Revitalize Your Problem-Solving by Conducting a Solution Analysis
“Rubber ducking” is a method for figuring out problems by explaining what you’re doing to someone (or something) else. The term comes from a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and explain their code to it, line by line, to detect bugs. Rubber ducking is a valuable way to analyze a problem because it forces you to look at it from new angles.
Another good method for problem-solving is evaluating potential solutions by conducting a solution analysis. One way to do that is to ask what’s good about a proposed solution and what’s bad about it, focusing in particular on the impact of the solution.
Here are some possible questions to ask:
What’s good about this solution?
- What will this solution allow us (or our customers) to do better than current methods?
- What will this solution make possible that isn’t possible currently?
- What makes this solution particularly well suited to the problem?
- In what ways might this solution generate benefits that can’t be fully anticipated?
- How have other individuals or organizations benefited from a similar approach to solving this kind of problem?
- Who will feel the benefits of this solution in ways that will reflect well on us?
- What other problems might this solution address beyond the immediate one?
- How might this solution have a positive effect on the interaction among employees or departments?
- What internal or external factors favor the implementation of this particular solution?
What’s bad about this solution?
- What undesirable consequences might this solution create?
- What new problems might this solution create even while solving existing problems?
- In what ways will this solution make things worse than leaving them as they are?
- In what ways will this solution demand more than meets the eye?
- What types of hidden costs might there be in implementing or using the solution?
- In what ways might this solution negatively affect human or technical resources?
- What kinds of expectations might this solution create that would be tough to satisfy?
- Who would prefer that we don’t proceed with this solution?
- What environmental, political, or financial factors might impede the implementation of this solution?
Once you consider generic questions such as these, you’re likely to think of specific questions that will help you further identify strengths, weaknesses, and risks associated with each potential solution.
If you work in a team, try this approach to conducting a solution analysis. Have the team split into two groups: the good-about group, whose role is to make a persuasive case for the worth of a particular solution, and the bad-about group, whose role is to rip it to shreds. After each group has evaluated the solution and presented its case, change places and go at it again. Then review your collected findings.
You’re likely to have gained some new insights that will help you determine whether to proceed with the solution, make some adjustments, or scrap the solution altogether and consider others.