In our eagerness to come up with innovative solutions to business problems, we sometimes forget the crucial first step: clearly delineating the situation. The way you define the problem affects the solution.
Taking time to think it through is essential to your ultimate success. Here are five tactics that can help.
No, we’re not talking about miserable felines here. The acronym “catwoe” is a business-analysis tool that helps you think through problems more effectively.
- C = Customers. Who is affected by the problem? What problem do they have? How will your solutions affect them?
- A = Actors. Who will carry out your solution? How will the solution affect them?
- T = Transformation process. What processes does the problem affect? How will a solution change the process?
- W = World view. What is the big picture and how does the problem affect it? What effect will a solution have on the big picture?
- O = Owner. Who's responsible for the problem or process you’re working on? How will they help or hinder solutions? How would solutions affect them?
- E = Environmental constraints. What are your constraints of time, money, resources, and competition? How can you work within them?
It's a process similar to mind-mapping. Try context-mapping the problem. Write down the general problem area in the center of a whiteboard or paper. Then write key themes that are related to the problem. As with a mind-map, the themes should radiate out from the problem, connected with lines.
Once you come up with five or six themes, start thinking about sub-themes.
For instance, if you’re deciding whether to launch a new e-commerce site for your business, themes might be site design, products, fulfillment, customer service and marketing. Within each theme are many sub-areas to consider.
Creating a context map helps you thoroughly assess the areas related to the problem so that you can narrow down which areas to focus on. Because the process is visual, it’s also a good way to convey ideas to others on your team.
What it is or isn’t
One of the problems with innovation, especially when you get a team involved, is that the scope of a problem can quickly enlarge to the point where your people lose sight of what they’re working on. The “is or isn’t” tactic helps you clearly define what the problem is and what it isn’t, so you’re always working on solving the correct problem.
Write the general issue at the top of a whiteboard or sheet of paper. Create an “Is” column on the left and an “Isn’t” column on the right. Then write down what is or isn’t included in the problem.
For example, if your problem is “deliveries are not making it to our customers on time,” you can use “is or isn’t” to delineate various factors. Note such things as when the problems occur, what types of products are involved, what customers are involved, whether the deliveries occur late or not at all, and so on.
Purpose of the solution
In trying to delineate the problem, it helps to determine what purpose the solution will serve. Constantly ask “What is this for?”
For example, if you’re trying to develop a better system for your sales team to follow up on leads, ask what the purpose of that system is. Is it to close more sales? To increase the number of prospects in the pipeline? To save the salespeople time so they’ll be more efficient? It could be all of these things. But by constantly asking “Why are we doing this?” you’ll be able to focus on priorities and avoid getting sidetracked on unimportant or less important issues.
At the end of your work, you should be able to come up with a “problem statement.” Similar to a mission statement, the problem statement helps keep everyone on your team focused on the same goal. It should be short and simple enough for everyone to keep in mind as they work on innovative solutions to the problem, not too broad in focus, and not too narrow.
Just like crafting a mission statement, writing a problem statement requires time, so don’t rush it. If you’re working with a group, get everyone’s opinions and contributions to it. By coming up with something that everyone can buy into, you’re more likely to be successful at innovating as you move forward.