The Importance of Problem Analysis

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In a fast moving business environment, organisations need the ability to respond quickly to changes in their business environment. Many industries are facing ‘disruption’ from emerging business models, new ways of using technology and new entrants. Change and competition is nothing new, of course, although there is arguably an increasing ability for technology to amplify the pace of change. In this fast-moving environment, it is those organisations that can detect and analyse these changes, make timely decisions and respond rapidly that will likely succeed. In order to survive and thrive it’s necessary to develop the organisational agility to respond in a consistent, coherent and strategically cohesive way. This starts by recognising the opportunities and problems that exist, and creating coherent ways of addressing them.

Adrian Reed, Principal Consultant, Blackmetric Business Solutions; [email protected]
Adrian will be speaking at the 10th Annual Business Analysis Conference Europe 24-26 September 2018, London on the subjects; Pre-Project Problem Analysis: Techniques for Early BA Engagement & And then the Magic Happens: What BAs can Learn from the World of Magic

One of the important disciplines that contribute towards achieving this level of organisational agility is the discipline of problem analysis. Problem analysis can be used to analyse an existing situation, understand the problems that are preventing the organisation progressing, and generate a range of possible improvement opportunities. It can also be used to assess and scope an opportunity, and determine the likely benefits of seizing it.

Organisations traditionally handle these types of changes by initiating projects. The issue that bedevils many organisational projects is that they are initiated with a granular idea of the solution in mind, without allowing creative space for consideration of the problem. Perhaps an exec decides “we need a new CRM system” or a middle manager decides “we need a brand new set of automated reports”. It’s tempting to ‘just get going’—start specifying detailed requirements, and start the process of building or buying and implementing a solution. Indeed, in a Dilbert-esque world, it is easy to imagine fiery managers yelling a favourite mantra: “Don’t bring me problems bring me a solution!”

Yet the question we should ask more often is ‘solution to what’? If we haven’t defined the problem, how can we know that the proposed solution will actually help us? How do we know we all have the same perception of the problem situation? We risk creating the unenviable situation where we deliver everything that we’re asked for, only to discover that isn’t what was actually needed. This can create distrust between business teams, and can create a very negative feeling towards ‘change’ in organisations. I suspect many readers will empathise with this statement!

Real Life Is Complicated

As any good business analyst will tell you, when ‘solutions’ are suggested they should be listened to (as they may well be feasible and desirable) however there is likely a much more complicated story lurking beneath the surface. We might find that the executive that proclaims “we need a new CRM system” is actually worried about dropping sales rates (and feels that if we manage relationships with our customers better we’ll increase re-order rates). That might be the case, but before committing to a CRM system, it would be advisable to understand why sales have dropped! Perhaps there are other root-causes that need resolution too. Contrary to what some glossy marketing brochures might proclaim, few organisational problems have ever been solved by simply ‘buying in an IT system’. Technology is only effective as part of a wider ecosystem, involving people, processes, a supportive culture etc.

Taking time early on in the business change lifecycle to take a ‘thin slice’ through the problem or opportunity can be beneficial. Creating a shared understanding of what needs to change, what success looks like and the scope we are biting off will allow us to generate a range of possible options. Working collaboratively and innovatively with our stakeholders we might even discover a cheaper, faster and better solution than the one that was first presented to us. Taking this brief pause up front allows us to reduce disagreement downstream, and enables our sponsors and executives to make informed decisions. We slow down to speed up.

Techniques such as the problem statement, the balanced business scorecard, business use case models and many others have a place in pre-project problem analysis. This doesn’t have to be a time intensive set of activities; with the right stakeholder support it can be conducted expediently. And it is time well spent!

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’. You can read Adrian’s blog at www.adrianreed.co.uk

Copyright Adrian Reed, Principal Consultant, Blackmetric Business Solutions

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