As business people, our job is to solve the problems of our customers. After all, it’s why we’re in business right? We come up with solutions and services that help people run their lives or businesses more effectively, and if we do it right we’re able to sustain a healthy business that profits from this ability.
Well, while we’re able to solve problems and provide solutions effectively for our customers, sometimes this is a more difficult challenge for our own businesses. It’s like the old saying goes, “The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot.” While we’re so busy fixing the problems of our customers, we often neglect our own issues.
There is an easy fix to this, but often in our own quest to get things done quickly, we often fail to do the simplest thing. The first step in addressing an internal business problem? Define it.
Albert Einstein once said, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” If more people took this to heart, we could alleviate a lot of our own most pressing issues and fix so many common problems seen by today’s small and large companies.
People think that defining the problem is too much work or requires too much detail, but creating a roadmap can really help us find solutions. Without a defined roadmap, one can miss opportunities and waste resources.
Defining your problem
The DMAIC methodology (Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control) is a basic template for problem-solving and quality improvement across many major companies. The first aspect of this phase, Define, identifies what is important and helps focus on the specific issue at hand.
So how do we go about defining a business problem? Let’s start with developing a Project Objective Statement. This is a pretty simple roadmap that can help businesses find a solution.
Here’s a basic breakdown:
Defect(s): Define the specific performance flaws that the project is intended to reduce.
Metric(s) linked to defect(s): Establish the metrics that quantify the level of defect or defects.
Problem in terms of metric(s): State the performance problem in terms of the metrics.
Objective in terms of the metrics(s): Declare the amount of change in the metrics that will be attempted.
Benefits ($$ — Change in metrics): Explain how the change in metrics will become financial gain.
Let’s apply this to a real-world example using packaging damage:
Defect(s): Package damage that results in leaking container inside.
Metric(s): Y = % of damaged packages delivered.
Problem in terms of metrics: Last year, 5% of the delivered packages had leaking containers.
Objective in terms of metrics: Reduce percentage of damaged packages from 5% to less than 1%
Benefits ($$ — Change in metrics): $195,000/year. This is the reduced cost of replacing product, collecting scrapped containers and cleaning up spills.
The define phase of your problem starts with the Y, which must be measurable and reflect the problem or defect the project is trying to address. If you don’t feel that this roadmap helps you define your problem initially, you may need something a little more detailed. Remember, you can’t start solving problems until you’ve defined exactly where you need to go!