What's your problem?

Do you ever ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this?’. Whether it’s at home or at work, through exasperation or out of pure confusion, the answer is probably yes. The point is, we are asking a subliminal but natural question – is this the right thing to do or is it a waste of time, money or effort?

Too often we start with the solution in mind, thinking about what we want rather than what we need. For example, you may think ‘we need a new self-service HR solution’.  But is that what we really need?  Have you asked ‘what is the key driver for this change?’.

Have you determined the real problem? Failure to get this right at the beginning of the project can ultimately spell disaster in the long-term, particularly when we measure the success of outputs. Producing a problem statement is a simple, quick and effective approach to ensuring that the reason for undertaking the change is well thought out and can be articulated at all levels, in both verbal and written formats. 

The following steps will help form the foundations for a strong problem statement:

1. Determine the detail and extent of the problem by looking at the 5W’s

This exercise focuses the participants on drawing out the key reasons for the change and encourages them to evaluate their understanding of the current state, possible future problems and the drivers for the change.  It is therefore best undertaken collaboratively across the organisation to gather varying perspectives and initiate buy-in from relevant stakeholders.

  • What- the need to accurately manage personnel records for an organisation which is due to double its headcount following an agreed merger. Without adopting a new solution, the company risks disenfranchisement of the staff of the newly formed organisation.
  • Whereacross all Departments in the current organisation and the newly merged organisation.
  • Whythe Company’s current HR department are required to service the needs of the new organisation without increasing headcount.  We need to demonstrate confidence to all new staff in our ability to provide a seamless process.  All staff need to feel they are treated the same.
  • Whenin the next 6 months when we merge and form the new organisation.
  • Whothe HR Team, and all staff (around 1,500 in all).
     

2. Determine the vision. What does it look like when the problem is solved?

The vision, sometimes referred to as a postcard from the future, is an essential method of answering the problem by visualizing the end solution from the outset.   This should be written in the present tense.

All staff in our newly formed organisation are able to securely log-in and manage their personal details, as well as maintaining their annual objectives and performance records.

 

3. Describe the issue

Make it concise, clearly presented and ensure everyone in the business understands it by avoiding any technical or business jargon.

The HR department do not have the headcount to maintain all personal records for the ‘to be’ newly formed organisation, and must be seen to be providing a seamless service to all employees.
 

4. Your Approach for solving the problem

Describe the approach to implementing the project so stakeholders understand how and when it will happen. This is not a project plan but should give clues as to how and when the project will be undertaken.

The organisation’s aim is to use Agile techniques and tools to implement an off-the-shelf solution already sourced, using current employees as the test bed, in order to achieve a rapid rollout to the wider employee base in August.
 

The Problem Statement

Having determined the problem and the approach, the statement can be constructed, e.g.

All staff of our newly formed organisation are able to securely log-in and manage their personal details, as well as maintaining their annual objectives and performance records.

The HR Department do not have the headcount to maintain all personal records for the newly formed organisation and must be seen to be providing a seamless service to all employees without risking disenfranchising of the new staff

We will use Agile techniques and tools to implement an off-the-shelf solution already sourced, using current employees as the test bed, in order to achieve a rapid rollout to the wider employee base in August 2016
 

Conclusion

The above example is deliberately simplistic but the essence of the exercise is to deliver a clear understanding of why a new change project is happening. It is important to ensure that the problem statement, along with the business case are used throughout the project to provide a reminder of why the project is happening.

On a final note, project failure is often a consequence of poor management, but also too often is a result of a lack of drive and support.   If an organisation is going to effectively support changes, which are usually costly, it is essential that it is supported by a strong problem statement built on objective foundation that will stand up throughout and beyond its successful implementation!