The importance of accurate problem identification in problem solving

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What is problem identification?

Problem identification is the steps involved in determining what the underlying issue or issues that are causing the problem is. Working out for example whether it is one thing that is causing the problem to occur or a completely different source of the issues. 

Why is problem identification important to successful problem-solving?

Accurate problem identification is important to actually solve the problem. Miss-diagnosis of what is going on can mean that you start treating the wrong problem. Rather than focusing your energy on the actual underlying issue, that attention and energy are applied to a different area – potentially one that is completely unconnected to the problem itself.

Danger of incorrect problem identification

Miss-diagnosis of the problem can be a big issue. Not only can it result in substantial wasted effort as time and energy is spent focused on changing something completely unconnected to the real issue, but it can also mean that the real issue goes unchecked.

Identifying the problem incorrectly may mean that you think you are giving the necessary attention to solve the problem, only for that effort to have no impact. The true problem may go uncorrected, and there may be frustration as to why so much time is being spent despite no improvement.

Identifying the root problem

When identifying problems, it can be useful to recognize that there may be multiple levels to the problem. There may be an immediate, surface-level problem, but there may be a deeper, more underlying issue that has the potential to cause lots of issues.

Identifying the root underlying problem can be important in ensuring that the ultimate cause of the issue is fixed. One approach to identifying the underlying issues is five-why analysis. The analysis involves asking ‘why’ five times – not accepting the immediate surface-level issues, but instead actively going deeper to ascertain the underlying problem.