What's the problem?As a follow-on to an earlier post, I'd like to home in on the first step in any effective problem-solving process defining the problem.
The US Department of Energy Guidebook to Decision-Making Methods (pdf) offers a useful worksheet for clarifying the specifics of the problem you are dealing with. The worksheet has seven sections (somewhat adapted here):
- Summary statement of the problem (= the unacceptable or undesirable condition).
- Define the initial state.
What are the symptoms?
What are notable features
of the problem situation?
What are potential causes
of the problem?
What assumptions are
appropriate for the analysis?
- What will happen if the problem is not solved? Why fix it?
- What historical causes or barriers may be important considerations in defining and evaluating alternative possible solutions?
- What is the desired state? Describe the expected characteristics of the improved situation after the problem is properly solved.
- Who is affected by the problem, i.e., who are the stakeholders? What other significant impacts does the problem have?
- What is included in the system boundary of the problem, i.e, what is the scope of the problem in "big picture" terms?