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Properly defining your problem is hard but saves time and money

Sogeti Labs
March 24, 2020

Sun Tzu said: ‘Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.’ President Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Albert Einstein (supposedly) said: “Given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes understanding the problem and one minute resolving it.”

I believe in the power of three, so I’ll stop there. Anyway, you get the gist: you should spend enough time preparing/understanding your problem before you act. And it is my personal experience that this isn’t being done.

Define your problem

People do not take enough time to properly define what the problem is, what they are going to do to solve it, what the impact should be, and where that impact should be visible/ measurable.

Properly defining is hard

The reason people don’t define properly is clear: there is no time (we are behind schedule, there is no budget, we should stop wasting time just thinking and talking and should start acting, etc.). But the bigger reason is even simpler: properly defining, to get to the essential nature of something is hard! Properly defining takes patience and repetition, it requires rigorous examination. And few people take the trouble to really know their stuff.

But essential to success

The challenge is to understand your problems better than anyone else. Because a well-defined problem often contains its own solution. By defining problems properly, you make them easier to solve, which means saving time, money and resources. Properly defined problems allow us to have more meaningful conversations and make better decisions. They are essential to success.

I can help

A big part of my work is to help people properly define their problem. Firstly, we should stop using the catchalls. Be as exact as possible so you can have clear and meaningful conversations. Properly defining is not easy, but it is worthwhile and there are a lot of methods that we can use: Toyota’s 5 why’s and Socratic conversations to name a few.

I would love to help you properly define, so please get in touch if you are interested.

About the author

SogetiLabs gathers distinguished technology leaders from around the Sogeti world. It is an initiative explaining not how IT works, but what IT means for business.


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