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Problem Definition Fast-Service™ Package

“If we select the pmNERDS' Fast-Service™ package, then we get rapid performance improvement, but we’ll need to answer questions and provide feedback.”

We all occasionally get major hankerings, it’s usually something that we can’t wait for and need within a very short period of time. For us it is usually food related, the Fast Food Industry utilizes the notion of standardization to produce food at minimal cost and preparation time while maximizing value within their business constraints. The question is can they make a compelling product while being profitable?

At pmNERDS, that’s our goal with these Fast-Service™ packages. Using product templates, standardized processes, and focused training we’re able to deliver consulting products faster than our clients and competitors, with sustainable margins.

Very few of us look forward to overly complex Problem Definition processes. We want it to be easier and faster, so process performance in this area looks rather attractive, but what area should be addressed first?

Using some rapid assessment techniques, the Performance Measure Framework, and our performance constraint analysis tool, we help you identify that practice that is holding you back. Then we will propose modifications or creation of a new practice that addresses your specific constraint. This is not about investing lots of time to do it yourself, or just going without, we are offering a third choice…

Our clients hire us do some of the data collection, constraint analysis, process documentation, and change management activities that are part of effective Problem Definition performance improvement practices. With only a total of 8 hrs. of your time, spread out in 8 sessions over 4 weeks, we complete the analysis and build the necessary deliverables to adopt a new practice, that will improve your Problem Definition performance. All of this is accomplished within 20 business days.

We’re experts in performance improvement and Problem Definition practices, you know your business and organization. By using our Fast-Service™ package, you can leave the specialized practices to us, and focus on running your business.

Below is a set of Fast-Service™ package deliverables used to improve your Problem Definition performance.

SELF-ASSESSMENT REPORT- This is an Excel spreadsheet and chart that is used to identify the major problem areas and bottlenecks of the organizations’ innovation process. The Self-Assessment contains a series of questions related to current practices for gathering ideas, converting ideas into business opportunities, and finally diffusing ideas throughout organization and to market. Using the self-assessment, we can quickly identify the perceived system constraints, and dive deeper into specific process areas that could be causing bottlenecks.

CONSTRAINT ANALYSIS REPORT- This is a set of Power Point diagrams used to identify key system constraints. We use Sufficient Cause diagrams to look at effects and potential causes from the perspective of Resources, Inputs, Controls, and Processes. These diagrams are used to verify effects, validate relationships between causes and effects, and look for additional effects to gain a clear understanding of the current system constraints.

PERFORMANCE MEASURE FRAMEWORK- This is a set of Excel spreadsheets and Power Point diagrams used to manage process improvement. Focusing on 1 of the 16 domains, we will load the selected practice into the Performance Measure Framework. By adding your standardized plans and information assets, such as process diagrams and performance thresholds, into the framework, you can do trade-offs and make process improvement decisions.

PROPOSED PRACTICE EFBD- This is a set of Power Point diagrams used to establish a process definition. The EFBD (Enhanced Function Block Diagram) Illustrates control logic, information flow, and process steps. We build this by looking at past project plans and documenting the current state. Based on constraint analysis, we can make modifications to the EFBD of the practice. We do this with things such as review gates, control activities, additional input screening, and resources inputs. This EFBD standardizes the practice and makes the proposed practice easier to understand, adopt, as well as improve over time.

NEW PRACTICE POLICIES & PROCEDURES- This is a set of Word documents that are used to outline process policies and procedures that enable standardization and improvement. Policies and procedures establish a standard set of minimum expectations and guidelines that are expected to be followed by anyone performing the practice. We create a new baseline of process performance, based on the constraint analysis and EFBD process analysis, by adding policies, process steps or procedural guidelines. This information is used to train people on new process, and monitor process execution and performance.

BUSINESS CASE- This is an Excel spreadsheet that is used to analyze, establish and communicate the business case of implementing the proposed practice change. When change is desired, the value delivered through the change must outweigh the negative impacts, cost, and natural friction that change will cause. All business cases derive from the ability to impact one of the six business drivers: Revenue, Efficiency, Sustainability, Endorsement, Cost and Risk. We will then define the type of value proposition that the new practice will deliver: uniqueness, familiarity, or economy of scale. Lastly, we determine the Cost/Value combination. This process will achieve same value for less cost, or more value for less cost, etc. The business case is used to overcome change hurdles and help people to quickly adopted the proposed change. 

PERFORMANCE SCORECARD- This is an Excel spreadsheet that is used to measure practice performance and drive improvement. The performance scorecard is built from information captured in the Performance Measure Framework. Using the five key performance measures, you can diagnose causes of performance constraints and identify process adjustments to address them. The Performance Scorecard will keep people focused on the key measures that impact overall performance, making improvement efforts more effective.

STRATEGY DIAGRAM- This is a Power Point diagram that is used to communicate the strategic intent of the performance improvement initiative.  The strategy diagram sets a common vision and outlines how different teams/roles work together to perform the key activities needed to deliver the value of the initiative. The strategy diagram helps team members to understand their role, adopt the proposed changes, and buy-in to the initiative solution vision.

COMMUNICATION PLAN- This is an Excel spreadsheet that is used to communicate to and engage all stakeholders and team members of a project. A Communication Plan will identify the target personas and actions that you want them to take, anticipate potential objections, and provide a message that addresses the objections and provokes action. We will develop a communication plan that identifies target stakeholders, develops compelling messages that engage them to act towards the achievement of project objectives.

ROLE BASED TRAINING DIAGRAM- This is a set of Power Point diagrams that are used to identify training needs of job roles. These roles based training diagrams provide standardized capabilities, job role expectations, and training demand analysis by process. These diagrams are used to create training and adoption activities for each role as part of the new practice deployment. Each Role can clearly understand their roles & responsibilities regarding the new practice. This means the activities will get done more efficiently with better performance results. 

PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT MILESTONE ROADMAP- This is a Power Point diagram that is used to communicate the performance improvement efforts of the organization over time. Based on the performance constraints, this roadmap identifies the sequence of performance improvements as well as the target process areas. The Performance Improvement Milestone Roadmap will align team members, resources, and efforts to provide the most rapid performance improvement for the organization.

Want to learn more? Contact us either through email or phone.

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Problem Definition with ‘FORCE’ Process-Services™

“Problem Definition with FORCE is a process consulting offering of pmNERDS. This offering provides a process umbrella of FORCE, and then line-items of an S.O.W. that can be chosen a la carte.”

We use the acronym FORCE to illustrate and teach the concepts necessary to define, review, and prioritize problem statements. The problem statement provides the force required to deliver customer satisfaction.

The problem statement highlights the conflict that exists between today and the customer’s desired state. The resolution of this conflict is the driving force of product innovation and will require change. Just as change requires force, to identify and resolve this conflict, the product innovation team will need FORCE.

During our process consultancy, we address:

Familiar Form– Processing time and innovation asset flow is increased if the market problem definitions are expressed in a common format and abstraction level.

Original Perspective– Identify the original perspective producing the problem statement, and then look outside the ‘Box’ for a truly new perspective which is “Original.”

Relevant Progression– Grow market size and perceived value using changes leveraging current market skills. If the gap is too big, then plan a series of change.

Carat, Color, Clarity, Cut– The problem statement is a diamond in the rough. Build the problem’s appraised value with the 4 ‘C’s. Carat: potential market impact. Color: noise in the statement. Clarity: unambiguous statement. Cut: a well-defined market segmentation.

Enlightened Service– It’s one thing to deliver what the client thinks they need, and quite another to deliver what is actually needed.

The pmNERDS process consultancy provides a standard Problem Definition capability described by the acronym above. This is an umbrella capability needed regardless of any additional practices selected from our a la carte practice menu.

Problem Definition practices available for selection from the a la carte S.O.W. include Derived from Market Evidence, Derived from Internal Sources, Help Desk, Cause & Effect Diagraming, Financial Analysis, Source Ranking, Market Sizing, Portfolio Balancing, Levels Of Innovation, Change Impacts, SLOT Refinement, Delphi Process, FAST Diagramming, Pugh's Process, Lead Customer Groups, Creativity Events, Direct Surveys, Remote Surveys, Customer Feedback, Root Cause Analysis, Link Tracing, Observation, Trials, System Constraints, Quality Gates, and Peer Reviews.

Organizations that depend on projects to create value and increase process efficiencies, as seen in business units such as IT, Marketing, and NPD, should talk with us if they’re interested in increasing project performance.

After a quick discussion, we can direct you to the best process offering and a la carte practices based on your process improvement goals. By putting together a service package that addresses your key performance constraint, our sales team can help you get the quickest time-to-value, while minimizing risk and cost.

Want to learn more? Contact us either through email or phone.

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Problem Definition Performance-Service™

“If we engage pmNERDS’ Consulting for Problem Definition then we’ll increase the organization’s competitive advantage, realize higher value from projects, and complete projects more efficiently, but it will require change leadership.”

Our Performance-Service™ consulting practice begins with gathering information about your organization and engagement goals. We conduct a quick gap analysis to construct an engagement roadmap.

Once approved, we will build this roadmap out into a complete project plan and review it with our clients going over roles and responsibilities. We schedule weekly meetings to review the project and discuss relevant decisions. Depending on the length of engagement, steering committee meetings are also scheduled.

Daily scrums are scheduled to address issues and schedule any needed ad hoc meetings. Performance Improvement Consulting involves a great deal of planning and communicating. Underlying each practice is an element of process improvement and use of a standard performance measure framework.

Problem Definition is about clearly stating market problems in terms of conflict that needs to be addressed. The problem statement (one of the primary information assets) is written in a common format. This common format of market evidence is critical to the comparison and ranking of market inputs. It provides an additional level of indirection which provides buckets for grouping similar evidence coming from many different directions. This also provides a higher level of abstraction by forcing the innovation team to ask “Why” instead of just reacting to market pressure.

It’s critical that the information assets developed within these problem definition practices can flow between other innovation processes. These practices can be divided into the two categories of Problem Definition and Problem Validation. Where ever your key constraints are, our team will help you identify the process constraints, and find practices that will improve overall performance by breaking constraints.

By leveraging our experience, you can reach expected benefits quicker and with less false starts while being assured that you won’t paint yourself into a ‘process’ corner, and isolate information asset flow to downstream processes.

Our performance improvement consulting practice requires a discussion to determine goals, the scope of effort, consultant alignment, and the development of a business proposal. We deliver an analysis of current problem definition process performance and constraints, a roadmap to performance improvement, process design, process exercise, process enablement, deployment, and measurement.

A large part of this effort is process training, skills mentoring, and performance coaching. Depending on the engagement, technology configuration or deployment may or may not be part of this effort. You can discover more about this service offering by clicking the icon (email or phone) in the top right corner of our website.

We’d love to explain our services and answer any questions you might have.

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Problem Vetting & Levels of Innovation

If problems to be addressed are ranked according to level of innovation, then your limited resources will be used most wisely to create the largest competitive edge, but you must be careful to understand how much change you and your market are willing to make.

Two important drivers of product development are knowing how much you can differentiate your solution, and how much innovation you can afford. Develop a me-too product at a reasonable cost, and your buyers may ignore yours because they can get it elsewhere. Develop an advanced capability at a higher cost, and your buyers may ignore it as well because they are not ready for it. Finding that sweet spot between satisfying your buyers desires better than the rest, and your cost-position to do that, is the challenge you need to meet in order to stay competitive.

Successful vetting of problems into which development resources are invested includes analyzing the market attractiveness of your problem solution, and your business strengths, to meet that demand.

Home Security Problems

To illustrate, let’s compare the early approaches to home security to today. After a crime wave following World War I prompted increased attention to protecting property, alarm systems were in demand. However, some weren’t ready to buy and instead subscribed to a service of “door shakers”, these were night watchmen who shook doors at night to make sure they were locked. Today companies still providing the equivalent of “door shakers” have been eclipsed by innovative, internet-ready, and affordable home security products that buyers can install and monitor themselves from anywhere in the world.

Differentiators and Cost Position

To be able to decide which problems are most worthy of developing, first you should correctly define the problem(s) to be solved, and in order to evaluate and compare them, the problems should be stated in compelling and consistent ways.

Next determine how much you need to differentiate your solutions from others. Also determine how much innovation is needed to stay competitive. Would a police siren be better than an alarm bell to scare off intruders? What are your competitors up to?

Then understand the amount of change you and your buyers are willing to make. In other words, you need to answer these types of questions:

Which problems should you address given your current product strategies and limitations? How much innovation should you afford on each project? and how will that impact your cost position relative to your competitors?

Assessing the worth of investing in resolving one problem over another by understanding the relative levels of innovation necessary for each, will give you confidence in knowing that you have identified the primary cost drivers for your development projects.

Photo by Andres Iga on Unsplash

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Problem Validation and Verification

If problems that are addressed by projects are validated and verified, then development investment decisions are made more wisely, but the problems may not be the right ones unless you understand the voice of the customer.


You have done a good job defining the problem or project idea that your project will address, taking care to avoid hinting at arbitrary premature solutions, so as to allow plenty of room for design creativity. You have wisely used a standard format in which to state the problem and the benefits for solving it, so that the keepers of resources will be more willing to allocate them to your project, compared to other projects that are vying for their attention. So far so good.

Now it’s time to try to strengthen your theory in order to prove that solving this problem or meeting this need, is really deserving of more investment. "Validating" the problem will either, give you more reason to keep going, or cause you to rethink your understanding of the problem. Likewise, when you have completed your project, “verifying” that the problem was addressed, will confirm that the investment was a wise one.

Validation and verification are not the same processes as functional analysis techniques, which help explain HOW buyers do or would interact with the process/product. That kind of analysis converts the already validated buyer needs, and expectations into features and requirements, that drive engineering of that value into the final product.

No, it will take a bit of work to confirm that you have accurately defined and addressed the problem. And the best way to do that is to check with your buyers. But how would you go about that? One approach is to borrow from the methods usually associated with the “voice of the customer.”

Plan for Capturing VOC

First, decide who are your target customers. No one buyer can speak for all buyers. So, you should consider various types of buyers, such as current customers, customers of competing products, potential customers, and avid or lead customers who know the product well.

Next, have product / service developers participate in capturing customer data alongside traditionally assigned marketing types and analysts. This will provide better visibility for the engineers who must make development decisions.

Lastly, be choosy about the data you capture. Some kinds of data are not suited to guiding the development effort, and some are. Also consider your ability to organize the information captured into meaningful expressions of buyer needs.

Pay Now or Pay (Much More) Later

Studies have shown that up to 80% of the total cost of a product or service is taken up by the ideation and conversion phases of development. Taking the time to validate that you have the defined the problem correctly, allows early course correction, during the time when the cost to impact relationship is much, much lower than later on, when design changes are accomplished only at high costs. Those changes include rework, warranty claims, and even buyer dissatisfaction. More importantly, problem validation and verification will reduce the chances that you develop products that buyers do not like now and in the future.

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Problem Definition Formats

If you use a common format to define problems, then you will be enabled to correctly compare and rank the value between various projects that are competing for resources, but you need to overcome the tendency to define problems without sufficient attention to perspective, levels of detail, and bias.

It has been said repeatedly and in some variation or other, that defining the problem well is half the effort of coming up with the solution. Since problem definition is so important, it makes sense to be as rigorous in the language, and format of the definition, when it’s time to put the results of problem discovery or hypothesis into a problem statement.

A well stated problem enrolls support for a project and attracts the appropriate resources to it. But, a problem well stated in a standard way is even more beneficial.

Standard Problem Definition Format

Problem definition is conducted using a variety of proven techniques. No matter if you use SMART, Six Sigma’s Five Whys, or just common sense to define the problem, a problem stated in a standard way enables leaders to better evaluate and rank projects to which precious resources will be allocated.

Like houses in the picture, standard problem statements may exhibit different colors and accessories, but they should be crafted using the same architecture.

A Standard Problem Statement Format Proposal

To improve the clarity of your project purpose, try this format to begin expressing meaningful problem statements:

  • IF…the desired outcome is achieved
  • THEN…this benefit will be realized
  • BUT…this is the primary conflict driving the need for resolution

“IF the front steps are lowered or replaced, THEN those with mobility challenges will be more likely to rent, BUT a change to the front entrance needs to be easier to navigate and attractive to all renters.”

Value of a Standard Problem Statement Format

Upon restating the purpose of each project in a standardized project statement format, the company executives now have a better idea of what each project addresses, and the benefits and considerations that affect their business. Hopefully, each project also includes research data from past and potential renters regarding how they value low or no front steps, lower gas bills, and being able to choose a carpet color.

Using a standard format to express a validly constructed problem statement will help you to correctly rank the various projects to invest in, and enroll your sponsors and stakeholders in supporting your projects, with the resources and participation they need. It will foster better understanding of your project purpose among your project team members as well, and serves as an anchor when the winds of scope change begin to blow.

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Management Science

“If I assume that every project request is a valid request to address a problem, and not a solution to an unstated problem, then my team can design preferred solutions based on our experience, knowledge of our project portfolio, and of our capabilities, but there are many decisions we have to make understanding only part of the problem.”

With projects there is a great variety of decision-making problems impacting performance. In each instance, an Integrated PM approach, based on systems thinking, will lead to more insightful decision making.

The above diagram is an application of Management Science to the world of projects, and has been used in various industries for many years now. The assumption here is that;

  1. The problem has been clearly defined, implying that
    • the objectives of the decision maker are known and there exist criteria to ascertain when they have been achieved,
    • if there are conflicting objectives, trade-offs can be defined,
    • the alternative courses of actions are known, either as a list of options or a set of decision variables,
    • the constraints on the decision choices are known, and
    • the input data needed are available;
  2. That the problem is relatively well structured, meaning that
    • the relationships between the variables are tractable,
    • system behavior can be captured in the project plans, and
    • the computational effort for determining solution scenarios is economically feasible;
  3. The problem can be sufficiently well insulated from its wider system
  4. Optimization of the objectives, whenever possible, is ideal
  5. The problem is of a technical nature, devoid of politics; people are mainly seen as passive objects.
  6. If there are multiple stakeholders, a consensus can be reached about all aspects that affect how well the objectives can be achieved
  7. The decision maker has the power and authority to implement the ‘solution’ or enforce implementation through the hierarchical chain of command.

Yes, I know that this is quite an assumption. The fact is, any constraints in these areas will constrain every downstream project within the system. If you want performance improvement, then this is the first place to look.

In spite of all our PMI training, our system is managed in three phases illustrated in the diagram above.

(1) Problem Formation or Problem Scoping, (2) Problem Modeling, and (3) Implementation of Recommendations.

As shown, each phase consists of several steps. In practice, it is an iterative process where we may have to go back to earlier phases or steps to overcome unexpected difficulties, fill in omissions uncovered at a later stage, and alleviate or eliminate undesirable consequences. There are also forward linkages. At each step, we keep future steps in mind and are on the lookout for difficulties we may encounter. It may lead us to alter our initial approach and look for countermeasures, whenever possible.

I will address each of these 10 steps in future blogs. The diagram illustrates how Integrated PM holistically addresses the entire system, utilizing and solving for the concerns of portfolio management, program management, project management, capacity planning, project management and many more disciplines.

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Problem Definition Structure


   Of course, I understand the desire to jump right into production, but I also understand the wisdom in stepping back and gaining an understanding the problem before trying to solve it. Right, I've heard all about cut/measure ratio. Like in many controversies, this is a false dichotomy. Turns out that depending on your business strategy, industry, and product, typically as much as 60% of all market needs gathered have straight forward solutions with no problems produced. I suppose before I say there are no problems, we should agree upon what a problem is.

   The first attribute of a problem is the need for change. All problems have a current state, and a desired state that is different. The transition from the current to the future state may have nothing preventing it, it's just a matter of doing it. But wait a minute, when we say 'nothing preventing it', does that include resource availability, enough time, and investment? These types of things can also constrain our journey from the current state to the desired state. This introduces the notion of types of problems like business, market, user experience, and technical problems.

   The second attribute of the problem is the resistance to the transition between states. The greater the resistance, the greater the problem. Some problems stem from technical resistance, others cultural resistance, while still others a business resistance. You'd be surprised by the number of problem statements I see that never state the resistance or conflict caused by trying to transition between states. Every problem statement should identify the conflict. Without a conflict, it's at best an enhancement request, not a problem statement.

   The last paragraph implied that problems produce varying degrees of resistance between states. The third attribute of the problem is the quantification of this resistance. Just as you may experience different resistance traveling the different paths from point A to point B; the path you choose to get to your destination impacts the resistance experienced. The third attribute is the path your willing to take.

I find that the 'IF THEN' construct works well in explaining the need for change. An example might be, 'If I start my car, then my dog starts to whine.' Notice that this statement doesn't identify the desired state. Perhaps a way to avoid this ambiguity of what's desired would be, 'IF I start my car, THEN it should start without hurting my dogs ears.' Ok, so where's the resistance attribute in the statement?

   The resistance to the desired change is captured in the form of 'IF THEN, BUT'. Many times resistance isn't identified by the same people capturing the IF THEN component of the problem definition. With the example above, we've add, 'IF I start my car, THEN it should start without hurting my dogs ear, BUT low frequency starters wear out sooner, and require too much battery capacity.'

   Another construct that can be important is the 'IF NOT THEN, BUT'. Many organizations require both constructs in their problem definition process.

   The path is identified by placing the problem statement in different categories. The TRIZ methodology suggests five levels to problem solving aligned with the amount of resistance you are willing to accept. This triaging is the first step in maintaining a balanced opportunity pipeline. By properly categorizing the problem statement, into one of three portfolios or categories, you are able to reduce the number of full problem statements you need to write.

   60% of your problem definitions should be categorized as 'Maintenance & Utility' types, and only consist of the 'IF THEN' statement. These typically will be routed for Level 1 and Level 2 types of innovation. Level 1 uses no innovation, and is addressed through routine design problems solved by methods well known within the specialty. Level 2 requires minor improvements to the existing product using methods well known within the specialty.

   30% of your problem definitions should be categorized as 'Enhancement & Improvement' types, and consists of the 'IF THEN BUT' statement. These typically will be routed for Level 2 and Level 3 types of innovation. Level 2 requires minor improvements to the existing product using methods well known within the industry. Level 3 requires fundamental improvements to the product using methods well known within the industry.

   10% of your problem definitions should be categorized as 'Transformational', consists of the 'IF THEN BUT' statement, and also requires a new business case to be developed. The other two categories of problems are linked to existing business plans. Setting out to address these 'Transformational' type problems is going to require a business case and maybe modification to the product strategy. These typically will be routed for Level 3 and Level 4 types of innovation. Level 3 requires fundamental improvements to the product using methods outside the industry. Level 4 requires a new generation of a product that entails a new principle for performing the product's primary function.

   Level 5 innovation requires a new product innovation charter and is outside of the typical innovation team.

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Derick Workman
I find using the three categories of Maintenance & Utility, Enhancements & Improvements, and Transformational, to be a great way ... Read More
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 08:11
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