—Navigating problem space
You may be unsettled by a vague feeling that something is not right here, something needs to change, we could be doing much better, or if people would simply listen to me and do as I say, the world would be a much better place. Welcome to the complex and subtle world of problem space!
Agility in navigating problem space reveals many possibilities for solving problems and creating opportunities.
The figure at the right is a map of problem space. (It may be helpful to view it full-sized.) As fascinating as it may be, a map won’t help if you don’t know where you are! Here are some navigational hints.
Begin in the upper left-hand portion of the diagram. Problem solving begins with effective problem finding. To discover the real problem, ask: 1) What do you want to have happen? 2) What is true, and 3) What are you going to do about it?
Each stage of problem solving is iterative. Divergent thinking alternates with convergent thinking throughout the process. Ideation is a form of divergent thinking that generates new ideas. Evaluation is a form of convergent thinking that is used to choose the best option from the many alternatives now considered. A clear understanding of what can be changed and what cannot be changed separates possibilities from impossibilities. Blue sky thinking is eventually constrained by reality, the bedrock of any successful solution.
Various thinking tools are useful in navigating problem space. The thinking tools course, and the list of thinking tools for solving problems describe many useful thinking tools.
The Shewhart cycle, also known as PDCA, or plan, do, check, act is a general approach to solving problems. Create a plan, carry out that plan, observe the results, and take action to improve the results. This is one form of iteration that is useful in problem space.
During divergent thinking stages it is especially important to unleash creativity. Find a climate that stimulates creativity. When exploring ideas, seek fluency, flexibility, originality, and alternative perspectives.
Various thinking tools can be used throughout the process to assist in ideation and evaluation.
Recognize that our direct contact with reality is through our perceptions. These perceptions are constructed and often distort reality. We are also faced by ambiguity and incomplete information. We are influenced by various interpretations of this ambiguous information and are often captivated by stories that may keep us from seeing reality more clearly. Learn to embrace ambiguity and use it to explore possibilities that may lead to a solution.
It may be helpful to reframe the problem. This can be done by reinterpreting ambiguity, adopting a different viewpoint, exchanging optimism for pessimism, exploring a variety of reversals, and telling a different story. Perceptions are personal.
Continue to ask the three problem finding questions until you find the real problem. Problem finding is the essential prerequisite to solving problems. The course on Problem finding describes this stage in detail. Establish goals, explore the gaps between your goals and reality as you presently understand it, and then create options for closing those gaps. Continue this until you have a clear problem statement, a clear understanding of the questions you want to answer, and how you will know the problem is solved. Begin with the end in mind so you always have that clear vision to guide your work. This results in a clear and accurate problem statement.
With the problem statement establishing the goals, gaps between the present state and the desired state are identified. Various thinking tools are used to identify and explore possible solution approaches. These are evaluated for feasibly and effectiveness in reaching the goals. Candidate solution approaches are compared to goals, gaps are identified, and new ideas are considered. This is repeated until a solution approach is chosen that can be used as the basis for developing a detailed solution.
The course on solving problems provides more detail.
Developing a solution may require extensive resources and time. The specific development process will depend on the problems being solved. Various project management systems may be useful. This continues until a suitable solution description is created.
With the solution description specifying the detailed design, the solution needs to be implemented, including building, testing, launching, monitoring, evaluating, and improvement. As the solution is launched, the gaps between the established goals and the actual performance are examined. The solution is refined until the established goals are met.
Continue creating possibilities to improve the results.