Why does one problem always lead to another?

I can’t remember the number of times that clients re-opened a case or issue after we thought that it was resolved. Take the example of how we tried to help a client get relevant email reports:

Our software has a feature that allows users to schedule customized email reports to themselves.

A customer one day asked if the email report could include more data points, as some of their reports exceeded a set limit on how much data can be included. So we doubled the amount of data each report could include.

The same customer asked a few weeks later if the tool could send graphical email reports (email reports were shown in table formats up until now), which would make things easier to read. So we began work on that feature as well.

A few months later, the customer reached back out to our product team and asked whether we could automatically send email alerts when certain events happen, rather than wait for the data in a scheduled email the next morning.

That’s when something clicked in our minds. We realized that all their requests pointed to one single problem. They needed a way to receive actionable information at the right time. It took us months to finally realize it. Pre-scheduled email reports helped with that goal, but didn’t completely solve the problem. Only when the customer asked for automated alerts did it click that we were solving symptoms to their problem rather than addressing the problem.

If I had the opportunity to re-tackle this client’s request from the beginning, I would identify the client’s true pain first rather than do what they asked each time. I’d then follow up with an idealized design process to think of potential solutions. It would have saved a lot of time.

It has become clear to me over the years that a problem will rarely be solved if we fail to identify its root cause. To this effect, I’ve designed a framework to help vet problems. I’ll be exploring it in detail below and walk through a personal example together.

What’s the problem with dishes?

Let’s explore our framework by working through a typical conflict among roommates, where one person doesn’t want to wash their dishes, while another person needs to use clean dishes.

What is the problem / pain / frustration? One roommate doesn’t want to wash their dishes, while another needs clean dishes to eat.


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