Developing a Robust Problem Definition

Examine your problem from all perspectives.

© iStockphoto/sdominick

What do you do when you're faced with a really big business problem? (Maybe your employee retention is low, and you are looking for the reasons why.)

Perhaps your first step is to brainstorm the possible reasons, and maybe then you apply a range of different problem-solving skills.

But what if you've focused on the wrong problem, or you're just looking at a symptom of a larger problem?

By focusing on one specific problem, you tend to stop looking for other problems. And that's when you risk missing something that's potentially more fundamental than the problem you first decided to investigate. This is where CATWOE can help you avoid making a serious mistake.

Understanding CATWOE

In the 1960s Peter Checkland, a systems engineering professor, developed a problem-solving methodology called Soft Systems Methodology   (SSM), which sought to apply systems principles to business and other "soft" problems.

SSM conceptualizes the activities or business being examined as a system, the essence of which is encapsulated in a "Root Definition."

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