Problem Definition

This module will support your understanding and use of the Problem Definition Tool from the DIY Toolkit. You should look at the Problem Definition Template which can be found on page 40 of the DIY Toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , before working through the module. You will find it helpful to have a printout of the Problem Definition Template with you while you work through this module.

You might think that problems tend to define themselves, and it is exploring the consequences and looking for solutions that should be the focus of your energies. To some extent this is true. However, what we are suggesting here is a more detailed and systematic interrogation of the problem than is usually undertaken.

The Problem Definition Tool guides you to define a problem analytically, exploring it from different angles and helping clarify your priorities by focusing on key critical issues. Using the tool to compare several problems, for example with different projects within your organisation, can highlight common issues that you weren’t previously aware of. What at first seems to be the entire problem can often turn out to be just a symptom of a deeper and more complex issue.

This module discusses why a methodical approach to problem definition is important, and supports you in carrying out a detailed problem definition for yourself. As with many of the DIY tools, problem definition benefits from a team approach to bring different perspectives and understanding.

Learning outcomes

After studying this module, you should be able to:

  • describe when it is useful and appropriate to spend time on a detailed definition of a problem (SAQ 1)
  • recognise and understand the steps in defining a problem (SAQ 2)
  • complete a problem definition analysis for a problem that you face (SAQ 3)
  • revise or reframe a problem to make it manageable and solvable (SAQ 4).

1 When to conduct a detailed problem definition