17 Questions to Effective Solution Development (surprise – don’t ask about solution)

You are finally leading your own project, you have been assigned a team, and it’s your first meeting to understand more…Where do you start? What do you say?
Here are question to help structure the conversation.
General Guideline:
  • Start with people.
  • Start with current understanding of problem and respective process.
  • Use data to confirm current understanding¬† of problem (helps build trust with team).
  • Do not move to solutions until thoroughly understanding impact of problem and how the process works.
Initial Questions to gain context
Who is Sponsoring Project?
What problem is being solved?
What’s the impact of the problem?
What operation / process / task is related to this problem?
Tip: Avoid getting into solutions-type questions or “How to” questions…focus on “What” and “Why” questions.
Questions to confirm problem 
What data is currently available to describe the process and/or problem?
How often does the problem occur within process?
What is the cost of problem? What is the cost of the project? Is it worth it?
Questions to understand people around the problem
What people or job role are trained to run the process?
How are they incentives, what’s the definition of success in their role?
Who are the subject matter experts at the process or operation?
What is their current understanding of what’s causing the problem?
Is the process designed to optimize for cost, quality, delivery?
How often does the process design change?
When was the last time the process was changed? Why and Who made the change?
Question to understand expectations
What’s the expected outcome of solution (still don’t focus on solution development, just desired outcome)?
What’s the history of organizational change and culture of team.
Has this problem been solved in another area before or different industry? If so, what can be applied here (…the seed of innovation)?
Notice the focus of questions are to better understand problem and desired outcome and understanding the people supporting the process or operation. This approach helps objectively focus approach to possible solutions. If you have a project team that starts with…”We want the project to develop ABC solution to solve XYZ problem”…stop…don’t start with a solution. Lead conversation with the above questions and START with a problem.
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