We live in a smart world – smartphones, smart TV, smart AI assistants, smart this and smart that. The problems at work seem to have missed the smart bus. A vague problem statement only makes problem solving difficult. It leads you into a maze.
What is a DUMB Problem Statement?
Dumb problems are statements with zero clarity – they state the obvious and lack direction.
Watch my video: “Don’t solve DUMB problems”. I’ll discuss both the dumb and smart versions of the same problem – 2 business and 1 personal problem statement.
Example 1: Customers calling for late deliveries
Here is the context: there has been an increase in customer complaints for late delivery of online orders for an ecommerce company. During an internal company meeting, the operations manager presents the problem for brainstorming. Given below are two versions: a dumb problem statement and a smart problem statement.
The Dumb Version
A lot of customers have been calling in the last one week to complain about late deliveries.
The Smart Version
We received 27 calls in the last one week with late delivery complaints. That is 8% of total online orders. 80% of those calls are from West Bengal and Bihar.
The dumb version of the late deliveries problem states the obvious – customers are unhappy. They called to express their displeasure.
There is no quantification. How many customers? How many calls? Any specific city or region? Product category?
There is no clarity in this dumb version of the problem statement.
How does the smart version help?
First, there is clarity and the problem statement is fact based – 27 calls, 8% of all online orders.
Immediately, one could assess the magnitude and impact. Based on past trends, it can be assessed whether 8% is a significant increase or not. And, the statement also indicates that 80% of all such customers are from two states in the east of India – West Bengal and India.
Make sure that a problem statement is always concise, specific and fact based. If not, you will be wasting time, energy and resources chasing dumb problems. Sometimes, you may be fixing what’s not broken.
What is a good Problem Statement?
Let’s refer to problem statement guidelines as per Six Sigma DMAIC:
A problem statement must answer the following:
- WHAT is the problem?
- WHY is it a problem? State the impact
- WHERE is the problem occurring? The place, time, incident
- WHO is experiencing the problem? Customers, Department, Employees, Suppliers
- WHEN is the problem occurring?
Back these 5W’s with 2 H’s: how was the problem observed and how often does it occur (the frequency of occurrence).
You are already making a head start if you have been able to state your problem using specific facts. The team gets a direction – where to look for the root cause and how to solve the problem.
Business problems or personal – always make sure you follow these guidelines for defining a problem. Don’t shoot in the dark. More often than now, you will miss the target.
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