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Problem Analysis: Defining the Problem

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Let’s talk about the elements of Problem Solving you’ll be going through:

  • Problem analysis concentrates on defining the problem you are facing.
  • Problem solving determines possible solutions to the problem.
  • Decision making is a judgement call on which solution to select. 

Everything depends on problem definition. A clear, detailed definition allows solutions to emerge; it helps you recognize the solution(s) that will resolve the problems. The processes and approaches you use may be similar at all three stages, but your success depends on how you first define the problem.

By asking the right questions and taking the right steps to find answers, you come up with a problem that everyone understands and where the solution is not only relevant but recognizable.

It may sound daunting at first but as long as you follow our method, you’ll be seeing solutions all around you. Just keep going.

The Questions That Problem Analysis Answers

Let’s suppose your team is asked to solve the problem of low morale in the company. The first question you want to ask is: Is there a problem? Is low morale having an effect on the company? Is it interfering with productivity, customer relations, or revenue? Or has someone merely heard a few passing grumbles that you can check out? This question forces you to review data, results, and documented facts.

Pause: Before moving forward, determine your level of control over this problem; from none to little to moderate and full control. Depending on your level you maybe need to partner with others that have greater control in order to design and implement solutions.

The next question you want to ask is: Who is affected? Maybe morale only decreases in one department during the holidays when orders peak; impacts only project teams when a certain member is assigned; or one particular region overseen by one particular manager. Here is a time to laser focus on the people and the trends they create via messaging, complaints, productivity, turn-over, and efficiency. 

You also have to ask: Why is it happening? You may have to ask “why” many times until you drill down to a first cause: Why did we diagnose low morale in the department? Because of high turnover. Why is the turnover high? Because people are overworked. Why are they overworked? Because too many packages are coming through during the holidays. Be careful at this phase as people have a tendency to get defensive and justify during the answering of this question. Push through and keep going, reminding them it’s about the getting to the root of the issue so it can be fixed. 

A vital question to answer is: How important is the problem? If the low morale and turnover are within industry standards, maybe you don’t need to worry at all. If the problem is a crisis (everyone threatens to strike during the holidays), you yourself might have to jump right to solutions and pick the best available option at your fingertips. 

Caution: Here is where problem analysis is at risk for being halted. Our brains turn us away from threats due to our stress response. If the problem seems so important that it could be threatening the safety of the manager’s/department’s/company’s future, then the tendency may be to downplay the impact or sweep the problem under a giant rug all together. Don’t let it happen. Answer the next question.

When you know why, who, and the importance of the problem (to you and to the company), the next question is: What do we want to accomplish? This is the goal. Do we want to stop turnover or only make sure that people in the department are working during this upcoming holiday? This question is meant to be specific towards the original problem and not a global goal. It’s easy to say, “We want more revenue,” or “We want happy teams,” but that won’t get you to correct the original issue. Be specific. 

Next, we need to ask: How do we identify a solution? If the problem is turnover, then are we sure morale is the only cause of turnover or could it be something else, like hiring practices? Do we want a solution that is high enough to the industry standards or exceeds them? How are the solutions in alignment with our culture, mission, vision, and mantra? The range of solutions is different depending on the type of solution you want. 

The last question is: What will be the criteria for selecting a solution? You may be looking for the lowest cost solution or the one with the greatest effect, a long-term solution or a quick solution, and those parameters are important in resolving the problem. 

This process works in your personal life too!

Is there a problem?

Consider an intimate relationship where one person wants to increase the gratitude people have for them. Are there times when this person is truly unappreciated? By whom and for how long? How are they defining “gratitude?” What does it look like to them and others?

Who is affected?

Although only one person is voicing their desire, are there others within the family that feel the same way? How is this one person’s feelings overflowing into other relationships? 

Why is it happening?

Is it happening only at certain times? In consistent places? With specific other’s involved or around? What’s occurring at the exact time the unappreciated feelings begin? What is triggered by something said or done?

How important is the problem?

Are these feelings getting in the way of deepening the relationship? Are there fractures in communication, affection, or trust because of this problem? Is the issue only important to one person or many?

What do we want to accomplish?

Do we want this person’s feelings to change or someone else’s behaviors? Is it more of group unity that needs addressing? What about each person’s interactions within the tribe? 

How do we identify a solution?

Is it going to be based on one person’s assessment of the solution or will others voice their feelings? Will people’s behaviors be tracked in some way? Will outside assistance be used as part of the solution like coaching, going to the gym, date nights?

What will be the criteria for selecting a solution?

The solution that provides for long-term partnership.

At the end of the problem analysis, you should be able to define the problem something like this: “We are facing a problem of low morale in Department X which has led to high turnover due to overwork during the holiday seasons. The high turnover is causing us to miss our entire delivery schedule during the holidays. We want the least expensive solution that will reduce turnover during the holidays and enable us to meet our delivery schedule.”

Personal Example

There is an opportunity for everyone to share more gratitude towards Family Member X where they feel their work and commitment to this family is valued. The lack of sharing is causing resentment, frustration, and anger towards family members, creating tension and conflict. We all desire for a solution that will create long-term connections of value, love, and appreciation.

If you change the word “morale” in the example to any other problem—from where the family will go to dinner to a decrease in company revenue—you begin to see the importance of defining the problem in a way that everyone involved can understand. Otherwise, you risk arguing over the problem rather than searching for solutions or finding a solution (hire younger, faster employees) that has nothing to do with the problem.

TIP: Once you find a solution, check at intervals to make sure that it is addressing the problem as defined, and that the problem hasn’t changed. If needed, re-ask questions until you have sharpened your definition or uncovered the new problem.


Problem Analysis Practice

Instructions: Think of a small problem you have right now and that you have full control over. Go through the questions in order and see where you land with a possible solution. When finished, post in the comments or go to the FB group and share there. 

  1. Is there a problem?
  2. Who is affected?
  3. Why is it happening?
  4. How important is the problem?
  5. What do I want to accomplish?
  6. How do I identify a solution?
  7. What will be the criteria for selecting a solution?

You might be feeling empowered to run off and implement your solution. Not yet, soon. First there are a few other considerations to think about. 

Key Takeaways

Problem analysis defines the problem. Define it too loosely, and people may end up arguing over the definition rather than searching for the solution. Change the definition and different solutions will emerge. Problem analysis helps you arrive at the solution that best meets your goals in the time allowed.

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