Project Problem Solution Fit

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John Dewey: “a problem well put is half solved.”

Problem Solution Fit

Problem – Poor Problem Solution Fit

Oftentimes it is difficult to summarize concisely a business problem that is so significant it requires an enterprise project to implement the solution. A concise problem definition is even more difficult to achieve when you have competing stakeholders who operate in different problem spaces. Even if you can get all stakeholders to agree to a common problem statement, you still have to develop an accurate set of requirements that define the target solution. Unfortunately, a poor problem definition can lead to a set of requirements that accurately specify the wrong solution. This can result in a project that is a tactical success but a strategic failure.

Ideal State – Problem Solution Fit

The ideal state is a solution that meets all of the critical needs of a “problem worth solving” without the waste of over engineering. This is the problem solution fit.

Problem Solution Fit

Root Cause

The main route causes for a poor problem definition are identifying the wrong problem or not right sizing the correct problem. For example, an analyst may perceive a symptom as the problem rather than identifying the true root cause. Problem Solution Fit - Root Cause AnalysisSolving a symptom will probably lead to gaps in the delivered value. These gaps will cause rework and waste until the true root cause is addressed. Conversely, adding more requirements than are absolutely necessary, for example to appease competing stakeholders, will address a problem that is broader than the true root cause. This will add unnecessary cost, time, and complexity. This type of “gold plating” also creates waste. Consequently, your project will be plagued with excessive waste if the problem definition is incorrect, too narrow or too broad. The waste caused by a poor problem definition is likely to cause your project to exceed its target budget, or schedule, which will increase the risk of project failure.

Context – Problem Solution Fit

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Henry Ford

Problem Solution Fit - Problem Solving

Oftentimes, business users perceive a problem but do not know the technical solutions that are possible. Conversely, engineers usually can figure out the technical options but may not understand evolving business needs. This creates a gap that is often bridged by a Business Systems Analyst. The analyst usually addresses this gap by converting the “problem worth solving” into a complete set of requirements. These requirements should specify a solution that will deliver the most critical value without over engineering. Since you cannot truly validate your solution until it is deployed to real users, it is really important to have short delivery cycles to get user feedback as soon as possible. This opportunity for rapid “validated learning” empowers you to quickly course correct, or pivot, based on customer feedback. This will minimize rework and waste. Iterative and agile are examples of execution methodologies that are designed to enable rapid release iterations. Your first iteration should solve the right size problem and deliver the minimum viable product (“mvp“). However, successive iterations should deliver the Maximum Value Possible (“MVP”)  in each subsequent time box.

Solution – Problem Solution Fit

The problem solution fit template for projects is one approach to document the match between your target problem and your proposed solution approach. You can log in to and click the “Members” tab on the toolbar to request the Problem Solution fit template for enterprise projects. This template guides you through the process to define the problem worth solving and to propose a solution approach.

To determine the problem solution fit for your project, first you should postulate your vision of the future. For example, your vision statement may surmise that an increasing percentage of your customers will prefer to be engaged via mobile devices. Problem Solution Fit - SolutionGiven that vision, assess the impact on your business then define a problem worth solving that will satisfy the underlying trend. Then analyze and understand the root cause of the current problem worth solving. For example, the root cause may be the desire for greater convenience whereas the mobile device may just be today’s best channel to satisfy that root desire. Specify the current state solution for your customers and describe your proposed ideal future state. Then recommend a possible solution approach to close the gap between the current state and ideal state. Specify the one metric that matters that you will use to measure your solution’s level of success. List the key steps in your customer’s prime use case that your proposed solution will impact. Also list the key drivers of user adoption and how you will use those key drivers to improve your level of success. You should also specify the main hypothesis for your project. For example, after you implement your proposed solution, you expect your target customers to execute a specific use case in a different way. In short, you expect your solution to change your customer’s behavior. For example, you may want your customer to buy more or make fewer calls to the call center or self serve or complete a specific workflow more efficiently. The customer may be a system user, business partner, internal group in your organization or other beneficiary. You should also specify how and when you will use the one metric that matters to measure the success of your hypothesis. For example, after deploying the solution did the customer buy 15% more than you hypothesized or make 5% fewer calls to your call center or self serve 100% of the time or complete the target workflow 25% faster. The problem solution fit template is a high level overview that summarizes this information for your project and helps you link value delivered to the problem and solution defined. Also, the problem solution fit is one of the key milestones in the lean project startup process. Furthermore, this lean project startup process is one of the key counter-measures in your lean project playbook.

Your Feedback

Enter your comments below so we can update this post and provide better solutions for the community. Also, if you have created any project management tools or templates that you would like to contribute for communal use then please send each one, with a brief description, to
Problem Solution Fit - Opportunity

Business Opportunity

There is an opportunity to systemize the problem solution fit process for projects. Let us know if you would like to collaborate as a part of our community to transform this opportunity into an easy-to-use solution that will help assure project value and improve project failure rates.

Alternatively, if your company is willing to contribute some of your time to help specify a solution to meet their specific needs then they will receive free licensing for an agreed period of time. This project requires a project manager, an architect, a business analyst, a developer and a QA lead.

Simple Life Lesson

Problem Solution Fit - Life Lesson

Every day we analyze and solve problems. However, we oftentimes spend a lot of time and effort solving symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem. This is a recipe for disappointment. One example is the long list of cold remedies that address the symptoms but do not cure the cold. However, if a cold only lasts a couple of days and the remedy eliminates the symptoms for a couple of days then masking the symptoms may appear to some as a solution to the problem. We need to ensure we do not confuse masking a problem’s symptoms with solving the root cause.

Problem Solution Fit - Innovation Incubator

Innovation Incubator

  • Are you tired of using the same old Project Management tools and techniques and getting the same unacceptable results?
  • Have you developed a project management tool or technique that has improved the performance of your projects?
  • Is your organization interested in trialing innovative project management tools and techniques?

Contact us to list a project management tool that you have developed or to trial of any of the following innovations:

6SigmaPM – A proactive project health check. It measures your project’s vital signs then recommends corrective actions to prevent a negative trend becoming an actual problem. The benefit is predictable project performance.

JoinMyOrder – A group purchasing system. You submit a purchase order, other like minded consumers also make a commitment to buy, then suppliers compete for the high volume purchase order in a reverse auction. You receive the price, terms and conditions normally available only to much larger organizations.

Crowd Bootstrap – A startup ecosystem in an App that offers innovation as a service. You sponsor a startup accelerator and determine its industry focus. The accelerator invests business services from independent contractors into selected startups to help accelerate their progress. You get access to the startup’s team, knowledge, products and services. You receive the benefits of an accelerator without the usual costs. It is “innovation-as-a-service” in an App.


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