How to use problem framing to solve team inefficiencies

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaNovember 23rd, 20215 min read
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Summary

Problem framing is a thinking method used to understand, define, and prioritize difficult business obstacles and issues. In this article, we cover how problem framing can help keep your team in the know and solve inefficiencies.

In today’s complex working environment, it can be hard to come together as a team to solve problems. Lucky for you, there’s never been a better time to discover problem framing.  

Just as the name implies, problem framing helps teams properly understand, articulate, and frame complex business problems across departments. The result? Problem framing helps your team learn how to better comprehend and solve issues through teamwork. 

We’ll go over what it is in detail and help you understand the four steps that make up problem framing when managing multiple projects

What is problem framing?

Problem framing is a thinking method used to understand, define, and prioritize difficult business obstacles and issues. In layman’s terms, it’s a way to better comprehend specific problems so that you know how to solve them in real time. 

What is problem framing?

When it comes to projects and processes, it’s common for obstacles to arise. From new stakeholders joining to last-minute changes, unsolved obstacles can turn into larger problems down the road. That’s why building your team’s problem solving skills is such a crucial first step. 

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When to use the problem framing method

Problem framing is useful any time obstacles occur during a project or process. This method of thinking helps you solve problems in real time so you can get your team back on track.

Here are a couple of scenarios that you might use problem framing to solve. 

Scenario 1: During a sprint planning meeting, a team member brings up concerns about not having enough help to meet their deadline. To ease stress, you reframe the way the team is thinking about the problem and offer a different perspective. That is, instead of stressing over a lack of resources, you figure out how to reorganize team priorities to ensure deadlines are met. 

Scenario 2: After a new project launch you find out that conversions are lower than anticipated. Instead of calling the project a failure, you reframe the way you’re looking at the problem by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. You realize after analyzing the website that the call to action could be easily missed. You decide to experiment with solutions by testing a new call to action.

While these scenarios are different, each one showcases the need to reframe how you think about a problem in order to find new solutions. 

How to frame a problem statement

A problem statement is how a problem is communicated to team members. An effective problem statement is framed in a way that provides context and relevance so it’s easy to comprehend. This is the initial step in the problem framing process. The purpose is to introduce the issue to team members to begin ideating potential solutions.

There aren’t always easy solutions to complex business problems. In those cases, it can help to reframe how you look at the problem in order to come up with an innovative solution. That’s where problem framing comes in. The first step in the problem framing lifecycle is knowing how to communicate a problem. 

How to frame a problem statement

When verbally communicating a problem during a team meeting, always include:

  • Context: The business context of the problem includes background information about when the problem occurred and in which system or process it occurred. For example, inconsistent data is being gathered during the planning stage of the process. 

  • Issue: The issue details what the problem is and why it’s an issue in the first place. For example, this inconsistent data is creating a discrepancy during the implementation phase.

  • Relevance: The relevance of the problem details how it is related to a particular system and why it is important to be solved. For example, the discrepancy then requires the team to go back and pinpoint where the issue began, causing deadline delays. 

  • Objective: The objective states the timeline or priority of when the solution needs to be implemented and the goal of said solution. For example, the team needs to solve the problem before the end of the quarter given it’s a high priority issue.

Including these four components in your problem statement ensures that each stakeholder understands the basic details of the problem and the general plan of action. When everyone is on the same page, you can execute work and achieve results quicker and more efficiently. 

The 4 steps of the problem framing process

When it comes to the problem framing process, there are four key steps to follow once the problem statement is introduced. These can help you better understand and visualize the problem as it relates to larger business needs. 

Using a visual aid to look at a problem can give your team a bigger picture view of the problem you’re trying to solve. By contextualizing, prioritizing, and understanding the details on a deeper level, your team can develop a different point of view when reviewing the problem with stakeholders.

The 4 steps of the problem framing process

From defining the problem to approving the solution, let’s dive into the four steps of the problem framing process. 

1. Define the problem

Analyze your problem in context with the system or process it presents itself in. Ask questions such as, “Where does this problem live within the system?” and, “What is the root cause of the problem?” 

Defining contextual questions helps place the problem within your existing processes and pinpoint what could be causing the issue. 

For example, if you’re working on launching a new marketing initiative and you run into a problem with development, you might define the problem as a lack of development resources.

2. Prioritize the problem

Next, prioritize the pain points based on other issues and project objectives. Questions such as, “Does this problem prevent objectives from being met?” and, “Will this problem deplete necessary resources?” are good ones to get you started.

These questions help rank your problems by importance so you can visualize the potential outcome of solving the problem vs. waiting until a later time. 

3. Understand the problem

To understand the problem, collect information from diverse stakeholders and department leaders. This will ensure you have a wide range of data.

Ask questions and gather details from as many different team members as possible to help diversify your perspective on the problem. In turn, this will lead you to more innovative solutions that serve the majority of team members.

For example, to fully understand why there aren’t enough development resources, it would be helpful to ask the development head to help reprioritize necessary resources. 

4. Approve the solution

Finally, it's time to get your solution approved. Quality assure your solution by testing in one or more internal scenarios. This way you can be sure it works before introducing it to external customers. 

You may also need to get it approved by leadership before it goes live, though this will depend on your unique situation. Once approved, analyze the success of your solution and continue testing new ideas until you reach your desired outcome. 

Read: Leadership vs. management: What’s the difference?

Problem framing techniques and tips

Since problem framing is a way of shifting your perspective in order to see different results, it can help workplaces thrive. By motivating your team to use this technique, you can build everyone’s problem solving skills as a whole. 

Here are some ways that you can use problem framing to discover innovative solutions in the workplace:

  • Frame problems using organized statements: While the method of problem framing can be used in almost any situation where a problem exists, there is a right and wrong way when it comes to reframing issues. A problem statement may differ from situation to situation, but each one should follow the basic components outlined above. This includes the context, issue, relevance, and objective. All of which help stakeholders understand how the problem relates back to the project at hand. 

  • Lead effective brainstorming sessions: Problem framing can be used during brainstorming sessions to encourage different perspectives and new insights. You can use this brainstorming technique by asking stakeholders to frame their ideas using a whiteboard or sticky notes. This way all ideas are supported by data.

  • Frame the problem with the end in mind: The technique of beginning with the end in mind involves working backward. This way you can shift your team’s mindset and encourage goal-oriented thinking. Not to mention, this technique can help your team members learn to prioritize personal development and strategic thinking. 

By using problem framing initiatives in the workplace, you can ensure that all problems are communicated effectively and solutions come from a place of research. Both of which lead to more effective problem solving. 

Using team collaboration to solve problems

Solving problems isn’t a solo job. The more team members that are involved, the more creative your solutions will be. In a world of complex decision making and ever-evolving projects, using problem framing can be a great way to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to problems worth solving. 

To ensure your team is connected every step of the way, try team collaboration software. From aligned goals to increased productivity, Asana can help. 

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