Don’t let possible solutions force you to solve the wrong problem

If you’re like many organizations, you’re so focused on finding or building the right “solution” that you probably aren’t solving the right problem. You may be thinking, “but you specialize in building custom solutions for the Salesforce Platform, why would you say something like that?” The truth is, we prefer partnering with companies to solve the right problems. Partnering with an organization to build a solution, without having determined what needs and problems must be addressed, guarantees that no matter how amazing the product we deliver is, it won’t be successful because it doesn’t make our partners successful. Our business analysts spend significant time helping our clients, but if a client comes to us already too far down the path of trying to “find the right solution,” the last thing they want to hear is “you’re chasing the wrong problem.”

Understand the Need

You can avoid solving the wrong problem by making sure you know the underlying needs. Understanding customer needs can be challenging, we get it. If it was easy, many more companies would be on the list of “innovators” that are changing markets around the world. Even Strategyn, a company that focuses on innovation strategy, says that 95% of companies can’t agree on what a customer ‘need’ is. Strategyn has found that almost all companies don’t have an agreement on what a “need” is. It’s not that these companies disagree on what the customer needs are, they don’t agree on what a customer need is. Whether your customers are internal (you’re building apps for your fellow employees) or external (you’re going to revolutionize the world with your new app), start by ensuring you have an agreement within your organization on how you’re going to define customer needs. 

The process you use to get to the heart of those needs can vary. Some organizations, like Salesforce, use an established approach to innovation that they share publicly (see Innovate the Salesforce Way.) You could take “jobs to be done” perspective or use traditional approaches like market research, gap analysis, SWOT analysis, etc.  Also, you could review existing information available to you, like feedback from customers or employees, financial trends, emerging themes, etc. You could even start by looking at your high-level business objectives and asking yourself a few key questions:

  • What is the potential threat or opportunity?
  • Which stakeholders within the organization should be consulted?
  • What’s the desired outcome?
  • Who benefits?

The key here is to ensure you uncover the challenge or opportunity, that way you avoid solving the wrong problem. You’re still too early in the process to start thinking about solutions. If you’ve already started, stop yourself. Coming up with ideas might be fun, but applying solutions now only limits you.

Identify the Problem

If your organization is like many we’ve seen, the business needs you’ve identified could lead to a large number of potential projects.  At this point you need to identify which problem you’re going to address. Get more than one perspective on it and dig deep. You don’t want to limit your view based on your own biases and you want to be sure you’re addressing the root cause of the problem. Putting considerable time and energy into your work to address only a symptom of the larger problem doesn’t give you the relief you need, and likely won’t help your career.

Ask yourself a few questions about the problem you’ve identified:

  • What makes this problem significant?
  • Who is impacted?
  • Have others tried to solve this problem before?

Make sure you understand your customer (or those impacted by the problem). This will better position you to solve it and avoid the wrong problem. There are many approaches to gathering customer requirements. Salesforce calls their process Innovation Customer Discovery. It includes embodying, shadowing, and interviewing to create customer archetypes. Then they create a futurecast to create a compelling argument or case for change. You could also take a more traditional approach like this advice from the Project Management Institute blog, with facilitated sessions or one-on-one discussions with stakeholders. If your organization is more agile, you could focus on capturing user stories. Take the approach most appropriate for your organization, but be sure you dig as deeply as possible.

“Get in the customer mindset and ‘wear their shoes’ to fully understand their needs. Take the time to familiarize yourself with processes and once you accomplish that, then start focusing on the solution.” 

Analia G., Business Analyst

It’s in your best interest to spend more time on this part of the process than you probably expect. Clearly defining the problem you want to tackle saves time and energy further along in your work. But again, don’t think about the problem in terms of potential solutions yet.

Scope The Challenge

Every project comes with some level of uncertainty and ambiguity, which has the potential to derail your project. It’s time to take all the work you’ve done so far to understand the needs, the problem, and the customer, and to create more structure to ensure your project’s success.

  • Write everything down: Make sure you’ve written down the need, problem, and customer requirements, and what success looks like. Keep track of any assumptions you’ve made in this process.
  • Define success: Determine what success looks like. The more clearly you can quantify success, the better. It helps you establish how any potential solutions will be measured
  • Identify your stakeholders: Now that you have a better understanding of what you need to solve, pull together your dream team. Bring in people with different backgrounds and experiences, it will help you find new and creative ways to solve the problem.
  • Know your limits: Think about the solution from an internal and an external perspective. What do you have control over? For example, if your challenge is with how customers engage with your sales team. You have far more control over your sales team and their tools and processes than you ever will with the behavior of any specific customer. Focus on the things you can control and keep track of any assumptions you make.

Now that you have a better foundation to work from, it’s time to focus on brainstorming possible ways to solve the problem. Maybe you’ll find you can get the most out of a process change. Like buying new software, or custom developing your own app. Use the materials you’ve created to give yourself a benchmark for measuring all possible solutions. You’ll always have to balance time, money, and scope. At least now you have the right tools to make good choices. Let us know what you decide.

Our team has worked with different organizations and their projects. We are Salesforce platform experts and offer custom development to help you build your platform and solve the right problems. If you want to know more about our work, go check out our latest success stories.

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