Solving Problems the Old-fashioned Way

I recently read an article in Quality Progress magazine (a monthly publication of the American Society for Quality) which talked about focusing on the problem before determining a solution. In this article the author quoted two prominent thinkers, Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln.

Albert Einstein said: “If I only had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solutions.”

Abraham Lincoln said: “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”

In our course offerings we quote Russell Ackoff who stated: “We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.”

Each of these prominent thinkers are warning us of a problem that all too often occurs during system design – intuitively determining a solution and an architecture without thoroughly considering the system and its operating environment. Russell Ackoff describes System Thinking as carefully considering a problem and the solutions in terms of the interaction of the parts, and the parts with the whole and its environment. Fundamentally, this approach requires us to spend a majority of our time thinking about the problem and much less time solving the problem.

In Vitech we put this approach into practice through our STRATA methodology. The STRATA methodology requires us to understand the problem first, and to (eventually) solve the problem with a detailed system design.

At the start of any design problem we first look at the customer needs and requirements (these are generally provided in the form of initial customer requirements). The system design team is forced to capture and assimilate the complete set of originating requirements without considering any sort of solution.  This requirement set then provides a framework for understanding the system of interest and, to think and document how the system is required behave and interact or interface with its intended operating environment.

It was encouraging to me when I read the article in QP magazine that our approach in Vitech is corroborated by decade- old thinking about problem solving. If you are a user of Vitech’s services and solutions, I hope that you are likewise encouraged.  If you are not a Vitech customer, I hope that you reach out to us, I am confident that we have a methodology that will help you. If we could talk to Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, I think they would endorse us!

Leave a Reply