In this episode, Matt Fishbeck shares a six step problem solving framework that can help you to address the right problem and come up with the best solution for your organization and customers.


After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • Why the skill of problem is so critical
  • How to apply a 6 step problem solving framework
  • How to apply problem solving techniques

Show Notes

As business analysis professionals and change agents, one of our most important skills is problem solving.  Problems present an opportunity to bring value to our customers and organization.  Without the crucial skill of problem solving, we’re limited in our contribution to the organization as well as career growth. Many people conduct problem solving intuitively simply by “thinking” without pausing to consider what the underlying process and mechanism for problem solving is. Problem solving is a discipline; a science of applying logical and analytical techniques to identify the underlying cause and recommend solutions that address the root cause.   Matt’s Recommended 6 Stage Problem Solving Approach The problem solving approach that Matt uses is a simple six stage process.  The staged do not need to be completed sequentially; the individual stages may repeat and be completed in iterations.  The stages consist of:

  1. Defining the problem statement
  2. Defining scope
  3. Elicit information & resolving ambiguity
  4. Identifying associations and relationships
  5. Root cause analysis
  6. Solution proposal

The Problem Solving Process Start by creating the problem statement.  The problem statement is a well-defined statement or question to frame the context. After you have a clear and unambiguous problem statement, define the scope of the effort.  The scope definition is probably the most important stage since it basically whether or not the problem can be solved satisfactorily.  Scope is defined to apply constraints to the domain of consideration. When we have scope we know what to consider and what not to consider.  Therefore, all possible solutions are directly dependant on the information within the scope. Once the scope is defined, you can move on to eliciting information & resolving ambiguity.  Perform a stakeholder analysis and elicit information from all known stakeholders/sources as a basis for investigation.  You can use workshops, focus groups, interviews, document analysis, and other approaches to elicit information. When we elicit information, we try to remove ambiguity as ambiguity represents the unknown, liability, and risk.  To reduce ambiguity, we need to consider the taxonomy of ambiguity to provide a frame of reference to how we will resolve it.  Ambiguity may be:

  • Missing information
  • Incorrect information
  • Duplicate information
  • Conflicting information
  • Incomplete information

The above provide a basis to ask questions concerning all information that is within scope, to challenge this information to be reliable and suitable for use.  Context diagrams and domain diagram can help resolve ambiguity. Next, we identify associations and relationships to organize the information so we can derive meaning from it.  Information needs to be structured, aligned, and associated that provides an additional level of meaning. This is the basis for traceability. The linking of concepts. It’s not just solely used for requirements. Once we thoroughly understand the information, we can move on to performing a root cause analysis.  A root cause analysis helps you to understand the underlying cause of the problem so you can address it instead of addressing a symptom of a greater issue. There are many techniques for root cause analysis including 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams. Now that we understand the real root cause, we can propose solutions that will address that root cause.  When identifying proposed solutions, consider the scope, constraints, and relative cost and value of each option.   Problem solving is not some illusive black art; it’s an analytical process that can be broken down, quantified, and analyzed to identify the root cause to give rise to a viable solution. Listen to the full episode to hear all of Matt’s examples and tips for problem solving.


Your Homework

  1. Begin applying Matt’s six-stage problem solving approach.  Often, the most difficult part of problem solving is knowing where to start.
  2. Start learning the root cause analysis techniques in the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK).  The techniques will give you more tools to help in your problem solving efforts.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Matt Fishbeck

Matt Fishbeck

Senior Business Analyst and Writer

Matt Fishbeck is a Senior Business Analyst and a thought leader in Business Analysis.  He takes an active interest in Business Architecture, Enterprise Architecture, and Change Management in addition to helping run a Business Transformation meetup.  Matt has written numerous insightful articles for ModernAnalyst to enhance the skills and knowledge of business analysis professionals.

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