How to Solve the Right Problem

Really think about it—are you?

When you’re dabbling in the consultancy field, often what seems to be the problem is a symptom of a deeper problem. Or even worse, sometimes your client doesn’t even know what their problem is. 

Luckily, they have you: their trustworthy problem-solver.

As a consultant, you’ll be handling a lot of clients with different backgrounds from different industries than yours. Some might be from multinational FMCG, others might be from a local, uprising startup. And when you don’t have all the cards in your hands, blindspots are highly probable. 

Hence, this is why having a clear, mutually agreed-on problem is essential before carrying on with a project. Not only that it’ll save you and your clients time, but determining a clear, defined problem will also protect you from uncalled blockers in the long run. 

Wondering how to do that? Let’s dive deep into one of the most commonly used thinking tools by consultants: the Problem Definition Sheet or PDS.

What is a PDS?

Essentially, a Problem Definition Sheet is a worksheet that aims to clarify and frame the issue at stake within your project. PDS helps both consultants and their clients to look at their problems from different angles by asking the right questions, and thus limit the scope and determine how the project is going to look throughout the cycle. A PDS is also dynamic, meaning that it can always change based on the latest data or findings. 

Sometimes your client doesn’t even know what their problem is. 

At the heart of it, PDS helps both parties to understand the dimensions of the problem and lessen any blind spots that might occur during the thinking process.

Why is PDS essential for your project?

A fine-tuned version of PDS helps to capture, compare and discuss different viewpoints on a perceived problem. It both works to open up a problem – presenting it in a way that can be examined from a number of angles. Additionally, it helps to define the wider context and issues involved.

How does a PDS look like?

There are 7 essential parts of a Problem Definition Sheet:

Basic Question

The more specific, the better. Make sure to keep it succinct, focus on the analysis, and ensure that the findings are actionable.

Initial Situation

What were the “situation” and “complication” when the tasks arose?

Decision Makers

Who makes the decisions on whether to act or not when you finally come to recommendations/results?

Other Stakeholders

Who could possibly support or sabotage the project? Who has influences over you and your decisions?

Success Criteria

What are the criteria of success on which the company bases its decisions and by which the results will be measured?

Constraints

What are the limitations of solutions that you can provide?

Project Scope

What will this project include and will not include?

With a PDS in your hand, you can generate various insights simply by asking the 7 questions above. It enables rich contributions as comparing one’s own analysis with, say, other stakeholders will bring in the necessary reality check against new contexts and different perspectives.

The seven questions also help both parties to stretch their current understanding and framing of the problem and provide a standardized way to compare the same core problem which might seem to be very different on the surface level.

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