How to investigate business problem!

Big or small, being in Business we all experience business problems. They may relate to process, policy, technology, people, management or combination of them. We all have our own way to look at business problems and their solutions too. For instance, if Call centre is not functioning properly, Operations Manager may propose to provide more training to staff, whereas Executive member may propose outsourcing Call centre function altogether. However, before jumping to any solution, we must understand problem first.

Problem Investigation Reference Model
Problem Investigation Reference Model

Business should rely on ‘Analyst’ (individual undertaking professional analysis work; holding any position/title) to investigate Business problems. Analysts investigate root cause of problems and provide 360-degree view to stakeholders. It helps decision makers to take informed decisions.

Following framework will help Analysts to develop approach for investigating Business problems.

The Framework

Framework

  1. Problem – First step is to get initial information about problem. Following questions must be answered in this step:
    • The customer – For whom you are investigating the problem? It can be an individual, team, company or outside body (regulator, auditor)
    • Time allowed – How much time is allowed to investigate problem
    • Budget allowed
    • Quality expectations
    • Resources available – What are the resources available to you. They include people, tool, systems, documentation, infrastructure etc.
  2. Domain – Identify from which different angles/perspectives you need to look at the problem. For example, in the Call centre problem above you may want to investigate domains of Call centre operations, Sales, Customers, Products and Management.
  3. Stakeholder – Identify key stakeholders (Subject Matter Experts-SME) in each of the identified domains. Identify relationship between stakeholders, reporting structure, position etc. Try to personally introduce yourself to them. Understand their personality types, personal preference for engagement, viewpoint. This will help you to plan for the next step.
  4. Information – Gather information from identified stakeholders and document their stories. From stories, clearly identify and confirm what are the Assumptions, Risks, Concerns, Dependencies, Limitations, Constraints and Needs/Requirements. Consider different techniques (Workshops/One-on-Ones/Surveys etc.) for information gathering based on Business environment and problem under investigation.

Some tips

  1. Understand Environment – You must understand environment in which you are operating. Your environment influence on anything you do, so proactively be aware of that!  Refer to the diagram for detailed components of environment.
  2. Experience tools in Action – During investigation, do not merely trust words. See things (processes, systems) in action yourself.
  3. Get facts – Try to support your observations with statistical facts, published report, research papers etc.
  4. Existing Assets – Do not recreate the wheel! Look for previous work done, related projects, existing documentation etc.
  5. Stop solution thinking – You will find people will tell you solutions rather than problem. Steer discussion towards problem. Finding solution is the next step. So, stop thinking about it.
  6. Do not forget Customer – Remember you are investigating problem for your customer. At the end, you must meet your customer needs.
  7. Ask same question – Ask same question to different stakeholders (SMEs) and if possible, to same stakeholder at different times. Chances are that you will find different answers which will lead to more questions.

I hope you have find this helpful. I appreciate your time!

Please drop a line and provide some feedback.

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