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Why Solving the Wrong Problem Can Be Costly

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and may not reflect the perspectives of IIBA.
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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

To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

In the world of business analysis, solving the wrong problem can have significant consequences. This all-too-common phenomenon happens when teams jump into solution mode without fully understanding the problem itself.

And the reasons behind it are as varied as the people involved.

In the latest Business Analysis Live! podcast, Susan Moore and Scott Bennett were joined by Khethelo Malinga to discuss effective problem-solving. The trio explored the costs of rushing into solution mode and how to avoid it.

To become genuine problem solvers, let’s (gently) put down the hammer and pick up a pencil instead.

The Pitfalls of Solution Mode

One of the main reasons the wrong problem gets solved is the tendency to rush into solution mode. This may be because time is tight or because the problem initially appears to be something it’s not.

This tendency stems from certain assumptions about the problem, the most insidious being the illusion of simplicity. Think of how easy it is to hand someone medication when they complain of a headache.

Other explanations include a limited understanding of the problem, various biases, ego-driven decision-making, and team structure issues.

By rushing into solutions without a comprehensive understanding of the problem, teams risk wasting time, money, and valuable opportunities.

Tools for Effective Problem-Solving

Ordinary people solve hundreds of problems, big and small, every day. If you lose something, you try to find it. If you drop something, you pick it up. 

But business analysis professionals are a different kettle of fish.

They are trained to take a step back and unpack the problem first, before attempting to solve it. It’s a bit like turning your brain’s solution auto-pilot off and turning the manual mode on. This obviously takes more time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it.

To ensure the right problem is identified and solved, business analysis professionals use a variety of tools and techniques. These include:

  • Reframing: Instead of framing the problem narrowly, try looking at it from different angles or defining it as an opportunity. Another way to do this is to ask how to avoid the problem rather than how to solve it.
  • Root Cause Analysis: Dig deep to identify the underlying causes of the problem, allowing for targeted solutions.
  • Decision Trees: Break down the problem into logical steps, prioritizing the most critical issues.
  • SWOT Analysis: Evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with the problem to gain a comprehensive understanding.
  • Fishbone Diagramming: Visualize the various factors contributing to the problem, helping to identify potential solutions.
  • Decision Matrix: Prioritize potential solutions based on their impact and feasibility.
  • Brainstorming: Trust your team’s input and brainstorm with them to identify the problem and its solution.
  • Design Thinking: Empathize with users and their pain points, define the problem, ideate potential solutions, prototype, and test before implementation.
Each one of these can enhance your understanding of a given problem. When applied together, they’ll give you the confidence to approach any problem correctly.  

The Role of Emotional Intelligence and Team Dynamics

Effective problem-solving requires more than just tools and techniques. In fact, emotional intelligence and strong team dynamics play a crucial role in ensuring successful outcomes. Heck, sometimes the team itself might be the most urgent problem to address.

Start with solving for tension and anything that might inhibit creativity—a key skill for any problem solver. Build an environment conducive to problem-solving by encouraging open communication, fostering a culture of trust, and addressing team conflicts.

By understanding the impact of organizational culture and individual biases, you can better navigate these challenges and facilitate collaboration.

Measuring Success and Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

Often the measure of success isn’t seeing a problem go away, it’s seeing your perception of it change. This can lead to more creative (and effective) problem-solving approaches that didn’t occur to you initially.

That said, try to strike a balance between thorough analysis and action (avoiding the dreaded analysis paralysis). One approach is to involve stakeholders and users in the process, seeking their feedback and validation. Another is to test prototypes and hypotheses before implementation, which can provide valuable insights and refine your problem-solving approach.

Remember, the goal isn’t simply to solve the problem as fast as possible. The solution should always align with an evolving understanding of the problem and any new information gleaned along the way.

The Importance of Context and Risk Analysis

Context is key when it comes to problem-solving. Different problems require different levels of analysis and documentation.

Consider the costs, risks, and impact of the problem when deciding how much time and effort to invest. High-cost, high-risk, and high-impact problems may warrant more extensive documentation, while smaller issues may require a more agile approach.

You should also distinguish between “glass” and “plastic” problems, which can help you prioritize. Glass problems are costly and difficult to fix, while plastic problems aren’t as time sensitive and won’t be devastating.

Another aspect to consider is permanence and the impact the solution will have. Is the solution easy to pivot away from? Or are you locked into a set of circumstances? Think carefully about the lasting effects, whatever path you choose.


There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to solving problems, but that’s a good thing. The plethora of approaches available to business analysts grants maximum flexibility and creativity—which most problems demand anyway.

Before rushing into solution mode, try to understand the problem better first. As new information emerges, do your best to balance thorough analysis with action, stakeholder involvement, and adaptation. This will increase the likelihood of solving the right one, while avoiding the costs of solving the wrong one.

A more nuanced approach to problem-solving will ultimately help your organization achieve successful outcomes. And, who knows, it might even find problems you didn’t even know existed.

To expand your skill set and optimize your business analysis job opportunities, consider earning a professional certification. IIBA offers an array of professional certifications to help you stand out to employers. Learn about IIBA’s certifications.  

About the Authors:
Susan Moore

Susan Moore, Community Engagement Manager, IIBA

Scott Bennett

Scott Bennett, Manager, Business Analysis, IIBA

We host Business Analysis Live to discuss business analysis topics and answer questions from our live audience.  We have a backlog of upcoming topics and we’re happy to take suggestions. Add a comment to one of our videos to suggest a topic you would like us to cover in an upcoming Business Analysis Live!


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