Describe the Problem

Step 2 of the 5 Steps  is to "describe the problem" you are facing. The purpose of this is to gain a better understanding of what is it that you are facing, what is it that you want to achieve and possibly get another perspective or view on it.

THE best way to start solving a problem is to describe it in detail with someone who knows something on the subject or topic. Not necessarily someone who knows more but rather someone who understands the problem the way you do. Literally, someone who would use the same jargon. This could be a colleague or it could be in the form of a post on a forum. The discussion that follows could lay the solid foundation for a solution or even better, a greater understanding. They would be able ask the right questions, relevant questions that will test how much is known about the problem and it's causes. It may be embarrassing or even ego-busting but if it means solving the problem or getting closer, it is well worth it. At the end of it, smile and say thanks. Everybody appreciates being appreciated.

The next best thing is to describe the problem to someone who has a lot of experience facing other kinds of problems. They may not need to share the same knowledge on the subject of the problem. Instead, what they bring is experience. The details may differ but the tools or ways of thinking through a problem is roughly the same. They may ask you "stupid" questions, questions someone with the knowledge on the subject would not normally ask. This is a good thing. You would have to re-tell the problem or things related to the problem in a different way so that they understand. You could use different terms or simple analogies, examples that are roughly the same. My favorite analogy is that taking care of a computer is like taking care of a car. There are things you do when the computer or car breaks down (bring to mechanic/repair dude) and they are things you do regularly to keep them running well (change the oil / getting updates). All through this process, the problem will be re-examined and re-cast until more than one perspective of the problem is formed. Within one of those perspectives may lie the solution.
Lastly, the problem can be put down on paper. Nothing fancy, just a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Or if you are used to it, a word processor. Whatever you are used to and works for you. The key goal here is to describe in detail the problem and what are associated with it.
  1. Start with what is the purpose or goal of what you are doing. What is it that you want to achieve.
  2. Next, describe how you are going about it. What have you done so far up to the point that you had your problem. Go into detail as much as you can. Draw diagrams if you have to. 
  3. Then describe what went wrong. Why it went wrong, if you know. If you don't, think of possibilities.
  4. Talk about what you don't know. Describe what you'd have to know or need to find out to help you solve the problem. These become targets. Since you now know what you don't know, find it out.
Remember, we are describing the problem. If you come up with possible solutions, put them on a different sheet of paper. Preferably in a different stack from the papers describing the problem. We will use them in Step 3 when we decide which of them is the best one. Don't let ideas go to waste.

Related articles

  1. Bridge Perception and Reality to Describe the Problem
  2. Finding the Direction from Problem to Solution 
  3. Putting it in Perspective
  4. Sometimes you just have to say it out loud
  5. Take A Few Steps Back