Saturday, 6 April 2013

What's your problem? How you describe influences how you solve

When problem solving, re-ask the question you are trying to figure out, but each time describe it a different way, thinking about what the problem really means. The way you describe a problem you are trying to solve influences how you think about it.

Different descriptions, allow us to think about it in different ways, we then end up with different perspectives and this increases the potential sources of a solution.

You could get different members of your team to each describe the problem in their own way or from their perspective. The differing descriptions could show up different avenues for a solution or work around. For example, a server or web site starts to run slow. The techies will have something to say about load balancing, VMware etc, the Customer Service Manager will have the end users in mind, the Sales Manager might consider it a PR / Sales problem.

Each perspective expands the problem but also expands the mitigating tasks you can employ e.g. contact all users and let them know there is a problem but you are working on it. This will reduce the inbound support calls. This frees up the techies to fix the issue and not get pulled into reactive inbound support calls. The Sales Manger contacts key clients with updates from the techies. When it is fixed, users can be contacted with the good news and the episode used as an example of how well your support works.

Put it another way. When you start solving a problem, you normally have a fairly specific description of what is wrong. You think about the problem in terms of how it presents itself. If you are trying to fix your car when it won’t start in the morning, you think about the battery, fuel, the starter, plugs or alternator.

When you describe your problem as being something other than, ‘How do I start the car?’, e.g. ‘How do I get to work?’, ‘How do I get someone to cover for me if I can’t get in?’, 'who can fix my car?' your thinking gets a little more abstract.

You now think about not having transport, not being able to keep to a schedule. As the details change, it leads to new insights and potential solutions. You might decide to call a mechanic, call work and put on your ‘out of office’ or work from home for a few hours.

That might be a better solution than dissecting your engine and figuring out if the spark plugs or starter is bust. You will still be late for work and may only have swapped one problem for another.

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