The way to solve a complex problem is to break it down into smaller problems that are much more easily solved. However, the first step in problem solving is to identify the problem we are trying to solve. If it isn’t written down and critically discussed, we haven’t completed what we call “Framing the Problem.”
We get so focused on identifying unmet needs, new technology, market trends, etc. that we miss this most important first step that guides everything we do throughout the project.
In 10 years of operating The Valen Group, we continually surprise those involved by conducting this first step, sometimes after protest, only to realize we didn’t truly understood the problem we were asked to solve until we completed this step. Here are some questions we use to frame the problem when approaching a growth or innovation project:
1. Are we putting the answer in the question? Put another way: “Is this a hypothesis versus a problem statement?”
Needing Revision: “To develop a plan for topline revenue growth of 8%”
This is likely a hypothesis or a directive top down. There may be good reason or facts to support such a goal. In our organization, we would ask that those facts be teased out or that this directive be “reframed” to a question of “Can we…”, “How can we…” or “What can we achieve…” based upon X/Y assumptions. Remember, whomever is telling might really be asking or should be asking; blind acceptance as if fact is not a strategy nor is it in anyone’s best interest.
Better: “What is a realistic topline growth rate for 2011 based upon existing investment available and how does this affect profitability for that year (high, most likely, conservative)? What additional investment, if any, is required to grow topline revenue 8%? What are the top opportunities and their growth potential?”
2. Are we skipping a step?
Needing Revision: “Identify new licensed brands to position our product in health and wellness”
We missed the point that we first have to understand valuable, unique positions in the marketplace. To just go find a list of brands is really not very strategic or valuable.
Better: “To identify one or more winning positioning(s) and possible brands that fit those positionings for our product within health and wellness”
3. Should we use our problem statement to stretch our thinking?
Needing Revision: “I want to grow our business by X”
After some initial visioning and big picture direction setting, we realize the maturity of the existing business and that the food brand needs to move from being strictly an ingredient business to a solutions business.
Better: “How can we move our business from an ingredients provider to a meal solutions provider or other new positioning for growth?”
Framing the problem is the first of 5 key factors for managing innovation.
5 Factors for Managing Innovation:
- Problem Framing
- Time Compression
- Fact-Based Conclusions