Ask focusing questions like goals, constraints, scope, barriers, stakeholders, and measures of success
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- As you define your problem, you should ask and answer some focusing questions to help you bound the solution space. You should ask things like, what's the real question? Specify the objectives and timing that, that stakeholder has asked of you. Ask who are the stakeholders or influencers who are involved in the decision. Who can support it and who can derail it? You should articulate how you're going to measure success. Lay out what the quantitative and qualitative measures are going to be.
So you know on the back end if you've really solved the problem. Ask the specific scope. What is or is not included in the space you are looking at. And lastly, understand the constraints that you face. By answering all of these questions, and spending this time in critical thought, you're going to have a much more clearly bounded problem space. Let me offer an example of how I use these focusing questions to help bound a problem space.
In my past, I worked for a credit card company. And I was responsible for some of our collections. The way we collected our money back from consumers who owed us was we outsourced these activities to external agencies. The problem we were asked to solve was to improve the performance of those agencies. So first, we looked at the objectives. We wanted to reduce costs, increase our collections, and make those changes by the end of the year.
So we bounded the space in terms of what success looked like. We then had to think through the influencers and stakeholders. We looked at IT and finance because anything we did was going to require technology changes. And any changes in the commissions that we paid was going to impact finance. We then looked at the cost per dollar collected, the commission rate, and we also looked at some qualitative metrics of success. In terms of bounding the solution space, we looked at specific lines of business.
We had ten business units. For this initial solution, we were only going to focus on two of them. And we had to understand the constraints to that space. There were legal and regulatory issues that we had to consider. We had time constraints. Remember, end of year. And we also had some budget constraints. We would be able to spend this much money on IT, and this much on commissions. By asking and answering these focusing questions, we had a better sense of what that box around our problem looked like.
So, when we found a solution, there was a higher likelihood that we would solve within that box which would then meet our stakeholder's needs. Take a look at a problem you're trying to solve. Ask and answer these focusing questions. The time you spend in the critical thinking required to come up with these answers, will help insure that the solution you come up with is going to meet your stakeholder's needs.
- Breaking big problems into small ones
- Defining the problem statement
- Asking focusing questions
- Finding root causes
- Using critical thinking tools
- Teaching others to think critically