What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

what problem are you trying to solveOne of my responsibilities here at Gemba Academy is to coach our Black Belt and Master Black Belt candidates. And, without question, the most common question I ask during the project selection phase of the journey is “What problem are you trying to solve?” I typically follow this up with “And how do you know it’s a problem? What evidence do you have?

Incidentally, I used to ask “what data do you have?” for the second question but, through some coaching experimentation, learned that the word “evidence” doesn’t freak people out like the word “data” sometimes does.

In fact, I just finished a coaching call with a fantastic Black Belt candidate who is working on project selection. He told me all about these manual processes their team members were having to deal with. Now, don’t get me wrong, these manual processes may not be ideal…an automated solution may be better. But those are potential countermeasures and we simply need to keep these ideas in our back pockets while we scope and define the project.

So, I simply asked, “Ok, let’s assume those manual processes aren’t ideal. If we improve them what will get better?” This then led us to a discussion on lead times.

I then asked, “How long are the lead times?” This resulted in the candidate explaining that they were trying to get at this data (aka evidence).

So, his next steps are to collect and characterize, this lead time data. Once that’s in place, and assuming the problem doesn’t need to be broken down more, we can move forward to what I always say is the easy part of the project…solving the problem.

But, until we can answer “What problem are you trying to solve?” and “How do you know it’s a problem? What evidence do you have?” we can’t move forward as effectively as we should.

I’d be curious to hear in the comments (or on LinkedIn) whether you’ve also seen folks struggle with project selection.

1 Comment

  1. Erik Sveide

    July 5, 2021 - 2:40 am

    I recognize your question very much and think it’s a great question.
    Not seldom the answer to the question is not that it is a problem with the existing process but that the existing process is not followed.
    If you don’t start by asking do we have a standard process and was it followed we might end up in redesigning perfectly well functioning processes just because we don’t have the discipline to follow the existing standards.

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