.