Problem statement and its importance

I just read “The Most Underrated Skill in Management” written BY NELSON P. REPENNING, DON KIEFFER, and TODD ASTOR.  The article written by these MIT professors discuss how neglecting to formulate a clear problem statement often prevents innovation and leads to wasted time and money.  I believe that reading this article may improve your problem formulation skills and introduce a
simple method for solving problems if you are in a management potion.

A good problem statement has five basic elements according to the article.  The article lists/quotes “1. It references something the organization cares about and connects that element to a clear and specific goal; 2. it contains a clear articulation of the gap between the current state and the goal; 3. the key variables — the target, the current state, and the gap — are quantifiable; 4. it is as neutral as possible concerning possible diagnoses or solutions; and 5. it is sufficiently small in scope that you can tackle it quickly.  It is very similar to mission and vision statements, but it focuses on the problem, so it has more details.  This is a very good break down and it should be generated by managers and flow down to the employees, because employees are the ones who work the core function for the organization.

The first rule of thumb is obviously asking yourself if the problem is important in the first place.  Secondly, you have to mind the gap.  Research suggest that feeling of progress gives them the motivation, realizing that their efforts are causing the progress of the company, they work harder.  Third, you have to quantify the gap.  We have all used office project before and its a good way to quantify the gap. Start by digging into an issue and discover ways to measure things that haven’t been done.  Fourth, you must remain as neutral as possible.  Lastly, a good problem statement is “scoped down” to a specific manifestation of the larger issue that you care about.

Make sure that we avoid these 4 problems.  One is failing to formulate the problem in the first place (which is the main issue many companies), second is making mistake in formulating the problem statement, third is failing to articulate a clear gap, and lastly formulating problems by scoping down.  These are the issues that many managers face, mostly because we rather leave it up to the consultant to fix it every now and then, which isn’t really great because fixing too much stuff at once can put the company under unexpectedly.

 

The article talks about the five parts of a good problem statement and breaks it down to easily make a clear statement for employees to absorb.

The first rule of thumb is obviously asking yourself if the problem is important in the first place.  Most of the time, we tend to skip it if it ain’t broken.  We should definitely start calculating the cost to see if its worth the time to implement a patch to fix the issues on hand.  Secondly, you have to mind the gap.  Research suggest that feeling of progress gives them the motivation, realizing that their efforts are causing the progress of the company, they work harder.  Within the maintenance and operation sectors in the Air Force, the organization generate an annual flying hour program as well as maintenance program to support the flying hour program.  It’s a great way to see the progress of the program because it generates fighter pilots, professional mechanics, and much more.  Third, you have to quantify the gap.  We have all used office project before and its a good way to quantify the gap. Start by digging into an issue and discover ways to measure things that haven’t been done.  For example, in the military, they have analysis section that keeps all the information within the database to generate useful data to measure things that haven’t been done to ensure better success for the future.  Historical data are measured and are a good tool to use for future decisions.  Fourth, you must remain as neutral as possible.  Lastly, a good problem statement is “scoped down” to a specific manifestation of the larger issue that you care about.  There’s a reason why each section has an officer commanding over them.

Make sure that we avoid these 4 problems.  One is failing to formulate the problem in the first place, second is making mistake in formulating the problem statement, third is failing to articulate a clear gap, and lastly formulating problems by scoping down.

The article talks about a term for walk around, also known as Gemba walk.  Gemba walk is a means for executives to find out what really happens on a day-to-day basis, and the commanders in the military do this by taking a tour around the section when they have a change in leadership (which happens quite frequently) to see how each section works.  But this has recently been changed to network based medium because a lot of work can be done digitally as well as it being monitored.

The article uses A3 as a chart to help them come up with a good structured problem solving method.  It would to start with observing the current design, then finding root causes, then targeting the design, setting goals and leadership guidelines, and lastly executing the plan.  I believe most companies already do this, just not being followed through.

All in all, this is something that consultants do.  But when consultants get involved, they’re going to want to change a lot of stuff within the company and it can pose a big risk.  It’s better for managers to get involved in this process to ensure constant innovation and change.

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