Problem Solving … The PHD course (part 2) Understanding the Problem Space

In my blog Problem Solving … The PHD course (part 1) we talked about the first step, getting your client’s permission to investigate and explore their problem space and the conditions by which they would be satisfied with the resolution.

Now we need to investigate the problem.  Some typical client problems?

  • Inability to meet IT delivery schedules or keep pace with  business needs
  • IT costs too high
  • System instability or availability
  • Business Process is ineffective, error prone or slow
  • Customer Dissatisfaction
  • End users can’t get the information they need fast enough
  • Usable information is not available in a timely manner
  • etc. etc. etc.

So where do you start in the problem resolution process?

  1. understand the problem space
  2. understand what defines success for your client and your client’s “system”
  3. solve for resolution options
  4. optimize options
  5. decide between options
  6. secure buy-in for the implementation of the desired option
  7. implement the option
  8. evaluate the success of the option
  9. revise or improve option
  10. repeat step 8

Understanding the Problem Space

The first thing to notice is that I did not call it the problem, but the problem space. Even in the simple example used in Problem Solving … The PHD course (part 1) of the flat tire, there are potentially many problems surrounding, interconnected to and related with the one stated by the client. (ie. You can call a tow truck, but if you make the client late for a meeting with his or her  CEO you may have created a bigger problem.) There are 2 steps to understanding the problem space:

  • 2a – Getting  Perspective on the problem space
  • 2b- Getting a good definition of the problem space

Getting  Perspective

perspective3 perspective24

First stand back and decide who will have views of the problem.

  • Your client’s view
  • Their Customer’s View
  • The Operational View
  • The Strategic View
  • The Time View

Perspective is important in all 5 of these views. Arcturus is the 3rd brightest star in the sky and when you look up, a mere pinpoint in the sky.  In reality, Arcturus is 26 times larger than the Sun which is in turn is 110 times larger than earth. AKA really, really big. So depending on your perspective, Arcturus is really, really small or really, really big. Hence the importance of having perspective and knowing the perspective you are having. (I think I should trademark that saying…)

The only way you sort this out is to ask questions.

  • If I were the client how I would I see this?
  • If I were the client’s customer how would I see this?
  • If I were the IT dept, the Development Manager etc. , how would I see this?
  • If I were the CEO how who I see this?
  • If this were not addressed for 1 month, 3 months, 1 year, 5 years what would happen?

Your client’s view is important but not definitive. What are the “customers” of the solution saying or needing? How is it or can it be operated? What are the expectations of maintenance, performance, usability etc? What are the first steps and nest steps? What is the big picture? The end game, The utopia? Now what are the timelines,  inferred, derived, expected and realistic and the delta between each?

Step 2b) Getting an good definition of the problem space

Instead of a subjective, opinionated debate, defining a problem can be an objective discussion. It is only a problem because it is stopping your client from achieving something. What is it? What is it that prevents your client  from reaching their goal?

Ask these questions.

    • What have they tried before?
    • Why didn’t it work?
    • What does not work?
    • What does?
    • If you had a magic wand what would they fix first? Why?
    • Who are the users?
    • What do they think?
    • Can we solve it? Is it worth solving?
    • Is this the real problem, or merely a symptom of a larger one?
    • If this is an old problem, what’s wrong with the previous solution?
    • Can I risk ignoring it?  If not, why not?

Step 1 – Get Permission

Step 2 – Get Perspective  and get a definition of the problem space.

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3 Responses to Problem Solving … The PHD course (part 2) Understanding the Problem Space

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