Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner has an article where he describes how to create challenges out of problems. He describes a process of asking the same questions 5 times; to drill down to the actual problem rather than taking the symptom at face value.
This system looks like this:
Step 1: Why Is This a Problem? x 5
The first thing to do with any problem is ask “Why is this a problem?” five times. This will enable us to identify the negative consequences of the problem. Using the example, we can ask “Why is it a problem that we are not selling enough of our products?”
Step 2: Why Has This Occurred? x 5
We now need to try and understand how the problem has occurred. Again, we ask the question, “why has this occurred?” five times. This ensures that we think about the problem in detail. Very often the first reason we give for a problem is not the primary reason. By digging deeper, we can get to the root causes of a problem and devise a creative challenge that addresses them.
Step 3: How Urgent Is the Problem?
We need to determine the urgency of the problem. This is unlikely to affect the challenge itself, but it can speed up the innovation process and is highly valuable during the evaluation phase of the process. If the problem is urgent, solutions need to be quickly implementable. In this case, it would seem the problem is indeed urgent.
Step 4: What Are Your Competitors Doing About This Problem?
It’s always a good idea to see how your competitors are dealing with the situation. Do they seem also to be having trouble selling? This information can be difficult to glean. But by listening to clients, watching for tell-tale signs (such as deep discounting and laying-off staff) you can often get an idea of your competitors’ situations.
In any event, you probably do not want to take the same action against the problem as one or more of your competitors has done. Leaders do not become leaders by following other firms. They lead! And innovators do not copy their competitors. They are copied by their competitors!
Step 5: Putting It All Together
At this stage, we have quite a lot information. We have a problem, a list of consequences resulting from the problem, a list of reasons the problem has occurred, a sense of urgency and the knowledge that our competitors are similarly suffering, indicating that there is a real opportunity to take the innovative lead in this situation.
What he’s actually doing here is good old fashioned facilitation. He’s describing how to get the client to provide the answers to their own problems.
It’s usually a really bad idea to jump straight to the solution. If you’re talking about radical change, then the client will need to have the journey described to them, for them to have the impacts described and for them to buy in to the solution – that they themselves have identified.
As a presumed expert in this area, you can challenge their assumptions and provide your experience in the relevant areas. Various aspects of this have been discussed here.
This is the art of facilitation, and a key requirement for getting acceptance of the business.