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Problem Analysis in Five Steps

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Problem analysis lets you discover if your problem is indeed a nail—you can then decide if the solution is a hammer. The purpose of problem analysis is to properly evaluate the problem, identify the cause of the problem, understand glitches or potential in your current process/strategy, prioritize the problem, and make sure you are avoiding common analysis mistakes before you ever jump to a solution.

Evaluating the Problem

Often a problem first becomes apparent because of its effects: your customers are complaining; therefore, they are unhappy. But knowing a problem exists is not enough. First, you must determine if: 

  • You have proof of the problem. In this case, do you have comments on social media or from customers in your store that indicate unhappiness? 
  • The problem is worth solving. Are the majority of customers complaining or only a small minority? Has this particular problem affected sales or customer loyalty? 

Problems must be proven and worth solving to justify further exploration and analysis.

Identifying the Cause

Finding the root cause of the problem is essential to finding the solution.

One method for identifying the root cause is to ask “Why?” until you run out of answers: 

  • Why are customers unhappy?

Answer: Because they cannot buy ice cream at midnight, after the store is closed.

  • Question: Why do customers want ice cream at midnight? 

Answer: Because they are looking for a snack.

  • Question: Why are they looking for a snack?

Answer: Because the last movie/concert/play ends at midnight and they are hungry.

  • Question: Why are they hungry?

Because entertainment venues do not offer snacks.

Once you know the root cause, you can begin to evaluate solutions: keep your store open until midnight; collaborate with the venue to offer snacks during intermission, or invest in an ice cream truck that can be posted outside each venue during intermission and when the patrons leave. 

Understanding the Current Process/Strategy

Another way to analyze a problem is to delve into the what, why, how, who, and sometimes where and when of your current strategy:

  • What customer needs are we currently meeting?
  • Why are we concentrating on those needs? 
  • How are we meeting those needs?
  • Who is responsible for meeting those needs?

By questioning the current process and/or strategy, you may discover you already have a path for increasing customer satisfaction. You will also have a clearer idea of the potential obstacles to change.

Prioritizing the Problem

Even if the problem is proven and worth solving, fits in with your current process or strategy, and has clear causes, it may not be a priority compared to other problems. Analysis has to take into consideration factors such as cost, risk, urgency, and resources needed for a solution. 

You may find that customer satisfaction in this one area is a low priority compared with other problems such as maintaining your supply line or controlling costs.

Avoiding Mistakes in Problem Analysis

One mistake in problem analysis is to spend more time in finding someone to blame than in solving the problem. When problem analysis concentrates on finger-pointing, opportunities are overlooked, teams lose their motivation, and solutions that might have been brainstormed are squelched. 

Another common mistake is to confuse problems and solutions. For example, as a store owner, you may decide that you need more advertising in the local paper. That is not a problem—that is a solution you reached before identifying the problem. What problem would advertising solve? You must go back to the beginning and determine if you have a problem and if the problem is proven and worth solving by spending more on advertising.

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