What is a framework for problem-solving? And how can product managers use them to tackle the challenges they face?
If you are after the answers to these questions, we’ve got you covered! We also look at examples of different frameworks and the main steps in the problem-solving process.
Are you ready to dive in?
- A framework for problem-solving allows product teams to find the causes of the problems and generate solutions in an organized way.
- Root Cause Analysis enables problem solvers to get to the bottom of the problem and find the main reason why the problem occurs.
- Many companies like Google use the CIRCLES framework for problem-solving. The process consists of 7 steps and helps the product manager to take stock of the situation, identify user needs, prioritize them, and produce and assess solutions.
- The CIA created the Pheonix Checklist with a list of questions to help the problem solver dissect the issue and guide them through the process.
- Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) allows remote teams to come up with solutions quickly and within the constraints of the online working environment.
- The acronym DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Implement and Control. They are stages in Six Sigma, a popular quality improvement methodology.
- All the problem-solving frameworks share certain processes: identifying and understanding the problem or the needs of the customer, brainstorming solutions, choosing and implementing the solutions, and monitoring their effectiveness.
- Userpilot can help you to collect user feedback and track usage data to understand the problems your users are facing or set the baseline. Once you implement the solutions, you can use them to collect more data to evaluate their impact.
What is a problem-solving framework?
The problem-solving framework is a set of tools and techniques to identify the causes of the problem and find adequate solutions.
Problem-solving frameworks rely on both data analysis and heuristics.
What are heuristics?
We use them every day. In short, it’s mental shortcuts that allow us to apply what we already know in a new situation. They are particularly useful when detailed research is not practical. An educated guess or generalization may be good enough but the solutions won’t be perfect or cover all the eventualities.
Problem-solving framework example
Let’s look at some of the best-known problem-solving frameworks.
Root Cause Analysis
Managers usually use Root Cause Analysis to deal with problems that have already occurred. It consists of six main steps.
The process starts by defining the problem, followed by data collection.
Based on the data, the team generates a list of possible causes. Next, they can use techniques like 5 Why’s or the Fishbone diagram for more in-depth analysis to identify the actual problem – the root cause.
Once they know it, they can move on to recommend and implement relevant solutions.
CIRCLES method for problem-solving
The CIRCLES method is a problem-solving framework that was created by Lewis C. Lin, who is known for his best-selling book Decode and Conquer.
The framework is particularly suitable for product management. That’s because it allows managers to solve any kind of problem, no matter where it comes from. As a result, it’s a go-to framework for companies like Google.
CIRCLES stands for the 7 steps it takes to solve a problem:
- Comprehend the situation
- Identify the Customer
- Report the customer’s needs
- Cut, through prioritization
- List solutions
- Evaluate tradeoffs
- Summarize recommendation
Comprehend the situation
At this step, the team tries to understand the context of the problem.
The easiest way to do that is by asking Wh- questions, like ‘What is it?’, ‘Who is it for?’, ‘Why do they need it?’, ‘When is it available?’, ‘Where is it available?’ and ‘How does it work?’
Identify the customer
The who question is particularly important because you need to know who you are building the product for.
Report customer’s needs
Next, the focus shifts to specific user needs and requirements.
Teams often use user stories for this purpose. These look like this:
As a product manager, I want to be able to customize the dashboard so that I can easily track the performance of my KPIs.
Reporting user needs in this way forces you to look at the problem from a user perspective and express ideas in plain accessible language.
Cut through prioritization
Now that you have a list of use cases or user stories, it’s time to prioritize them.
This stage is very important as we never have enough resources to build all the possible features. As the Pareto rule states, users only use about 20 percent of the available functionality.
Now, that you have the most urgent user needs, it’s time to generate possible solutions.
There are different ways of solving each problem, so resist the temptation to jump at the first idea your team comes up with. Instead, try to brainstorm at least 3 solutions to a particular problem.
It’s extremely important to be non-judgemental at this stage and refrain from dismissing any ideas. Just list them all and don’t worry about evaluating their suitability. There will be time for it in the next stages.
At this step, you assess the pros and cons of each potential solution.
To aid the process, you may want to create a checklist with criteria like cost or ease of implementation, or riskiness.
Summarize your recommendation
The last step is to summarize the solutions and provide a recommendation, based on what you’ve found out by this stage.
Ideally, the customer should be involved at every stage of the process but if for some reason this hasn’t been the case this is the time to ask them for their opinion about the solutions you’ve chosen.
The Phoenix Checklist
The Phoenix Checklist is another solid framework.
It was developed by the CIA and it consists of sets of questions grouped into different categories.
Going through the checklist allows the agent… I mean the product manager to break down the problem and come up with the best solution.
Here are some of the questions:
- Why is it necessary to solve this particular problem?
- What benefits will you receive by solving it?
- What is the information you have?
- Is the information you have sufficient?
- What are the unknowns?
- Can you describe the problem in a chart?
- Where are the limits for the problem?
- Can you distinguish the different parts of the problem?
- What are the relationships between the different parts of the problem?
- Have you seen this problem before?
- Can you use solutions to similar problems to solve this problem?
Lightning Decision Jam – problem-solving framework for remote teams
Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) is a very effective problem-solving framework for dispersed teams.
It consists of 9 steps that allow the team members to list and reframe the issues they face, choose the most pressing ones to address, generate, prioritize and select solutions, and turn them into actionable tasks.
Each of the steps is time-boxed so that the team moves through the process quickly and efficiently.
DMAIC – The Six Sigma’s Problem-Solving Method
Six Sigma was initially developed for the needs of the automotive industry in Japan to help it deal with high defect rates. It is now one of the best quality-improvement frameworks and it is used in different sectors.
There are 5 main stages of Six Sigma projects.
During the Definition stage, the team identifies the problem they would like to solve, prepares the project charter, brings the right people on board, and ensures there are adequate resources available.
One of the key tasks during this stage is capturing the Voice of the Customer. After all, the definition of good quality is very much dependent on the needs of the customers and what they are ready to pay for, so their input is essential.
During the Measure phase, the team describes the process and measures its current performance to establish the baseline.
At the Analyze stage, they use the data to identify the root causes and waste, or activities that don’t bring any value.
The Improve stage focuses on generating, evaluating, and optimizing solutions. This is also when the team tests the ideas. If they are successful, they plan how to implement them.
Finally, the project champion must ensure that people stick to the new ways of doing things. That’s what the Control phase is about. The team also uses this stage to assess the outcomes and benefits of the project.
Problem-solving process recurring steps
Now, that we have looked at a few of the most popular frameworks for solving problems, why don’t we look at the steps that they have in common?
Identify and understand the problem with user research
First, it’s necessary to identify and understand the problem.
To do that, your team should conduct solid user research and capture the Voice of the Customer (VoC).
How to do that?
To get a complete picture, try to collect both quantitative and qualitative data.
There’s no problem-solving framework out there that wouldn’t include brainstorming of some sort. And there’s a good reason for that: it’s one of the most effective ways to generate a lot of different solutions in a short time.
To make the brainstorming sessions as effective as possible, make sure all your team members have a chance to contribute. Your software engineer may not be the most vocal team member but it doesn’t mean she has nothing to offer, and not recognizing it can be costly.
The Delphi method or silent brainstorming are good techniques that prevent groupthink and the less outspoken team members from being talked over.
No matter how ridiculous or outrageous some ideas may seem, don’t discard any unless they’re completely irrelevant. It’s not the time to evaluate ideas, just come up with as many of them as possible.
Decide on a solution and implement
Some of the solutions will be better than others, so it’s always necessary to assess them and choose the one solution that solves the problem better than others.
Even the best ideas are not worth much if you don’t manage to implement them, so pay attention to this stage.
Often big changes are necessary to solve difficult problems so you need to prepare your team or your customers. Take your time, and focus on explaining the rationale for change and the benefits that it brings.
Collect feedback and evaluate
Once you implement the solution, keep collecting feedback to assess its effectiveness.
Is it solving the problem? Does it help you achieve the objectives? If not, how can you modify it to improve its success? If yes, is there anything else that would provide even more value?
You can do this by actively asking your users for feedback, for example via a survey.
In addition to asking for feedback actively, give your users a chance to submit passive feedback whenever they feel like it.
In case of organizational changes, it’s important to monitor whether the new processes or tools are used in the first place, because as creatures of habit we tend to relapse to our old ways quite easily, often without realizing it.
There are a few useful frameworks for problem-solving. They can guide a product manager through the process of defining the problem, identifying causes, generating and implementing solutions, and assessing their impact.
If you’d like to learn how Userpilot can help you capture the voice of the customer, analyze the data to identify root causes, help design user-centered solutions and collect both active and passive feedback to test their effectiveness, book a demo!