State Your Problem Correctly and Win

The A3 Problem Solving Record Sheet format used here at comprises 8 steps, and can be downloaded from our “Resources” section on the site. The first step is to State the Problem. This seems a perfectly natural and obvious thing to do, and yet is so often an aspect neglected by problem solvers. It is only when we understand the true importance of the Problem Statement that we can appreciate the amount of focus that needs to be placed on this part of the problem solving process.

When a problem is detected, our natural inclination is to find out what the root cause of the problem is so that we can solve the problem. As you can see from the A3 template, root cause analysis is only the 4th step in the problem solving process. Instead of immediately investing time and effort into understanding the root cause, we first need to spend an appropriate amount of time on understanding the problem itself. That understanding will result in an accurate problem statement. Steps1 and 2 of the A3 problem solving process, which entail “Stating the Problem” and “Analysing the Problem”, work hand in hand. The problem statement guides the analysis of the problem and the  analysis of the problem often then leads to a revision and refinement of the problem statement. But why is this problem statement so important?

As its name suggests, the Problem Statement is a description of the problem that is to be solved. Getting this description correct guides the problem solving process in the right direction. The problem statement is however about much more than making a good start, or about ensuring that the right problem is being solved. It links to various steps throughput the problem solving process. It guides problem analysis and it helps us to characterise the problem in terms of its dominant performance area, and to determine an appropriate performance measure. The problem statement is the starting point for the root cause analysis process. It is a vital part of evaluating the success of implemented solutions. It also assists with identifying where else the implemented solution could possibly be replicated, thereby multiplying the benefits of the problem solving process. 

It’s clear then that taking the time to develop an accurate problem statement significantly improves our chances of solving our problem. You can find out exactly how to do this, and how to analyse a problem in our new micro course: Problem Statements & Problem Analysis

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