Rant: Focus on the problem, not the solution

// October 7th, 2009 // IT Professionalism, The business of IT

Anyone who has been in IT for a while, has been hit with users bringing you their solutions, and asking for help to implement, rather than explaining their problems and asking for help developing potential solutions. If you are not careful, you can easily get caught up in the trap of providing good customer service (ie: trying to help them) rather than servicing the customer well.

This was brought home to me again this week when asked for my opinion on a “solution” that had been in the works for several weeks. My first question was, what is the problem you are trying to solve? What I got back was, what their solution would do. Rather than go in the specifics of this situation (it happens to be something confidential within my company), here are a few well know examples that illustrate the problem.

Example 1

The problem: When both the US and the Russians started sending people into space, they discovered that ball point pens didn’t work in zero gravity.

Focus on the Solution: Nasa developed a pen that worked in zero gravity, worked upside down, worked underwater, would write on just about any surface, and would function in -300C temperatures.  The cost… $12 million

Focus on the Problem: The Russians used a pencil. Cost… well you get the picture.

Example 2

The Problem: Two Japanese manufacturers of soap, had received complaint from a customers that had purchased boxes of hand soap with no bar of soap in the box. In both case, they problem turned out to be on the packaging line.

Focus on the Solution: Company A, the larger of the two, had their engineers design an elaborate addition to the packaging line, in the form of an x-ray machine that would scan each box as it went thru the line, and required someone to constantly monitor and removed the empty boxes from the packaging line.

Focus on the Problem: Company B had a creative employee who setup a fan beside the line where the boxes of soap were passing. The boxes with soap in them were heavy and stayed on the line, the empty ones got blown off. Simple, elegant and cheap.

The morale of this story is…. make sure you understand the problem before you jump to solutions.

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