What’s (really) your problem?

June 23, 2014 David Suydam

There will be a time when every business must go in search of a solution. But the quality and success of that solution often depends on how well the problem is understood.

There is a famous passage from Douglas Adams’ cult classic novel, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, in which a race of aliens—desperate to unlock the meaning of “life, the universe and everything”—build the greatest computer the universe has ever seen. After taking millennia to build the necessary algorithm, the computer finally delivers its answer to the descendants of those who asked the question: “42.”

When this absurdly simple answer fails to satisfy the stunned alien race, the computer – somewhat snidely – suggests that maybe it is the question that really needs more analysis, not the answer.

It’s a funny story, but like every great joke, it’s funny because beneath the absurdity of the scenario lays a nugget of truth: All too often, we are unhappy with a solution that is offered to us because we failed to adequately express what our problem was.

Is Your Problem The Problem?

By the time many businesses have decided they need help with a problem, they’ve already travelled a good distance down the road to a specific solution. This can yield problem statements such as, “I need a way to measure turnstile movement so I know exactly how many people are entering the premises,” or, “I need to be able to connect my SAP system to my Microsoft CRM platform.”

These statements—if they are in fact the real issue—are fine. But what if they’ve failed to address the bigger picture? By spending time and money developing a solution to such specific needs, you risk backing your enterprise into a corner when it eventually turns out that your true needs were more complex than you thought. This can be particularly problematic when an organization takes steps internally to address a problem, only to seek the help of an outside vendor when the planned solution grows beyond their capabilities.

Before you go in search of a solution, it’s important to understand the scope of the business problem.  Architech Sales Director, Christian Magsisi, says that being able to express the needs of the organization from a 50,000-foot level is “imperative” to getting a solution that works.

“A well-stated and succinct description of the business need is our North Star,” says Magsisi. “It’s what you refer back to whenever there’s a difficult decision to be made. It’s also a client’s best insurance against ‘scope-creep’ – that tendency during a project to want to add in elements that might seem cool, but don’t actually move the solution toward the stated goal.”

Visionary Goals Let You See The Real Problems

Before engaging the services of a solutions vendor (or pursuing an internal development effort) Magsisi offers this advice: “You need to understand the end-goal. Even if it’s an ‘in-a-perfect-world’ scenario, the statement needs to be crystal-clear and ideally, possess a visionary outlook on the business needs.”

This approach means the difference between,

“We need an iOS app so customers can book reservations with us from anywhere,”

and,

“We need to increase customer engagement.”

For example, it’s entirely possible that developing a restaurant or catering reservation booking iOS app will be part of the solution you ultimately develop. But if you started with that highly specific goal, you may have missed other opportunities for that app such as a feedback mechanism, a way for customers to share their experiences from the app, or even the ability to view a detailed ingredient list to check menu items for known allergens.

“Starting with this high-level view of the business means that we can more effectively discover the underlying objectives – the goals that ultimately feed into the big picture,” says Magsisi. “From there, we can develop a comprehensive solution that addresses specific needs without ever losing sight of the big picture.”

Summary: The Top Three Steps in Understanding The Problem

  1. Develop a deep understanding of your specific business needs.
  2. Identify and agree on your overall goals and strategy.
  3. Understand the context and constraints.

Contact us to see what’s possible for your organization today – we’d love to hear from you!

 

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