How to define the problem before jumping to solutions
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How to define the problem before jumping to solutions

This article is focussed on explaining how to run problem solving workshops before sprinting to solutions

read time 2 mins

Are you solving the right problem?

We’ve all done it before. We thought we knew the problem and organised a large team to solve the issue, only to work out half way that what we thought was a problem, well, in fact wasn’t. Or it wasn’t the most pressing one.

“In order to find solutions fast you need to identify the right problem first.”

Why do you need to work out what problem to solve first?

It can be quite tempting to start running design sprints. Getting to an outcome fast is incredibly compelling and getting access to senior staff to contribute can be tricky. However, in order to run design sprints effectively (or any other type of lean project) it’s absolutely crucial to ensure you are solving the right problem. Only then can you select the right team to solve it and set aside time to do so.

The other problems are deeply engrained biases. If you want to get stakeholder buy-in (and who doesn’t?) it’s important to involve them at the right time in the right way.

Problem solving workshops are amazing at aligning everyone’s agenda and focus attention on the crux of the problem.

We find that running a problem solving workshop with key stakeholders first is the best and fastest way to agree on a priority list of problems to solve. Prepare yourself for a truly intensive but rewarding day – despite not solving much, yet. But we’ll come to that.

What is a problem solving workshop?

In a problem solving workshop you invite senior stakeholders to help you define your most important problems that need solving. Time and time again we’ve watched senior stakeholders get lost in a design sprint. It’s usually senior stakeholders who are great at strategy, but are often removed from the day-to-day delivery of work or projects. But put them in a problem solving workshop and they come in to their own. Problem solving workshops are incredibly good at distilling key business issues and are helping to focus energy on what’s important.

Like every intensive workshop they require great preparation by the facilitator but a lot of the content is created by the participants.

The key areas to cover are:

  1. Business context – what are the micro and macro trends affecting the business
  2. Justifying the need
  3. Understanding the audience or customer
  4. Finding the opportunity
  5. Stakeholder buy-in
  6. Problem statements

Each part of the day is carefully planned as a series of hands-on exercises that help avoid falling for the usual biases and help participants to focus on outcomes and align agendas. The exact exercises should be tailored to the business.

By the end of the day you will have…

  • Explored your business context
  • Have a long list of potential problems to solve,
  • Know who needs to be involved and who could derail the project
  • Gained an understanding of what you should be aiming for, what has been tried before, what will happen if you don’t pursue your opportunity, what mistakes you could continue to mak
  • Got a much better understanding of your audience.
Two requirements: a lot of wall space and sticky notes...

A good problem statement…

By the end of the day you should have at least one great problem statement to focus on. And by good we mean your problem statement explains:

  • Who is having the problem
  • What the problem is about
  • Where it occurs
  • Why it’s worth solving

We have our problem statement, what next?

Now that you have a clear set of problems to solve and a good idea of what needs to happen it’s time to decide the best way to solve the problem. You could run a design sprint or assemble a lean UX team or you might decide to conduct more customer research first. So, although the problem solving statement doesn’t give you a solution you will have a clear idea of what needs to happen next and who you need to involve. Check mate.

Ready to solve some chunky problems?

Make sure you are solving the right problem before sprinting off to the next solution. It's a day well spent.

Define your problem now