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  • James Kelly

Are you solving the "right" problem?

Finding the right problem to solve is a crucial step in any endeavour, whether it's in business, science, or everyday life. It is the foundation upon which solutions are built, and the effectiveness of those solutions often hinges on the clarity and accuracy of the problem definition.

This is what we call the problem cycle - the process of finding the right problem to solve.

  1. Identify Your Goals and Objectives: Start by defining your overarching goals and objectives. What do you hope to achieve? Understanding your desired outcome will help you focus on problems that align with your goals. For instance, if you aim to improve customer satisfaction in your business, then identifying problems related to customer experience becomes a priority.

  2. Research and Gather Data: Conduct thorough research to gather data and insights. This might involve market research, surveys, customer feedback, or scientific studies. Data is critical in understanding the as-is and can reveal patterns or trends that point to specific problems.

  3. Analyze the Data: Once you have collected data, analyze it to identify trends, pain points, or areas of improvement. Look for anomalies, customer complaints, inefficiencies, or opportunities that emerge from the data. This analysis phase is where you can start to narrow down potential problems.

  4. Prioritize and Define the Problem: Not all identified issues will be equally important or feasible to address. Prioritize them based on factors like impact, feasibility, and alignment with your goals. A well-defined problem statement is essential. It should be clear, specific, and actionable. For example, instead of stating "customer dissatisfaction," you might define the problem as "a high rate of customer complaints about slow response times to support requests."

  5. Seek Input and Diverse Perspectives: Collaborate with others, both within and outside your team. Diverse perspectives can help uncover hidden problems or provide alternative viewpoints on existing ones. Brainstorming sessions, discussions with colleagues, or consulting with subject matter experts can be invaluable in this phase.

  6. Test and Iterate: Once you've identified a problem, consider running small-scale experiments to test potential solutions. This helps validate whether you've accurately defined the problem and allows you to refine your understanding based on real-world results. The process of iteration can lead to a more precise problem definition.

  7. Stay Open to Evolution: Keep in mind that problem-solving is an iterative process. As you work on solutions, your understanding of the problem may evolve. Stay open to adjusting your problem statement if new information or insights emerge. Flexibility is key to finding the most effective solution.

In all except the most straightforward situations, finding the right problem to solve involves a systematic and data-driven approach that starts with clear goals, relies on thorough research and analysis, and benefits from collaboration and ongoing iteration. It's a foundational step that significantly influences the success of any problem-solving endeavour. By investing time and effort in this phase, you set yourself up for more effective and impactful solutions.

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