The ability to examine and understand the breadth and depth of any given problem
What is it?
Problem analysis is the ability to thoroughly understand any given situation or problem including its history, the root causes, and the reasons why the problem hasn’t been solved already.
Why is it important?
Much of the work that companies do is solving problems. How can we increase sales? How can we decrease expenses? How can we improve employee engagement? Why aren’t the design engineers creating new, innovative products for us? These questions must be thoroughly understood before a plausible solution can be found. In this way, the success of any organization is actually dependent upon its ability to solve problems.
First of all, we must resist the urge to make premature decisions before we fully understand the breadth and depth of a problem. If anyone were to offer a solution in a way that suggests “all we need to do is this,” the suggestion might be naïve and short-sighted. While simplicity is to be admired, most solutions are just not that easy and don’t address the underlying causes of the problem and, therefore, only treat symptoms. Wait until you thoroughly understand an issue before you draw conclusions.
Seek Multiple Perspectives
Second, the best way to analyze a problem is to collect data. Go beyond opinions and find hard data to illuminate the issues that created and now sustain the problem. If there is no data available, create your own. Conduct a survey or interview people who have first-hand knowledge about the problem. Look at the issues from all perspectives. Ask others what they think about the issue. Do your homework. Since most companies deal with the same issues, find out what others are doing to address the same or similar problems.
There are a wealth of problem analysis tools available such as fishbone diagrams, 5 whys, root cause analysis, process flow charts and problem trees that can guide your analysis. These tools help you to thoroughly understand the problem from many angles. They force you to be disciplined and help you make a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the problem. Learn two or three of them well enough to employ them whenever they are needed.