I’m a big fan of framing many technical presentations in a Problem – Solution format. You lay out a problem, analyze it, propose one or more solutions, discuss their pros and cons, and make a recommendation.
Of course, in real life problems are often complicated and messy and solutions are harder to come by. (Just ask the people at BP.)
When I’m called in to work with a team that is confronted with a serious problem, here’s a list of questions I draw from. Not all of them are applicable to all situations, mind you, but I like having them to prompt discussions:
- Is it a problem, a situation, or a condition? A threat or an opportunity?
- What is the problem? What is the nature of the problem? Does it involve people, processes, systems, technology, or tools? Is it acute or chronic? Isolated or systemic?
- What do we know about the problem? What else do we need to know? What questions do we need to ask? How are we going to get the information we need? Who has the knowledge, skill, or experience to help address the problem?
- When did the problem begin? How did it develop?
- Who is most affected by the problem? Who has the most at stake? Who is responsible for resolving the problem?
- What values, ethical considerations, laws, regulations, or relationships are at stake?
- Where (in what physical location, system, department) did the problem begin? Where does it currently exist?
- What is the cause or the source of the problem?
- What problems (pain) does the problem cause?
- How has the problem been addressed in the past? What was done, by whom, when, and to what effect?
What is the probability of the problem resolving itself?
- How much cost-in money, time, labor-will be incurred if the problem is left alone?
- What solutions have the greatest probability of success? What are the pros and cons of each one? Which one do you recommend? What does your gut tell you to do?
- Do the proposed solutions address the problem or the pain?
- How much will each proposed solution cost-in money, time, labor-to implement?
What risks are involved? What will happen if 1) we do nothing or 2) take this proposed action? What can go wrong? How will people-employees, customers/clients, the public, the competition-react? How probable and how serious are those risks? What can be done to mitigate them?
- What are the benefits of the proposed solution? How can this problem be turned to an advantage?
- What happens next? How long will it take to implement the solution and what is the timeframe?
Do you have any questions to add to my list? Which ones do you think are most important? Would you change any?