How to Avoid Solving the Wrong Problem

We all know about the problem of “plunging in” – that is, trying to find a solution before we really understand the problem. Many of us have been trained to “frame” a problem before jumping to solutions – where frame is defining the scope, objectives and boundaries of a decision. This is a good practice, but not sufficient. We need to ensure that the frame we create is the right one.

The best method to get the frame right and avoid solving the wrong problem is to generate alternative frames and consider which best fits the issue at hand. Make the choice of “frame” a conscious decision. But how do you generate alternative frames?

Try the “Five Perspectives Test.” Once you have a sense about the nature of the problem, looking at it again from different perspectives allows you to create many different frames. Challenge the “presenting” frame with the following Perspective Tests:

1. Time: How would the frame change if we had looked at this last year? Next year?
2. People: How would so-and-so have framed this? How about our competitors? How about our customers?
3. Risk: How would we frame this more aggressively? More conservatively?
4. Resources: What would we do if we had no resource constraints? Even tighter budgets?
5. Breadth: How could we impact the organization the least? What would we do if we weren’t concerned about the organizational impact?

Giving space to alternative frames, and making that a discrete choice, is key to framing the problem correctly and essential to solving the right problem.

Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

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