Are You Solving the RIGHT Problem?

At T4G, we’re firm believers in doing the right thing. Not just morally and ethically, but technically too. Our job is to understand current and emerging tech and how these tools can benefit our clients’ businesses. We LOVE technology. But sometimes, that can be a problem.

When faced with a problem, our first instinct is to leap to solving that problem – often by simply throwing technology at it. What results is a solution in search of a problem. We’ve failed to take that critical first step – making sure we’re solving the RIGHT problem.

There is an Albert Einstein quote I love…

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

To properly solve a problem, we first need to understand that problem. Why are we doing this? Who is this for? Why do they need it? Do they care? Are we solving the real problem, or a symptom of another, more elusive, problem? We won’t know until we figure out what questions to ask.

The human-centered approach we take at T4G is designed to generate these oh-so-important questions. This approach starts with talking to the people we’re designing for. By empowering our team to engage the end consumer directly from the very beginning, we enable conversations and through these conversations we start to understand their real needs. It goes something like this:

The key focus of this activity is understanding WHY we are doing this, not WHAT we’re doing. It’s way too soon for WHAT. If we start with WHAT, it pollutes everything we do going forward.

Step 1: Understand

This can take the form of simple observation, one-on-one interviews, group discussions or workshops. The great thing about workshops is they allows us to bring a diverse group of people together to have meaningful discussions that help us elicit the insights needed to begin developing those questions. The point here is to have conversations, not conduct surveys. Surveys are cheap and easy but terribly limiting. There is no opportunity to delve deeper and ask questions. The key focus of this activity is understanding WHY we are doing this, not WHAT we’re doing. It’s way too soon to talk about the WHAT. If we start with WHAT, it pollutes everything we do going forward. WHY gives us all a common purpose and understanding of the issue at hand – a place of consensus from which to move forward.

Step 2: Decide

Understanding is a divergent activity, which means we are seeking as much input as possible, so we’re going to generate a lot of information. Inversely, deciding is all about converging on what is important and what is not. We often do this through simply voting on the ideas brought forward. This is another reason why it’s so important to have the right mix of people involved from the beginning. A group of developers may miss something – in idea and in selection – that a strategist may not, and vice versa. If a diverse group is asked to generate and select ideas, the important things will rise to the top.

Step 3: Define

Now that we know what the important things are, we can use those inputs to develop some questions. These questions take the form of “How might we…” questions. An example could be “How might we make the check-out process better?”. These questions should be broad and fuzzy. In this example, “better” could be interpreted as “easier”, “faster”, “more personalized”, etc. If we get too specific at this stage we limit our ability to see the bigger picture, to allow for the biggest range of ideas, and make real innovation happen.

Once we have properly defined these questions, we are now prepared to ideate – to start solving our real problem. Now, and only now, we can finally start talking about WHAT.

Brian Fanning

Brian believes the world would be a better place if people dared to transform. Brian has more than 10 years’ experience in web design, development and user experience design. As a Strategist in T4G’s Innovation Lab, Brian uses design thinking and other human-centered design tools to help clients understand the true needs of their customers.