At one large company, there exists a small dedicated Innovation Center, whose role it is to conduct sessions to assist the various business units in solving their problems in new and unexpected ways. In all of the sessions that they were called on to run, the Center found that not a single business unit had defined its problem correctly before the session.
You can’t solve a problem that you can’t clearly define.¬† In business, if you focus on the wrong problem, or define the problem incorrectly, then you might come up with many great solutions that don’t apply to your issue, or solve any real deficit.¬† That’s a lot of wasted effort.
Of all the tasks associated with problem-solving, clearly defining and stating the challenge is the most important because it determines the subject matter on which employees will focus their attention to generate ideas. Sounds pretty elementary, right?
Here are 3 very basic tips for crafting a challenge statement, which people often fumble:
- When stating your problem, do so clearly, and always start with a phrase like How might we (achieve this)? or How can we (provide or do the following)? These types of questions lead people to start thinking in terms of directly solving only the problem at hand. Keep in mind, you can include some background information leading up to the question, but don’t include a lot of irrelevant information. Only share with your problem solver what they need to know: state the problem you’re trying to solve in a clear and concise way.
- You shouldn’t suggest a solution (or hint at one) within the problem statement itself. For example, a statement such as How can we save money by reducing waste? could better. It leads your problem solvers to only think of solving the issue (saving money) within the parameters of YOUR suggestion (reducing waste). In doing so, you limit the boundaries of coming up with a creative solution. Now, there may be cases where that’s precisely what you want to do.¬† Crafting a challenge is all about honing the responses to exactly what you want to get back. For instance, reducing waste is a great solution for saving money so if you’re only looking for ways to reduce waste, then let that be your Challenge Statement.¬† If you must, include the reason (your need to save money) as background information to let folks know why you’re searching for this.
- Include only ONE problem in the statement.¬† For example: How can we improve our product while reducing the cost of production? Not good -those are TWO distinct problems and should be shared as 2 different challenges.
Here’s an example of a particularly clunky challenge that one company used: “We need to convince our clients to participate more in designing our products so we can be of more value to them.”
This statement violates all 3 of the above guidelines:
#1 – The problem is not clearly stated.¬† The core problem here might be that customers don’t participate in the design process or it may be something else. The real problem more likely lies in that providing value part.
#2 – The statement suggests that the solution to providing more value can only be achieved by convincing customers to participate in the design process. That might be a fine solution, but it’s probably not the only way to provide more value.
#3 – There are 2 separate problems being stated¬† A: How do we provide more value to our clients? and B: How might we get our clients to participate in the design process? Granted, the 2 problems may be connected.¬† In fact, B may be an excellent solution for A. If that’s the case then B still needs to be stated as its own problem.¬† Perhaps use it as a “refinement” statement later on, once you get people to brainstorm around the bigger problem. Or, just go after “B” if that’s what you feel you’re looking for.
With Flagpole (www.flagpole-software.com), you can immediately start sharing your business challenges with people from all across your organization.¬† Flagpole’s proven Open Innovation methodology will help you to successfully solve problems by leveraging the knowledge that already exists in your company.