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How to Discover Whether a Problem Matters and Determine Its Impact in Business Analysis

You don’t want to waste time in your business analysis putting a solution in place that doesn’t solve the problem, but you definitely don’t want to waste time solving a problem that doesn’t matter!

Internally, ask whether it matters that the problem-sufferer has a problem. If it does matter, why does it matter? Evaluate the problem for strategic or operational interest so you can select problems that matter in a big way. From an internal perspective, consider where the problem is occurring:

  • Is the problem occurring in a core business process? Is it a process executed frequently or one that occurs only once in a while?

  • Does it affect the business’s ability to make decisions, execute work, or deliver end-products as efficiently and effectively as possible? What’s the length of the delay? What happens to work around the problem now?

  • How many people are affected by the problem? One or many? What’s the level of responsibility or position of those people?

If a problem creates an inconvenience but doesn’t significantly impact the business in time or cost, then it may not matter much. If it’s causing frustration-only pain, your stakeholder may admit that solving the problem isn’t that big a deal for the business, and you can probably determine that the problem isn’t important on the large scale.

However, if the frustration occurs in a process performed regularly in an operation core to the business, you should pay attention. Frustration that builds over time wears on employees. Depending on other job factors, the business may have a strategic interest in solving the problem for employee retention.

From an external perspective, assess how the problem situation compares, contrasts, or aligns with the business by considering the following:

  • Is the problem occurring in a market the business cares about? Even if it’s someone else’s problem, it may turn into the company’s opportunity to grab by offering your solution.

  • Is it similar to other problems already being solved, or is it a completely new problem area? If it’s similar, maybe it isn’t worth investing time and money in. If it’s new, it may represent a new opportunity that warrants those resources.

  • Is the problem-sufferer in a similar audience category as others already being served, or is she in a different market or audience that interests the business? If the category is similar, you may be able to address this need more easily. If it’s different, the business has to decide whether it’s interested in pursuing a new market or audience, which takes more time, effort, and money.

  • Would the (potential) solution strategically align with the company’s current or future planned operations, organizations, or other product and service offerings? If not, does changing or extending its business model to take advantage of the opportunity make sense? If it’s strategically aligned, then the opportunity should get high consideration.

Another way to look at it: Do the problem-sufferers know they have that particular need or problem? If they don’t experience the point of annoyance, they’ll never look for a solution. Problems too small to block a need or even create a hurdle may not be serious enough to compel the sufferer to find a solution and may not be good problems to solve.

However, if the sufferer is aware of the issue but unaware that solutions may exist, you may still have a good problem to solve. You can help enlighten her by sending to her marketing material that educates her about the availability and capabilities of your solution. Without awareness, the potential customer may never understand or value your solution.

If the problem clearly matters, look insightfully at the problem-sufferer: Ask all the questions about getting to the root cause. Then consider potential impacts or costs resulting from her problem(s). By analyzing each problem and studying its components, you can assess the relative level of pain the problem-sufferers are experiencing. Depending on how big the problem is, you can identify the value in pursuing a solution.

The impact to the business is a major concern of most business leaders; it’s what they worry most about. Decision-makers hearing about problems want to know why they have a problem, what the real impact of the problem is, and what the choice on whether to address it is going to mean.

Evaluate the extent to which the problem impacts the business and understand the value that solving the problem may bring to the business. Appraise the depth and breadth of an internal problem’s cost to the business and the commercial potential in solving an external problem by getting stakeholders to provide information about why a problem is a problem.

Good elicitation encourages stakeholders to share what they’re trying to do but can’t (at least not easily). Elicit the relative levels of pain they feel with their problem and identify the level of motivation they have for solving it.

With that information also comes the underlying drive or pressure they feel for meeting the need(s) in the first place. What are they trying to achieve? Why? What is and isn’t working? What do they need that they don’t have?

When problems get in the way of your stakeholders or you yourself, you can quantify the pain and measure what’s lost in leaving the problem unsolved by identifying what your stakeholders could have been doing if they weren’t managing the problem.

Ask what could’ve been achieved. Measure the cost of frustration; quantify the impact of not realizing important goals, missing objectives, or meeting needs. Did they lose time, experience inefficiency, or add extra people to get work done? Did they lose revenue, miss sales, or lower production volume?

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