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10 Common Problems Business Analysts Help Solve
Written by Esta Lessing on July 27, 2022 . Posted in Articles .
Often Business Analysts are swept up by the hustle and bustle of project life and simply do what is needed to get to the end goal. Business Analysts focus on delivering a valuable solution to business stakeholders and they forget just how much value they add by help solving many problems along the way.
This short article outlines 10 of the common problems that Business Analysts help solve in the organization and especially when helping to deliver progressive change initiatives for the organization.
In no specific order of importance, find out more about these common problems that Business Analysts help solve and see if you can recognize some as familiar problems you often help solve too:
#1 Unclear or conflicting stakeholder expectations
Stakeholders may have unclear or conflicting expectations of what a project will deliver which hampers progress and can lead to disappointment.
Business analysts can help mitigate this problem is to ensure that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of what is achievable and what the project will deliver.
A Business Analyst helps to solve this problem by facilitating workshops with stakeholders to reach agreement on project outcomes, and by creating clear documentation of requirements that can be referred to throughout the project.
#2 Inadequate resources
Many projects also suffer from inadequate resources these days, which can lead to delays and frustration. Experienced Business Analysts can help identify which skillsets are needed to help deliver a project during the planning stages of the project to ensure resources are request early during the project set up stages.
Some more ways that a Business Analyst helps to solve this problem is by monitoring project progress and highlighting to the Project Manager where risks of resource shortages may occur. Where possible Business Analysts also help to create mitigating actions to avoid potential project delays due to resource constraints.
#3 Poor communication
Poor communication is often a root cause of many problems that occur during a project. Miscommunication can lead to misunderstandings, errors, and delays.
A Business Analyst can help to improve communication by facilitating communication between stakeholders, creating clear and concise documentation, and holding regular meetings to update everyone on the project status.
#4 Unclear or changing requirements
Unclear or changing requirements are one of the most common problems faced by Business Analysts. This can cause confusion amongst team members, as well as delays in completing the project.
One way that a business analyst can help solve or minimize this problem within a project is to ensure that requirements are well-defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders before work begins, whether they are working in Waterfall projects or Agile based iterations. This can be done through creating a requirements document which outlines all the requirements for the project and getting sign-off from relevant stakeholders.
In an Agile environment, the Business Analyst can help manage this issue by ensuring that user stories are well-defined and understood by all team members before work begins on them.
#5 Lack of engagement from stakeholder
Another common problem faced by Business Analysts is lack of engagement from stakeholders. This can be due to several reasons, such as stakeholders being too busy, or not feeling invested in the project or even mistrust of the business analyst.
The Business Analyst can solve this by ensuring a clear stakeholder engagement plan is a key activity within the project. The Business Analyst can also work to build relationships with stakeholders and ensure that they are kept updated on the project status and progress.
#6 Ineffective or missing processes
Ineffective or missing processes can lead to a number of problems within a project, such as errors, delays and duplication of work. This is often due to a lack of understanding of current processes being followed within the area the project is trying to solve for.
A way that the Business Analyst can help to solve this problem is by conducting a business process analysis to understand the current processes in place and identify areas for improvement. The Business Analyst can also work with the relevant stakeholders to develop new or improved processes where needed.
#7 Lack of understanding of user needs
A very common problem that a Business Analyst face is a lack of understanding of user needs. This is not because the Business Analyst is ineffective when engaging stakeholders necessarily, it can be due to several reasons including unavailability of key stakeholders and time or resource constraints that exist within the organization.
If there is a lack of understanding of user needs, it can lead to the development of a solution that does not meet the needs of the users, and ultimately will not be successful.
The Business Analyst can help to solve this problem by conducting user research and requirements elicitation to understand the needs of the users that will be using the solution. This can be done through a few methods such as interviews, focus groups, workshops or surveys.
#8 Lack of understanding of business goals
Many business analysts also find that there is a lack of understanding of business goals within an organization. This can make it difficult to align projects with organizational objectives and ensure that the right solutions are delivered. Often a Business Analyst will be assigned the task of developing a business case for a potential solution without having clear alignment of business objectives.
A way the Business Analyst can help to establish a clear understanding of the business goals is to work with stakeholders to document the business goals and objectives for the project. This can be done through workshops or interviews to understand the pain points that the organization is experiencing, and what they are looking to achieve by undertaking the project.
#9 Change fatigue
Another common yet less tangible problem faced in organizations is change fatigue. This is when staff members become resistant to change because change happens so frequently within the organizational area. This situation can make it difficult for Business Analysts who has to introduce new changes to business stakeholders and it becomes hard for Business Analysts to achieve their requirement outcomes.
One strategy a Business Analyst can follow to help manage the change fatigue of their stakeholders is to ensure that they keep them updated and engaged at the appropriate level throughout the project. They should at the same time aim to champion the benefits of the change to stakeholders and try to avoid asking stakeholders to repeat requirements or information that may have been articulated in the recent past by other Business Analysts. This is where it is very useful if Business Analysts can research similar project information to avoid rehashing the same content with fatigued stakeholders.
#10 Lack of governance
Finally, another common problem faced by Business Analysts is a lack of governance around requirements management. This can lead to several issues such as scope creep, requirements changes being made without consent or approval, and a general lack of control over the requirements. This can be a particular problem on larger projects where there are many stakeholders involved and the Business Analyst is not the only person working on gathering and documenting requirements.
A way to help solve this problem is for the Business Analyst to put in place a requirements management governance framework. This should include processes and procedures for how requirements will be managed, approved, and changed throughout the project. It is also important to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of and agree to the governance framework prior to the start of the project.
These are some of the top problems I could think of that Business Analysts often face and help solve. Some projects have multiple of these challenges happening at the same time which makes the role of the Business analyst very valuable as problem solver.
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Jul 6, 2020
The business analyst’s way to solve the problem
A Business Analyst’s job is not limited to only requirement gathering and implementation of the solution. They also carry a lot of the responsibility when it comes to managing the smooth functioning of applications in the production environment as well.
Business Analysis is all about asking the right question and the same principle applies when there are issues in production. An issue might be related to application downtime or data sync, or any other repetitive issue one faces in production.
Here’s the 8 step Business Analyst way to solve the problem:
1. Identify the problem — ‘What’s going on?’
This basic question will help the BA get an idea about problems being faced in production. As a BA, you should always keep an eye on production issues.
2. Gather data — ‘What do we know about the problem?’
This helps to gather the data with regards to the issue. The data should be collected for a period of 3 to 6 months on the reported problem, as well as linked issues.
3. Analyze data — ‘What are the root causes?’
Identifying the root cause is the next activity in analyzing the data. Proper root cause analysis will help in subsequent phases of problem-solving.
4. Identify solutions — ‘What could be the solution?’
This is the most important step in the problem-solving phase. Based on root causes, the BA needs to work with the architect team and look out for possible solutions available in-house or look for solution in-market. If need be, do the comparison between in-house solutions and the products available in the market.
5. Define solution — ‘What’s the best solution?’
Once available solutions are put into perspective, the next step is to define the best solution to implement. At this stage, POC (Proof of concept) of the solution can help to finalize the solution.
6. Plan implementation — ‘What’s the best approach?’
This is predominantly a project management activity where the BA needs to work alongside the Project Manager to chalk up the plan and define the approach.
7. Test solution — ‘Is the problem solved successfully?’
Test review of the solution implemented in production should be done at this stage. This should be a continuous process to test the solution until you get the confidence of a successful resolution of the problem.
8. Improve solution — ‘Is there any further scope of Improvement?’
This is a retrospective to verify if there is any further scope for improvement.
These are the 8 steps of solving the problem the Business Analyst’s way. What are your thoughts about this process? Any suggestions for improvement?
Note: There are design, test & project management teams who take care of a few items mentioned above, however, the BA’s involvement is always encouraged to get the best out of all teams.
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Business Analysis Problem Solving Techniques
Why is problem solving important to the business analyst.
The expression problem solving refers to the intellectual process that people go through to uncover, analyse and solve problems. Problem solving is a major discipline within business analysis. You’ll often hear business analysts state that the thing they love about their work is solving problems. This makes sense because as a business analyst, your role is to identify and solve problems in an organisation.
Examples of Business Analysis Problem Solving
Here are some examples of problem-solving scenarios that a business analyst might face:
- Process Improvement: This is about improving a organisation’s manufacturing or operational processes. You would gather data on current processes, identify bottlenecks, and work with the team to design and implement a more efficient workflow.
- Decreasing Sales: You would be determining why a company’s sales have been decreasing. To solve this problem, you would analyse sales data, conduct customer surveys, and review competitors’ strategies to determine the root cause of the issue.
- Customer Retention: This where you would be be tasked with improving customer retention rates. You would conduct surveys to gather feedback, analyse customer data, and work with the marketing team to develop targeted retention strategies.
- Cost Reduction: You are asked to reduce costs for a company by analysing the budget, identifying areas where costs can be reduced without compromising quality, and work with the team to implement cost-saving measures.
- New Product Development: This is where you are asked to assist in developing a new product. You would conduct market research to determine customer needs, develop product specifications, and work with the product development team to ensure that the product meets customer requirements.
These are just a few examples of the types of problems that a business analyst may solve. The key is to approach each problem with a structured, analytical mindset and work collaboratively with stakeholders to find the best solution.
Process Improvement Example
To further expand on this here is an example of how you could could solve a process improvement problem.
Problem : A manufacturing company is experiencing delays in production due to bottlenecks in their production process.
- Define the problem: Gather data on the production process and identify the specific bottlenecks causing the delays.
- Analyse the process: Use process mapping tools to visually map out the production process and identify areas for improvement.
- Identify solutions: Work with the production team to brainstorm solutions to the bottlenecks identified in the process analysis. Possible solutions could include streamlining the process flow, improving the quality of raw materials, or upgrading equipment.
- Evaluate alternatives: Evaluate the potential impact of each solution and determine the most effective solution based on the resources available to the company.
- Implement the solution: Work with the production team to implement the chosen solution and monitor the results to ensure that the bottleneck has been successfully resolved.
- Continuous improvement: Continue to monitor the production process and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the process remains efficient and effective.
By using a structured approach to problem-solving, you can help the manufacturing company to identify and solve bottlenecks in their production process, resulting in improved productivity, reduced costs, and increased customer satisfaction.
Problem Solving Techniques
There are many techniques that you can use to help solve problems in a business environment. Here are some common tools that can be used for problem-solving. These techniques can be used in brainstorming sessions / workshops or as personal thinking tools.
This tool helps to generate new ideas and solutions to a problem by encouraging open discussion and collaboration.
This tool helps to visually map out the current process to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement.
Root Cause Analysis
This tool helps to identify the underlying cause of a problem by looking at the relationship between various factors. Root Cause Analysis is another common technique and assumes that systems and events are interrelated. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it grew into the symptom you are now facing. There are three basic causes of problems: physical, human and organisational.
The Five Whys
The Five Whys technique is simply the process of asking “why” enough times that you eventually get to the root cause of a problem. It is an effective way to solving problems that can be used by any business analyst to improve a business process or write better requirements. Learn more about this questioning technique in “Why” is the How of Getting to the Root Cause of a Problem .
This visual technique is used to outline information around a central word or phrase. This central concept may form the known issue that may be causing the problem. Learn more about Mind Mapping in How to Explore a Problem Using a Mind Map and 6 Strategic Categories .
This tool helps to identify the various factors that contribute to a problem by creating a diagram that looks like a fishbone. Like Mind Mapping, Fishbone Analysis is a visual technique for exploring a central problem or concept. This tool is also called the Ishikawa Diagram as it was first used by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa of the University of Tokyo in 1943. Learn more about this technique in How to Identify the Likely Causes of a Problem with a Fishbone Diagram .
This tool helps to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing a business.
This tool helps to identify the most important factors contributing to a problem by plotting them in a bar chart.
This tool helps to evaluate the costs and benefits of different solutions to a problem to determine the most effective option.
This tool helps to compare different options by evaluating various criteria and assigning weights to each criterion.
CATWOE can be used as a stand-alone tool or can be combined with other techniques to ensure that the identified problem has been given full consideration, i.e. you don’t have a problem statement that is really a solution instead. CATWOE allows you to look at the issue from a variety of perspectives: customers, actors, transformation process, world view, owner and environmental constraints.
These are just a few examples of the tools and techniques that can be used by a business analyst to solve problems. The key is to select the most appropriate tool for the specific problem at hand and use it to guide the problem-solving process.
MBA059: Problem Solving for Business Analysts
by Dave Saboe | Feb 16, 2016 | Podcast , Start | 0 comments
In this episode, Matt Fishbeck shares a six step problem solving framework that can help you to address the right problem and come up with the best solution for your organization and customers.
After listening to this episode, you'll understand:.
- Why the skill of problem is so critical
- How to apply a 6 step problem solving framework
- How to apply problem solving techniques
- Defining the problem statement
- Defining scope
- Elicit information & resolving ambiguity
- Identifying associations and relationships
- Root cause analysis
- Solution proposal
The Problem Solving Process Start by creating the problem statement. The problem statement is a well-defined statement or question to frame the context. After you have a clear and unambiguous problem statement, define the scope of the effort. The scope definition is probably the most important stage since it basically whether or not the problem can be solved satisfactorily. Scope is defined to apply constraints to the domain of consideration. When we have scope we know what to consider and what not to consider. Therefore, all possible solutions are directly dependant on the information within the scope. Once the scope is defined, you can move on to eliciting information & resolving ambiguity. Perform a stakeholder analysis and elicit information from all known stakeholders/sources as a basis for investigation. You can use workshops, focus groups, interviews, document analysis, and other approaches to elicit information. When we elicit information, we try to remove ambiguity as ambiguity represents the unknown, liability, and risk. To reduce ambiguity, we need to consider the taxonomy of ambiguity to provide a frame of reference to how we will resolve it. Ambiguity may be:
- Missing information
- Incorrect information
- Duplicate information
- Conflicting information
- Incomplete information
The above provide a basis to ask questions concerning all information that is within scope, to challenge this information to be reliable and suitable for use. Context diagrams and domain diagram can help resolve ambiguity. Next, we identify associations and relationships to organize the information so we can derive meaning from it. Information needs to be structured, aligned, and associated that provides an additional level of meaning. This is the basis for traceability. The linking of concepts. It’s not just solely used for requirements. Once we thoroughly understand the information, we can move on to performing a root cause analysis. A root cause analysis helps you to understand the underlying cause of the problem so you can address it instead of addressing a symptom of a greater issue. There are many techniques for root cause analysis including 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams. Now that we understand the real root cause, we can propose solutions that will address that root cause. When identifying proposed solutions, consider the scope, constraints, and relative cost and value of each option. Problem solving is not some illusive black art; it’s an analytical process that can be broken down, quantified, and analyzed to identify the root cause to give rise to a viable solution. Listen to the full episode to hear all of Matt’s examples and tips for problem solving.
- Begin applying Matt’s six-stage problem solving approach. Often, the most difficult part of problem solving is knowing where to start.
- Start learning the root cause analysis techniques in the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK). The techniques will give you more tools to help in your problem solving efforts.
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Matt’s Problem Solving article on ModernAnalyst.com
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The 5 Steps in Problem Analysis
One technique that is extremely useful to gain a better understanding of the problems before determining a solution is problem analysis .
Problem analysis is the process of understanding real-world problems and user’s needs and proposing solutions to meet those needs. The goal of problem analysis is to gain a better understanding of the problem being solved before developing a solution.
There are five useful steps that can be taken to gain a better understanding of the problem before developing a solution.
- Gain agreement on the problem definition
- Understand the root-causes – the problem behind the problem
- Identify the stakeholders and the users
- Define the solution boundary
- Identify the constraints to be imposed on the solution
Table of Contents
Gain agreement on the problem definition.
The first step is to gain agreement on the definition of the problem to be solved. One of the simplest ways to gain agreement is to simply write the problem down and see whether everyone agrees.
Business Problem Statement Template
A helpful and standardised format to write the problem definition is as follows:
- The problem of – Describe the problem
- Affects – Identify stakeholders affected by the problem
- The results of which – Describe the impact of this problem on stakeholders and business activity
- Benefits of – Indicate the proposed solution and list a few key benefits
Example Business Problem Statement
There are many problems statement examples that can be found in different business domains and during the discovery when the business analyst is conducting analysis. An example business problem statement is as follows:
The problem of having to manually maintain an accurate single source of truth for finance product data across the business, affects the finance department. The results of which has the impact of not having to have duplicate data, having to do workarounds and difficulty of maintaining finance product data across the business and key channels. A successful solution would have the benefit of providing a single source of truth for finance product data that can be used across the business and channels and provide an audit trail of changes, stewardship and maintain data standards and best practices.
Understand the Root Causes Problem Behind the Problem
You can use a variety of techniques to gain an understanding of the real problem and its real causes. One such popular technique is root cause analysis, which is a systematic way of uncovering the root or underlying cause of an identified problem or a symptom of a problem.
Root cause analysis helps prevents the development of solutions that are focussed on symptoms alone .
To help identify the root cause, or the problem behind the problem, ask the people directly involved.
The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” . Each answer forms the basis of the next question. The “five” in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem .
Identify the Stakeholders and the Users
Effectively solving any complex problem typically involves satisfying the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders. Stakeholders typically have varying perspectives on the problem and various needs that must be addressed by the solution. So, involving stakeholders will help you to determine the root causes to problems.
Define the Solution Boundary
Once the problem statement is agreed to and the users and stakeholders are identified, we can turn our attention of defining a solution that can be deployed to address the problem.
Identify the Constraints Imposed on Solution
We must consider the constraints that will be imposed on the solution. Each constraint has the potential to severely restrict our ability to deliver a solution as we envision it.
Some example solution constraints and considerations could be:-
- Economic – what financial or budgetary constraints are applicable?
- Environmental – are there environmental or regulatory constraints?
- Technical – are we restricted in our choice of technologies?
- Political – are there internal or external political issues that affect potential solutions?
Conclusion – Problem Analysis
Try the five useful steps for problem solving when your next trying to gain a better understanding of the problem domain on your business analysis project. The problem statement format can be used in businesses and across industries.
Jerry continues to maintain the site to help aspiring and junior business analysts and taps into the network of experienced professionals to accelerate the professional development of all business analysts. He is a Principal Business Analyst who has over twenty years experience gained in a range of client sizes and sectors including investment banking, retail banking, retail, telecoms and public sector. Jerry has mentored and coached business analyst throughout his career. He is a member of British Computer Society (MBCS), International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), Business Agility Institute, Project Management Institute (PMI), Disciplined Agile Consortium and Business Architecture Guild. He has contributed and is acknowledged in the book: Choose Your WoW - A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimising Your Way of Working (WoW).
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Problem Solving for Business Analysts
This article explores the discipline of problem solving. Some might consider problem solving an art, while others might define it as science. The reality is a little in between since part of problem solving involves creativity, which by definition cannot be rationalized as science since we are basically unaware or not conscious of it occurring. Creative formulation of new concepts and ideas is a process lies deep within the sub consciousness and we are only aware of the output of the creative process; a new idea is a good example. We don’t understand how the idea was created, but we know we thought of it.
This article does consider the creative process and instead deems it out of scope. Instead a process for problem solving is proposed that defines a number of phases that can be rationally quantified, executed and basically tested and verified.
What does it mean to solve a problem? It relies upon two things occurring in the following order; an issue, or undesirable state that remains to cause angst, disadvantage, some negative consequence, or a limited capability and as a result some drive to overcome this situation through the formulation of some kind of a solution to resolve, nullify, or improve the current state of affairs.
How do we solve problems? Some people would say, by thinking. Thinking about what? The problem, right? Not necessarily. Thinking about the problem may help the situation and provide a starting point, but if thinking about the problem alone is not immediately returning positive inspiration and results then you are probably selling yourself short, being too narrow minded in breath and/or depth or focused on the symptoms rather than the cause. If the solution is not obvious, then there is obviously something missing from the equation.
For languages sake of descriptions, the term ‘problem’ is sometimes used interchangeably with the word ‘issue’. We don’t say ‘issue solving’, only ‘problem solving’. Issue is used since it is a more positive expression of the situation. One might say that there are no problems, only issues.
Undertaking business analysis, business architecture, or enterprise architecture involve the use of a broad spectrum of knowledge and best practice in frameworks and techniques to solve business problems. Apart from information relative to the professional practices, there are other domains such as the specific context in the organisation; the drivers & motivations, constraints, legacies, culture, etc. and issue or problem.
Finding a solution to a problem involves some kind of change within the organisation to be realized and formulated that could include a new product or service, capability, technology improvement, process maturity uplift, etc. All of these examples represent solutions to underling issues/problems that impact capability, and value to shareholders, customers, partners and suppliers.
Solving business problems always involves some kind of starting point, and a finishing point in terms of where in the spectrum one lies with respect to the problem and the solution.
Important Elements of Consideration
There are a number of important elements of problem solving which will be explored in detail later when considering the proposed overall process of problem solving. See below;
· Problem Statement: Describes the nature of the issue at hand
· Scope & Information: Associated information contained within boundaries of consideration
· Association and Relationships: Linkages between information within the scope
· Rationale: The logical deduction within the scope that links the problem to the solution
· Solution: A defined change in the system that nullifies, the problem and/or problem driver
The following are a series of sequential phases that should occur to complete a problem solving exercise, which would result in a solution to the problem statement. The phases can be viewed as a waterfall. If however a phase cannot be completed, it means that a previous stage is incomplete and requires further exploring. Hence each phase has an optional feedback loop.
The problem itself should be understood as something discrete, defined or quantifiable. It can be represented as question or a statement that describes something. Problems can also be ambiguous in that they are hard to understand or pin down as something concrete. Ambiguous problems require further exploration that can occur from proceeding to the next phase of defining the scope, and then returning to reevaluate the problem statement.
Definition of Scope
The scope of the problem is extremely important and provides the platform to which all other considerations are included and excluded. A good analogy to scope is the expressions of ‘ring fencing’. Picture yourself actually laying a fence around an area to encapsulate something. The goal of building a fence is to keep something in, and to keep something out. Seems obvious but it’s worth thinking about this in terms of information and problem solving. All information that needs to be considered is within the fence line, and everything else is outside.
This is important from a planning perspective since if one knows what information needs to be considered, one must review the information. Because the information is known one can actually plan and put constraints around this; who needs to be consulted, where the information is obtained from, what systems and resource needs to be drawn upon.
Scope itself is a constraint. The output or solution to a problem is directly dependent on the information that went into the problem solving process. Information that is critical to formulating the correct solution is essential to being included in the scope. This can be demonstrated through a mathematical equation.
Take the following equation, which the problem is to find the value of X;
X = Y + 10
Consider for a second that the problem is X, and X cannot be determined. What can be determined is that Y has the value of 5.
Unfortunately, due to poor research Y is not considered, only X. This equation is them impossible to solve and a solution is not found.
If however, you broadened the scope to include Y (Equals 5) then you could add 5 to 10 and have the solution;
This may seem elementary but it highlights that without proper considering and scoping, one’s perspective may not be adequate to see the whole picture.
Quite often in business some information is considered, but not everything due to time constraints and economic pressure guiding a shorter term perspective on the solution. Often when this is done the depth of analysis is limited resulting in shallow or knee jerk reactions and band aid solutions that do not address the underlying cause.
In this sense scoping can be strategic since it takes into account the broader perspective including a broader more considerate base of information that is often not focused on the short term.
Resolving Ambiguity: Ambiguity factors
Resolving ambiguity is very import. When there is confusion or uncertainty statements made become imprecise approximations that fuel a culture of anxiety. People need to have the right knowledge at the right time to solve problems by making sound decisions. It’s important to note that nothing sure footed can really be achieved when there is confusion.
Resolving ambiguity or confusion is present in the following situations. Note that the following does not include any human communication dynamics.
· Missing Information: Information that is not present
· Incorrect information: Information that can be verified by other information to be incorrect
· Conflicting Information: Information in at least two separate places that contradicts
· Duplicate information: Same or similar information that is in more than one place
· Incomplete information: Information that is present but has an unsatisfactory level of detail
How do you know if you’re missing information? Sometimes this is obvious based on the existing information. (You can see the outline of the footprint.). Other times there is no footprint, all your have is your current information, which is the best starting point for further information and traceability.
Traceability is the art of defining concepts and their associated connection points. Consider a dot to dot drawing or a mind map; what presents is an interconnected network. This network can be used to explore its boundaries, both its breath of scope and level of scope. This two way exploration can always start with the existing information, considering other related concepts and relationships.
For example, if the word ‘Interface’ was on a mind map, I could also draw other branches with connections that say ‘client’, ‘server’, ‘api’, ‘web service’, ‘xml’, ‘meta-data’, ‘contract’, ‘data flow’ etc. The root of this exploration is the word ‘interface’.
Traceability can be explored within a mind map, or in any other conceptual model where you are connecting information, to other information through some kind of relationships.
Root Cause Analysis
Since the entire scope has now been defined, the process of identifying the problem symptoms and problem causes can begin. The symptoms are obvious effects, outcomes, metrics, sales figures, costs, performance measures; negative qualitative or quantitative measurements.
Asking the question why is the basis for root cause analysis. It considers the result of questions and then traces backwards to underlying causes. If we ask the question why, the result is the answer and potentially the basis to another question. This is an iterative process that is continued until the underlying cause is uncovered. Note, that the underlying cause should also be within the bounds of the scope already defined.
For example, the problem is a person driving a car along the highway breaks down and is stuck on the side of the road. The problem is “Car has broken down”. See below for root cause analysis.
· Question: Why has the car broken down?
· Answer: Engine has overheated.
· Question: Why has the engine overheated?
· Answer: No water in the radiator.
· Question: Why is there no water in the radiator?
· Answer: Didn’t get the car serviced
· Question: Why didn’t the car get serviced?
· Answer: Forgot to get the car serviced.
· Question: Why did you forget to get the car serviced?
· Answer: It was a new car and the owner never had to get the car serviced before.
· Question: What is the servicing requirements of the car?
· Answer: Get it serviced 6 months after purchase, then 12 months thereafter. (Stated in contract.)
· Question: Did the owner read the contract?
· Answer: No. Owner didn’t read the contract and was unaware of car servicing requirements.
· Problem Symptom (Effect) = “Car broken down. Can’t go anywhere. Stranded on highway.”
· Real Problem (Cause) = “Owner didn’t read the contract and had no idea that car needed to be serviced”
Identification and realization to solution
Once the underlying cause is attained through root cause analysis, the solution is often the formulation of a preventative action that is undertaken to resolve the problem symptom from ever occurring. This is usually obvious since it is only a single ‘jump’ to understand the resolution.
In the above example, the solution would be for the owner after they purchased the vehicle to read the contract or ask the sales dealer. That way they would have understood the responsibilities of owner the car and taken it in for service, preventing the breakdown from ever occurring.
A less savvy car owner would have opted for a more reactive solution. In this example, the owner could have just carried a jerrycan of water in the car. When the car breaks down the owner can simply fill the radiator up again with water and restart the car. (Assuming the engine is still working.)
The most challenging aspect to problem solving is having the right information and doing adequate work in scoping the issue. When the right information has been considered, mapping out the context and domain diagrams, the relationships can be defined; the problems and their causal drivers can easily be identified through logical deduction.
It’s also important to point out that sometimes it’s better not to be too focused on the actual problem, since as we have demonstrated here, the problem itself is just a single breadcrumb in the investigation; a mere starting point for exploration. This is what problem solving can be described as, a process of guided exploration within a domain, that has boundaries and has been defined to be within scope. Exploration starts at the symptom and goes backward, forward, underneath and around the problem to provide context and understanding of the bigger picture.
Often it’s the bigger picture that allows us the understanding to see the problem relative to the context and proceed in a process of questioning from a defined starting point to an ending point. This is one way to solve problems that starts by considering the problem statement, examining the scope boundaries and information, conducting logical deductions; asking questions and assessing answers, asking further questions etc, and deriving a solution that addresses the cause or root of the problem. Sometimes root cause analysis is not required, other times there a multiple problems, seemingly interrelated with dependencies - and this is all compounded with complexity and ambiguity of course, not to mention miss communication and misinterpretation related to human factors.
Yes, problem solving can be challenging, but it can be made less so with a methodical and logical approach that works.
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Problem-solving for business analysts - some tips.
For many in business, problem-solving is something that comes naturally, stemming from a combination of analytical thinking and creativity - but what exactly is a problem in this context? Is it something that can be thought out of? What counts as a solution to a problem, or a stopgap measure?
The process involved is a systematic, but complex one. Typically a problem will be defined as a problem statement, quantifying and reducing the issue to a single, core question or hypothesis. Following this, the scope of the problem is defined and which knowledge, department resources and so on enter consideration as a possible solution. This step is often re-evaluated several times for particularly complex problems until clear objectives can be set.
To ensure information available is sufficient to solve a problem, ambiguity must be removed in the minds of those examining it and from the data presented. This includes resolving cases of missing information, incorrect information, conflicting information, duplicated information, incomplete information, and so on.
At this point, a team will have a significant body of data to work with. This data must then be connected together to form a traceable link back to the origin of the issue at hand. This can be achieved by examining overt symptoms of a problem in the form of effects on a business: metrics, sales, costs, performance, etc.
From such interrogation, a root cause is determined and it is then that the problem-solver will arrive at a logical solution, typically in the form of a preventative action. This is because, for any problem, the best outcome is to prevent such an issue from arising again, or to put structures in place which preclude the possibility of the problem existing in the first place.
The ideal scenario when solving every problem is not only to solve the current problem at hand, but to ensure that the problem does not recur. Without identifying the root cause, this will not happen. It is analogous to treating the symptoms of a malady without treating the underlying condition that exhibits such symptoms.
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