Posted by: knightbird | February 19, 2011

Writing a Problem Statement

My employee’s allowed me to sit through the development of a problem statement today. As with many organizations that must comply with HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability ACT) as well as federal, state, professional and ethical confidentiality requirements, Chugachmiut must understand and communicate to each employee the essence of the obligations we have. We are addressing our obligations through an A-3, and have appointed a team to improve our confidentiality processes. Developing a problem statement is, as our sensei told us, the most important aspect of developing a response. We must understand the problem well if we are to make as much improvement as we are able to.

The first step in developing our problem statement is to describe the “problem effect.” Our team of 6 almost immediately identified another aspect of the problem and decided to invite another member from our IT Department to join our team. We issued the invitation which was immediately accepted. As we discussed the problem effect, we arrived at about 15 problem effects.

It was interesting that some members of our team almost immediately jumped to proposed solutions to the problem effects we discussed. 2 members of our team pointed out that we were focusing on the problem statement, and that there would be time during our project to brainstorm solutions. We also had the possible financial implications of breaching confidentially pointed out. However, we affirmed our corporate culture—we do not put financial concerns above the best interests of our “patients, clients and beneficiaries.” We were here to focus on how we frame the problem, and only how we frame the problem.

The second step in developing our problem statement was to group like “problem effects.” This did not take much time.

Finally, we began to construct the problem statement. As we worked on the first sentence, we went through a number of different frameworks for the statement. When we were satisfied, we moved to the second sentence. And finally, we tackled a third sentence.

What amazed me is that in 90 minutes, we framed a problem statement that in our minds clearly set out the issue we faced, and actually helped give us a solid starting point for solutions. The starting point I refer to is the knowledge that we have a problem and can articulate it.

And we know what our next step is. The whole purpose of an A-3 is to guide us in our thinking. We will probably map the confidentiality value stream and because of the complexity added to human nature, may find this difficult. But we will try, and it will add to our understanding of the problem. We will try to determine what our next target condition might be. We have to estimate, but we hope to Stretch for a goal and will probably estimate on the tough side. Will we achieve the goal on the first try? Probably not, but we could get close. On the other hand, we have blown away stretch goals in the past, so there is nothing preventing us from hitting a home run. We will then brainstorm possible solutions, rank them, develop the plan for implementing the solutions, develop the training materials and execute on the plan.

Writing the problem statement allows us to communicate that we are addressing an issue. It feels so good to know that we are improving a system that will help us avoid firestorms in the future.

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