The most important step in problem solving has nothing to do with the solution. You first need to clearly and fully define the problem. And to fully define anything you need to understand why it’s there to begin with.
Many people skip this step and fail when they want to get their fix in place. They feel they know enough to start proposing fixes, but when they present their idea they find themselves in implementation quicksand.
“I think you missed a step. Because even if we were to change the marketing calendar, we would still need to delay the launch…”
“I’m sure it is a good improvement, but I really don’t think involving the tech team in this will make an impact. In the end it’s not their problem, it starts with the production process.”
They skipped the step of knowing the root of their problem, and so their solution was never right. Problem solving starts with the roots of it all.
To get to the root, you have to keep asking why.
You just need to keep asking Why, What’s the reason behind this, until you get to the root. You will have found the root when everything you can think of associated with the problem is covered.
Here’s an example:
Years ago, the Parks Service found a problem with the Washington monument. It was deteriorating, and nobody knew why.
They looked into it and found that it was because of the high-pressure sprayer used every two weeks to wash it. Before they decided to switch the spraying scheduling or lower the pressure, they asked why again: why are the high-power sprayers used every two weeks?
They found that it was because of all the pigeon poop. There was so much of it that they needed the high-pressure sprayers that regularly. Before they decided to get rid of the pigeons somehow, they asked why again: why are there so many birds there?
They found that it was because of the large amount of spiders at the Memorial. The birds loved to eat the spiders, so they all flocked there to get a great meal. Before they decided to use insecticide to get rid of the spiders, they asked why again: why are there so many spiders?
They found that there were billions of insects, little ones that spiders loved to eat. Before they decided to use another type of insecticide to get rid of the insects, they asked why again: why are there so many insects?
They found that it was because of the light schedule used to light the Memorial for tourists at night. The lights were being turned on two hours before sunset, and they attracted all of the insects swarming around early at night.
They decided to change the lighting schedule, so that they turned on 30 minutes after sunset, instead of two hours before, and by simply doing that they reduced the insects by 90%, which then greatly reduced the numbers of spiders, which removed the pigeon problem, which eliminated the poop problem, which removed the need for high-pressure sprayers every two week, and thus stopped the decay of the Memorial.
Some call this method the “5 Whys,” but there’s no right number. You just need to keep asking Why, What’s the reason behind this, until you get to the root. You will have found the root when everything you can think of associated with the problem is covered.
Once you know the root, you will know the problem better than most, and can propose solutions that will work.