Cause or Effect?

We have all rushed to a frantically called meeting where the opening claim is "We have a REVENUE problem!!" This is usually followed by postulating solutions ranging from hanging the sales executive to wholesale slaughter of the sales staff. But what if the problem is not a revenue shortfall? What if that is just a symptom of the real problem?

When stepping into a problem solving situation, two axioms prove useful. The first is to never accept the stated problem as the true problem. Instead suppose that the stated problem is actually a symptom or effect of a deeper problem. See if you can find a problem that might be causing the stated problem.

This will be a cyclical exercise in that when you find a deeper cause, that too may be only an effect of a deeper problem.

The second axiom is to solicit the thoughts of everyone involved with the problem, but for form, do not believe them. They are not lying but quite possibly they are so close to the situation that they cannot see past the symptoms.

Armed with everyone's perspective, look deep for data. Try to find a deeper problem. Are revenues down across the product lines? In all geographies? For all sales staff? Has anything changed? Different advertising strategy? What do customers say? Review the support staff problem reports.

Our goal is to "get to the bottom of the situation"; find a problem that explains what we though the problem was originally. What if you find that revenues are down for the Eastern sales staff on the new product line? What if you find that the tech rep that performed sales training was sick for the East office training? What if you find that the substitute trainer really didnít know the product. Our problem statement might really be: "Our Eastern Office hasn't been trained on the new product."

It is important to work on the right problem. It is also important to frame the problem in such a way that it can be solved. Less wasted motion; a more effective solution.
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