Steps That Enhance Problem Analysis
Read Time: 8 minutes, 40 seconds
Break the Problem Down into Small Units
By breaking the problem down into small units, you define the scope of the problem (“improve morale”) into steps that are more achievable (“ask the department employees why they are unhappy”). You can also begin to focus on your strengths (talking with employees) and progressively identify where and when you will need more help (writing an employee survey). Breaking the problem into small parts helps to answer the first three questions in your problem analysis. 1. Is there a problem? 2. Who is affected? 3. Why is it happening?
Symptoms Can Mask the Problem
When you’re in the thrust of issues, stagnation, frustrations, tension, or burnout it sometimes is difficult to focus attention on the root cause instead of the symptoms on the surface. For example, if performance in your department is lacking you may be quick to judge the people. But upon further investigation, you uncover the hiring due diligence doesn’t equal that of the position, and training is subpar for the level of expectations. In the end, the people were merely performing as to their expected hire and training prepared. These types of situations take place in our homes, offices, companies, volunteer committee, education facilities, and more all over the globe. Be committed to getting to the root cause and not allowing the symptoms to mask the problem.
Reframe the Problem to the Positive
As you have been learning, our brains are wired to think towards the negative. It’s a defense mechanism to warrant off threats and protect the body. So when there are problems occurring in your life it’s easier to view them and address coming from the negative space. If you go back and look at the workplace example we provided we intentionally wrote it in the negative format. The personal example we provided was written in the positive where the family wanted to increase gratitude instead of decreasing being taken for granted.
More Perspective Means More Evidence
Problems are complex, even the simplest of ones. To get a 360-degree perspective means you’ll need more people to provide their interpretations. Your singular view significantly limits what you see and how you evaluate results. So, the more people to provide insight reduces the complexity of the problem and opens up more opportunities.
You identify a pattern when you say that Department X’s morale plummets during the holidays. However, if you find that Departments Y’s morale stays high during the holidays with the same number of employees and same workload, then increasing the number of workers at Department X might not solve the problem. Work overload may be the wrong problem.
Also, patterns in your own problem analysis affect your problem definition. If you start your problem analysis with questionable assumptions (low productivity is due to bad habits like laziness), then you will emerge with questionable solutions. Similarly, if you always demand the lowest cost short-term solution, you may miss out on solutions with high ROI in the long term.
By identifying patterns, you gradually hone in on the real problem and on a solution that will improve the situation. This step also helps when measuring the importance of the problem.
Identify Your Goal(s)
This step focuses on the question of identifying and implementing a solution: if we don’t know the goal, how do we know when we’ve reached a solution—and the best possible solution?
As you understand your goals, your problem may change. You may decide that one goal for increasing morale in Department X will that you do not decrease morale in Department Y. Therefore, you need to reframe your problem to include the goal of keeping Department Y’s morale high and their turnover low. (Eventually, that goal may lead to rejecting a solution that involves temporarily transferring existing employees from Department Y to Department X.)
One Person to Control Them All
There are certain times when it is best that one person be the point of contact during this process. First is when there are a number of voices contributing. One person to take notes, document claims, conduct follow-ups, and more. Another time is when there is a mass amount of data. Someone to manage research, sorting, filtering, storing is important so nothing falls through the cracks. Another time is when there are strict timelines, guidelines, or regulations to adhere to during the process. Finally, when the problem analysis will contain sensitive information it’s best contained by one person and parsed out in bits and pieces.
In defining the problem, make sure it is truly a problem, that the people most affected by the problem want you to solve it, and that the consequences of solving it are better than the consequences of ignoring it.
Consequences also refine the solution. To continue our example, if we do transfer people from Department Y to Department X, then Department Y may go on strike; but if we promise to hire more people in time for the next holiday, and pay a premium to people at Department Y who agree to transfer, we may avert an upheaval at both departments. In applying this to your own analysis, consider consequences carefully.
TIP: The definition of the problem affects the solution; change the definition, and different solutions will emerge. That’s one reason why multiple perspectives are beneficial in creative problem solving.
Instructions: You’re going to expand on your Practice Problem Analysis to give yourself time to reflect on the Enhanced Steps. Answer the following questions:
- Is your problem broken down into the smallest unit? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Are you dealing with the root cause? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Have you focused on the positive/opportunity? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Do you have all the perspective you need? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Have you taken note of patterns? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Are your goal(s) clear? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Is there a single point of contact? Yes, No, or Unknown?
- Is your solution sound so consequences won’t impact it? Yes, No, or Unknown?
If you answered YES to each question you are good to go. If you selected NO or Unknown, you have some more work to do. Go back and rethink.
You can be so proud of yourself right now for doing this work. You’ll probably find this work tedious in the beginning, to go through each step and consider all of the enhanced steps. Once you take several problems through this analysis it gets easier and soon you’ll be naturally thinking in these questions to identify the answers.
Now we are going to turn our attention to identifying feasible solutions with less stress.
Here are the 8 steps that enhance problem analysis;
1. Break the problem down into small units
2. Symptoms Can Mask the Problem
3. Reframe the Problem to the Positive
4. More Perspective Means More Evidence
5. Identify Patterns
6. Identify Your Goal(s)
7. One Person to Control Them All
8. Consider Consequences