Human beings are wired to solve problems. We approach every challenge with a desire to fix it, to make it go away, to find a resolution. However, not all problems are created equal, and not all solutions are the right ones. In order to find the right solution, we need to ask the right questions. In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of asking the right questions to fix the right problem.
Obsess About the Problem
We have a tendency to jump right to fixing something. However, the first step in finding the right solution is not to focus on the answer. Rather, become obsessed with the problem. This requires asking the right questions to gain a deep understanding of what the problem is to get to the root cause, including:
- What exactly is the problem?
- When is the problem occurring?
- Where is the problem occurring? Is it localized? Across the entire organization?
- How do we know it’s a problem? What is the number of incidents, occurrences, frequencies in real numbers, not percentages?
- Magnitude of the problem? Can this cost/impact be quantified in dollars?
- Why is this a problem? Why does it matter?
- Who does this problem affect directly? Indirectly?
Asking the right questions helps to clarify the scope and severity of the problem, which in turn helps to identify the most appropriate solution. Writing a strong problem statement helps to rally everyone around it so they know what problem they’re solving, why it’s a problem, who it affects, how big of a problem it is, and what a successful outcome would look like.
Focus on the Data
Oftentimes, companies will spend millions of dollars on a solution without clear understanding or measurements on whether that solution was effective. A large part of obsessing about the problem and asking the right questions is about getting to the right data around the problem. Baselining the data and measuring on a regular frequency as a solution is implemented enables a company to make adjustments more quickly and reduce wasted effort if the desired outcomes are not achieved in the expected timeframes.
Assumptions can be dangerous when it comes to problem solving. We often make assumptions about what the problem is, what caused it, and what the solution should be. Asking the right questions and focusing on data helps to avoid jumping to conclusions and instead encourages a more objective, evidence-based approach to problem-solving.
Asking the right questions encourages collaboration between team members and expands diversity in thought. When we ask questions, we invite others to share their knowledge and expertise, which usually leads to more creative and effective solutions. Don’t just ask the usual or obvious people either. Seek out those that may be affected by this problem both upstream and downstream in the process, especially those with firsthand knowledge on the front lines. This collaborative approach also helps to build trust and improve communication among team members, leading to a more positive and inclusive work culture.
Ultimately, asking the right questions is essential to achieving desired outcomes. By obsessing about the problem, focusing on the data, identifying the root cause, avoiding assumptions, and encouraging collaboration, you can ensure that you are addressing the right problem (not symptoms) and clearly understand which solution(s) would be most effective. So next time you are faced with a problem, take the time to ask the right questions up front, and you’ll be well on your way to finding the right answer.