Problem Solving: Deconstruction Methodologies

You look at your watch nervously and then the paper. You have read the question, scribbled in the rough sheet, but the answer does not match any of the options. You are revisiting, re-reading the question trying to think harder. Think!

Some scenarios push you to think slow and carefully, about a problem.

You are on a call with a perplexed friend who has been talking continuously for the past 15 minutes describing this extremely tricky situation she is facing in her office. Almost as she utters the word, your mind is ready with a solution. You try to wait till she finishes but you have a range of solutions ready already.

In other scenarios, you come up with a solution too quickly. It’s almost as if you did not even have to think.

Daniel Kahneman has described this wonderful phenomenon and its relevance in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

People who are used to solving problems regularly often have pre-created constructs where the problems fit perfectly. Such people, unless careful, spontaneously tend to come up with solutions before they understand and analyze problems.

Fast Solutions tend to be more accurate and reliable when the solver is experienced and has built problem/domain sense over the years. But the tradeoffs are lack of innovation and monotonous solutions.

I have especially been, in my early career, very prone to what my mentor used to call “Jumping too soon”. I had to keep a note that I was jumping too quickly, be conscious of the fact that by jumping too quickly I wasn’t considering all the facets and hence not coming up with the best possible solutions. The first step to solving problems well is to mentally separate the Problem space and Solution space and making sure one does not creep into the other.

Once you have mentally separated the two-out, it is crucial to reach from the multitude of problems that your user talks about to the chosen few. These chosen few could be:

1. A Selection of the problems that are most critical to be solved

2. Root causes of multiple problems

The following part of the article is meant to help you navigate the Problem space. The one answer you should be expecting as you reach the end of the article is — How to look at problems from different lenses.

The Article currently documents 4 different methodologies to help explore the Problem space. I intend this to be a living document which I hope to update as I add to my repertoire.

For this article, I will take just one problem and try to illustrate how different lenses show us a different picture and provide different key insights.

Every day, well almost every day, Shireen thought that she must go out and exercise. She had been cooped up in the lockdown for so long. Every day was a new day. She woke up, thought she should go to the Gym, but never did. Shireen has a problem!

Problem Framing/Reframing

A well-framed problem is key to solving it.

Frame a problem, then reframe it, and reframe it further. Do this till you run out of ideas. If your problem is big, break it down, and frame- reframe.

As your frame of Reference changes, so does your reality.

I am currently reading a book that I highly recommend — SuperThinking by Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg. The book quotes a nice problem that had Disney World had been facing — Long Lines!

The most intuitive framing of the problem would be something like this:

  • How do I reduce the length of the line?

  • How can we get people to move faster?

  • How do we reduce the crowd at the popular rides?

But, there is a space constraint, and you still have to manage the crowd.