One of the biggest hurdles in problem-solving is defining – the Problem Statement itself. A poorly defined problem statement can lead to wasting quite a bit of precious time in closing the information gap. We may have come across some variant of these quotes in our professional or personal life.
- “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe”
- “I would spend 55 Minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it”
- “Half of the problem is solved, if we know exactly what the problem is”
The efficiency of a team in resolving issues and implementing effective solutions is dependent on how well a problem is defined. Following a structured approach like 5W+1H, which is a simple and basic set of questions, can eliminate lots of ambiguity and assumptions. It is “basic” because it is taught as “Thick and Thin Questions” to Year 1 pupils at primary schools and is “simple” because it is!
5W+1H method can be used as a starting point to define a problem and once the recovery actions are implemented, it can also be used to document and record the final state.
So, what is 5W+1H
It stands for Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Asking relevant questions starting with these interrogative words can streamline information gathering. The questions can be tailored to specific industry or organization’s need to keep the investigation relevant to its operations. An example of what it can look like is given below.
Some tips to develop a good problem-statement are:
- Go to Gemba – where the action happens to understand the overall situation
- Examine the Process – observe and understand what, how, and why is it happening
- Examine the Data – understand what trends are apparent
- Refer to the Principles – understand how it should be happening
- Refer to the Standards – Understand the parameters for the processes, what are the deviations
- And, most importantly, involve the team at the coalface. Use the knowledge and experience of the team to accelerate the problem-solving process and to ensure solution ownership and sustainment.
A well-written problem statement using “5W+1H” provides a concise description, consequences, and quantifies the impact. This basic and simple method can eliminate perceptions and assumptions, enabling leadership to provide timely support in resolving issues and reduce waste.