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Problem Statements (Like Visiting a Doctor)

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Problem statements are very often misunderstood. So many people think they're easy to build, but they're very often too long and include the wrong information. Instead, they should be short, simple, and only describe the symptoms you're trying to solve, just as you would do when visiting a doctor.

Video Transcript

Did you know that problem statements for Lean Six Sigma projects should be like visiting a doctor?  That is, they should both involve explaining only the symptoms of the problem.  A common mistake is to make problem statements very long and include unnecessary things like a root cause or a solution. But if you knew the root cause or solution, then what's the point of doing a Lean Six Sigma project? 

The point of the project is to solve a problem where you don't know yet what is the root cause or ideal solution.  To include them in the problem statement is like visiting a doctor and telling the doctor what you think is the root cause and remedy for your symptoms. Doctors don't want to hear that. Doctors don't care what you may have researched online about what ails you, but instead they only want to know what are the symptoms of your condition so they can assess for themselves what is the root cause and ideal remedy. 

Likewise, make sure your problem statements only include the symptoms of the issue you're trying to solve. They should be brief and include specific details and measurements that explain how painful the problem is. 

For example, let's say you're trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to process customer orders. Instead of saying "the customer order process takes too long" or in trying to guess at why it takes too long or what should be done to fix it, it's better to be specific. Such as "the customer order process handles X orders per month and the average process time of X business days is 3X longer than the service level agreement". 

This latter example gives clear context on the magnitude of the issue not only in volume but also in how long the process runs.  It's a better example of describing the symptoms of the problem just as you should do when visiting a doctor.


Matt Hansen

Matt is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has led and consulted on hundreds of continuous improvement initiatives for over 20 years across several industries such as Government (Dept. of Defense), Insurance, Telecommunications, Transportation, Finance, and Higher Education.  He has developed and led enterprise Lean Six Sigma Training and Mentoring Programs at two billion-dollar organizations and has been credited with influencing a continuous improvement culture across the organization. The savings from the projects he has led well exceed $120 Million.

For more details about Matt's experience, you can check out his profile and connect with him on LinkedIn.  If you'd like to use Matt for consulting or speaking engagements, please contact him here.


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