June 12, 2018

Understanding the Problem: Getting to the Heart of What Your Tech is Meant to Solve




        What’s your problem? No, really… what exactly is it that your technology is meant to solve?

        Too often, there’s an overemphasis on a specific type of technology as the solution, without an underlying business case to support it. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an AI-powered chatbot?” “How awesome would it be if we had beacons?” “We NEED smart devices… we’re falling behind the competition, here.”

        Are you focusing too much on the solution? Failing to understand the problem itself can render even the best technology useless.

        Our first and most critical task in software development has to be analysis of the problem at hand. Without that accurate and meaningful definition of the problem, it’s impossible to develop the right solution. Tackling your problem first also enables more creative, innovative solutions–or even the repurposing of existing solutions, allowing you to use your existing technology in new ways to solve real and persistent problems.

        Why do we jump to solutions?

        It’s not at all uncommon to fall in love with the possibilities a solution presents and only then attempt to determine the problems it might solve. In a world where tech innovation moves at lightspeed and early adoption can be the competitive edge that pushes you over the edge, it’s no wonder we’re inclined to jump to the solution.

        However, we need to let the constraints of each problem determine the technological elements we’ll use to solve it.

        Take the Salvation Army, for example. In an effort to increase donations at their collection kettles in the holiday season, it would have been easy to jump to mobile payments as a solution. After all, making it easier for on-the-go consumers to donate would drive more giving, right? Not necessarily. In fact, when the organization examined their data, what they discovered were huge discrepancies in effectiveness of various buckets, depending on both location and the experience of the volunteer ringing the bell. It was determined that what they actually needed wasn’t mobile payments technology, but a software solution to help them better understand their volunteer location and training data.

        Can you imagine the outlay of funds it would have taken to develop a mobile payments system for a donations network of that size, only to discover that it still didn’t solve the problem?

        Cool, new technologies are not always the answer. Instead, we need to focus on the value each prospective solution provides. We must critically evaluate each one as the potential answer to our problem, which can only happen after we’ve defined exactly what that problem is.

        What’s your problem?

        “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” ~ Albert Einstein

        Service Pros, a large flooring installation company and the preferred flooring installer for Lowe’s Home Improvement, came to Method with a desire to solve all of their business challenges via a single solution. They needed to incorporate both off-the-shelf products and custom solutions. This brand new custom software platform would need to replace all of their existing systems, yet achieve the same outcomes or better more rapidly, and at a reduced cost.

        We started with an evaluation of the problem and the goals for the business. In that intersection, we found that many of the their needs–hours tracking, expense tracking, internal communication and more–could be solved with off-the-shelf software.

        With this approach, Method’s Product Strategy & Experience Design team was able to reduce both development time and cost, as well as increasing the speed of implementation. On an ongoing basis, the overhead for software maintenance was reduced, and Service Pros was provided the ability to easily upgrade or change providers in future.

        With this enhanced understanding of exactly what it is you need to solve, options that might have seemed sexy and compelling at the outset can be ruled out if they can’t deliver the results you need. The ideal solution begins to take shape.

        Defining your problem in 3 steps

        1. Articulate the current state of affairs.
        • Ask yourself questions such as:
        • What are we trying to do here?
        • What has been done in the past, and why isn’t it working?
        • What do we want to see this software do?
        • What does it do today, and how exactly does it fall short?
        • What are our users’ goals, personalities, needs and environments?
        2. Gather your data.
        • Review all documentation and source code in an effort to better understand what previous developers were trying to achieve.
        • Gather and review the relevant business data.
        • Look into how others are solving similar problems.
        • How do we measure success today, and how will we measure success in future?
        3. Eliminate assumptions.
        • With the most current, relevant information, you can begin to eliminate assumptions that may be leading the process of solution-building astray.
        • Much time and budget can be wasted chasing down ideas that seemed great at the outset because the technology is new, or popular, or “everyone else is doing it.”
        • Use proof of concept and minimum viable product to quickly validate or invalidate ideas, and provide direction based on those measurements.

        For example, there may be an assumption at the outset that you need to buy software, as building it will be too cost-prohibitive. However, if out-of-the-box software only solves a small part of your problem, it can cost you more in the long run through lost productivity and sales. Assumptions about building vs. buying software can be challenged with your enhanced understanding of what it is you need to solve.

        One might assume that using offshore developers will result in cost savings–after all, outsourcing has been a massive trend over the last decade that’s turned out really well for some. There are many different factors in play, however, and as technology has advanced at the rapid clip it has, the decision to outsource has become more complicated and risky.

        Let’s get to the heart of YOUR problem.

        Every single project here at Method starts out with a deep and comprehensive understanding of the problem. We believe in experimenting early and often, but also in making sure risks are calculated and informed, to continuously move your solution forward.

        Want to learn more about how Method can help? Get in touch and let’s find out.