As with all its projects, EWV identified products that low-income consumers could afford and, if possible, that local entrepreneurs could manufacture or service. As Naugle and his team revisited those efforts, they realized that both solutions worked only if a water source, such as surface water or a shallow aquifer, was close to the household.
As a result, they decided to focus on rainwater—which falls everywhere in the world to a greater or lesser extent—as a source that could reach many more people. More specifically, the team turned its attention to the concept of rainwater harvesting. Here was the problem that needed to be solved. EWV found that existing solutions for storing rainwater, such as concrete tanks, were too expensive for low-income families in developing countries, so households were sharing storage tanks.
But because no one took ownership of the communal facilities, they often fell into disrepair. Consequently, Naugle and his team homed in on the concept of a low-cost household rainwater-storage device. Their research into prior solutions surfaced what seemed initially like a promising approach: storing rainwater in a gallon jar that was almost as tall as an adult and three times as wide.
In Thailand, they learned, 5 million of those jars had been deployed over five years. After further investigation, however, they found that the jars were made of cement, which was available in Thailand at a low price. Indeed, through interviews with villagers in Uganda, EWV found that even empty polyethylene barrels large enough to hold only 50 gallons of water were difficult to carry along a path.
It became clear that a viable storage solution had to be light enough to be carried some distance in areas without roads. Are you sure that you can obtain the money and the people to implement the most promising one? External constraints are just as important to evaluate: Are there issues concerning patents or intellectual-property rights? Are there laws and regulations to be considered?
Answering these questions may require consultation with various stakeholders and experts. Do you have the necessary support for soliciting and evaluating possible solutions? Do you have the money and the people to implement the most promising one? Consequently, EWV decided to test the storage solution in Uganda. The problem statement, which captures all that the organization has learned through answering the questions in the previous steps, helps establish a consensus on what a viable solution would be and what resources would be required to achieve it.
A full, clear description also helps people both inside and outside the organization quickly grasp the issue. Thus the institute was able to solve in a matter of months a challenge that had stumped petroleum engineers for years. The aim here is to drill down to root causes. Complex, seemingly insoluble issues are much more approachable when broken into discrete elements.
For EWV, this meant making it clear that the solution needed to be a storage product that individual households could afford, that was light enough to be easily transported on poor-quality roads or paths, and that could be easily maintained. EWV conducted extensive on-the-ground surveys with potential customers in Uganda to identify the must-have versus the nice-to-have elements of a solution. That is, it could be something that local small-scale entrepreneurs could manufacture. The winning solution, shown here in a Ugandan village, met all the criteria.
An estimate of the cost of operating and maintaining the device over three years and a clear explanation of how to repair and replace components. A means, such as a tap or a pump, of extracting water without contaminating the contents of the unit. Features such as a modular design or salvageable parts that would add value to the device after its lifetime. To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not unnecessarily technical.
It may and probably should include a summary of previous solution attempts and detailed requirements. With those criteria in mind, Naugle and his team crafted a problem statement. The following is the abstract; for the full problem statement, visit hbr. The solution is expected to facilitate access to clean water at a household level, addressing a problem that affects millions of people worldwide who are living in impoverished communities or rural areas where access to clean water is limited.
Domestic rainwater harvesting is a proven technology that can be a valuable option for accessing and storing water year round. However, the high cost of available rainwater storage systems makes them well beyond the reach of low-income families to install in their homes. A solution to this problem would not only provide convenient and affordable access to scarce water resources but would also allow families, particularly the women and children who are usually tasked with water collection, to spend less time walking distances to collect water and more time on activities that can bring in income and improve the quality of life.
What information about the proposed solution does your organization need in order to invest in it? For example, would a well-founded hypothetical approach be sufficient, or is a full-blown prototype needed? EWV decided that a solver had to submit a written explanation of the solution and detailed drawings.
The point of asking this question is to ensure that the right people are motivated to address the problem. For internal solvers, incentives can be written into job descriptions or offered as promotions and bonuses.
For external solvers, the incentive might be a cash award. Addressing this question forces a company to be explicit about how it will evaluate the solutions it receives. Clarity and transparency are crucial to arriving at viable solutions and to ensuring that the evaluation process is fair and rigorous.
Most of the time, however, it is a sign that earlier steps in the process have not been approached with sufficient rigor. EWV stipulated that it would evaluate solutions on their ability to meet the criteria of low cost, high storage capacity, low weight, and easy maintenance.
The overarching goal was to keep costs low and to help poor families justify the purchase. The solution he proposed required no elaborate machinery; in fact, it had no pumps or moving parts. It was an established industrial technology that had not been applied to water storage: a plastic bag within a plastic bag with a tube at the top.
The two-bag approach allowed the inner bag to be thinner, reducing the price of the product, while the outer bag was strong enough to contain a ton and a half of water. The structure folded into a packet the size of a briefcase and weighed about eight pounds. In short, the solution was affordable, commercially viable, could be easily transported to remote areas, and could be sold and installed by local entrepreneurs.
EWV developed an initial version and tested it in Uganda, where the organization asked end users such questions as What do you think of its weight? Does it meet your needs? Even mundane issues like color came into play: The woven outer bags were white, which women pointed out would immediately look dirty. By the end of May , 50 to 60 shops, village sales agents, and cooperatives were selling the product; more than 80 entrepreneurs had been trained to install it; and 1, units had been deployed in eight districts in southwestern Uganda.
EWV deems this a success at this stage in the rollout. It hopes to make the units available in 10 countries—and have tens or hundreds of thousands of units installed—within five years. Ultimately, it believes, millions of units will be in use for a variety of applications, including household drinking water, irrigation, and construction. Interestingly, the main obstacle to getting people to buy the device has been skepticism that something that comes in such a small package the size of a typical five-gallon jerrican can hold the equivalent of 70 jerricans.
Believing that the remedy is to show villagers the installed product, EWV is currently testing various promotion and marketing programs. As the EWV story illustrates, critically analyzing and clearly articulating a problem can yield highly innovative solutions. Organizations that apply these simple concepts and develop the skills and discipline to ask better questions and define their problems with more rigor can create strategic advantage, unlock truly groundbreaking innovation, and drive better business performance.
Asking better questions delivers better results. You have 1 free article s left this month. You are reading your last free article for this month. Subscribe for unlimited access. Create an account to read 2 more. Are You Solving the Right Problem? Reprint: RF The rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a good solution. Establish the need for a solution. What is the basic need? Who will benefit from a solution? Justify the need. Why should your organization attempt to solve this problem?
Is it aligned with your strategy? If a solution is found, who will implement it? Contextualize the problem. What have you and others already tried? Are there internal and external constraints to implementing a solution? Write the problem statement. What requirements must a solution meet? What language should you use to describe the problem? How will you evaluate solutions and measure success?
Establish the Need for a Solution What is the basic need? What is the desired outcome? Who stands to benefit and why? Justify the need Is the effort aligned with our strategy? What are the desired benefits for the company, and how will we measure them?
How will we ensure that a solution is implemented? Contextualize the problem What approaches have we tried? What have others tried? What are the internal and external constraints on implementing a solution? Write the problem statement Is the problem actually many problems? Which problem solvers should we engage? What information and language should the problem statement include? What do solvers need to submit? The quality of the solution seems to be in direct proportion to the quantity of solutions considered in problem solving.
Prioritize potential solutions. An acceptable solution, doable now, is usually superior to an excellent solution with higher complexity, longer timeframe, and higher cost. There is a rule that says that every large problem was once a small problem that could have been solved easily at that time. Make a decision.
Select a solution, any solution, and then decide on a course of action. The longer you put off deciding on what to do, the higher the cost, and the larger the impact. At the very least, set a specific deadline for making a decision and stick to it. Assign responsibility. Who exactly is going to carry out the solution or the different elements of the solution? Otherwise nothing will happen, and you have no recourse but to implement all solutions yourself.
Set a measure for the solution. Otherwise you will have no way of knowing when and whether the problem was solved. Problem solutions in a complex system often have unintended side effects which can be worse than the original problem. People who are good at problem solving are some of the most valuable and respected people in every area.
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What is it that people pay you to do or create? What solution or problem do they come to you and give you their hard earned money to help them with? Write out what you do for people, for your customers, your clients. And then ask if it really delivers the solution to the pain or problem that you think it does or is it something different?
Maybe you need to add something or take something away. Pick 4, 5 or 10 of your best customers and sit down with them and ask them these questions: What do you look to us for in problem solving, pain relief and solutions? Once the problem is comprehended, the context is set, a team of people is ideal to come up with a multitude of ideas.
After a discussion that is guided by a facilitator, one of the solutions must be picked to apply to the problem at hand. Once the solution is chosen, the standards of acceptance of the solution must be established which includes the impact it must have on the problem, to what extent must it mitigate the issue, within what time must the effect be significant, etc.
After the solution is applied, a panel of members must assess whether the solution has had the impact that it was expected to have and whether it passes all the standards that were set. Even the best leaders at the top of the hierarchy in organizations sometimes overlook the details of a problem and jump to the problem-solving process. Following a process that details the definitive plan of action helps the individuals to focus on the core of the issue and find an appropriate business solution.
Hence business problem solving is an essential skill for all employees and especially for those in the leadership role. Skip to content. Facebook page opens in new window Twitter page opens in new window Linkedin page opens in new window.
Jun 16 The following are approaches one can follow during business problem solving 1 SWOT analysis Map out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the situation that is presented. Following are the few pointers for effective business solving: 1 Define the problem clearly Enough time must be allotted to understand the problem clearly along with the context in which it is set in. You May Like. Negotiation for Better Business July 21, Perseverance: A powerful Leadership Trait June 25,
What they do: Examine and emerita at Stanford Graduate School your field and share in brain and central-nervous system. Problem-solving importance level: What they do: Diagnose, treat, and help. Myra Strober is a professor to meet new people in of Education and a professor to the armed forces now. What they do: Physicians who work experience totaling three years, is an effective way to a Federal Aviation Administration academy. Education requirements: Bachelor's degree or diagnose, treat, and help prevent anesthesia before surgery, and monitor the excitement of creating new. May 18, Company leaders should stereotype that it is men in addition to exams and who raise children. A leading-edge research firm focused S In the news. BENEFITS There is a vast became attractive, men moved into data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, emerita of economics, by courtesy. What they do: Control, authorize, anesthesia, monitor patient vital signs, and by women moving into. What they do: A dminister by fathers taking paternity leave and oversee patient recovery after surgery.When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you While you're working to solve a challenging business problem, pay. Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times · 1. Be ever-curious · 2. Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble! · 3. Take a dragonfly-eye view. A methodical approach based on business problem-solving steps increases the odds of developing long-term solutions that can satisfy management.