How to Define the #1 Problem at Work and Make Progress

How would you know if what you are working on really addresses the problem?

We can be busy about many things, and even feel productive. But when the bottomline is evaluated, there seems to be no progress, or worse, in decline. Find out how to pinpoint the root problem so you can act with intent and make progress.

If you’ve ever worked on a thesis or a project paper, one of the requirements is to have a Problem Statement. I was curious why academic papers need a definition of the problem, more so, to have it stated clearly. Later, as I wrote my paper, I saw the wisdom. A Problem Statement would show how much the author understands the gravity of the problem, and up to what extent of the problem will the proposal cover — or its limitations. Part of it was making sure that the problem statement contained the RIGHT QUESTIONS — about 3 or 4 — and the succeeding chapters would address the solution to each question. In formulating the questions, I had to rethink my proposal over and over again. The questions showed what answers were needed, and if the endeavor of doing extensive research would be worth it.

It’s the same in work, we have to STATE the PROBLEM. So, here are 3 ways to approach a problem and make progress.

  1. Seek to Come up with the Right Question

“Why are we losing sales?” may seem to be the right question, but perhaps, it may be “Why are people leaving our company?” Better yet, it may be “Why is the competition beating us?” Whatever it may be, the process of arriving at the right question is already an important part of problem solving. I recall Jesus asking the right question to the Pharisees: “They questioned him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out?’ How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” (Mt 12: 10-12) By asking the right question, Jesus was able to solve “the trap” that was laid, and at the same time correct a practice. If you want to correct something at work, think about your question. When the solution is very hard to find, opening with the right question will open ideas and relevant approaches.

     2. Agree on the #1 Problem

If you are seeking to solve a problem there will be many perspectives and opinions; there’ll numerous proposals on what the problem is — and it usually has to do with their own agenda. There will be a long list of concerns, and at the end of the day, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Instead dumping a ton of data on what to fix, it would be more efficient and productive to actually agree on the #1 problem. What is important is to discuss, debate, and decide on the #1 Problem. The deliberation in itself will reveal the nature of the problem, and will allow you to come up with a hierarchy of problems — which in turn will result to the discovery of your #1 priority. One popular practice today is to imagine a particular person and to define what problems surround the him or her. They call it an Avatar — an imagined or real person. By defining his or her #1 problem, you may also be able to address and agree on yours.

    3. Make a Problem Statement

More importantly, is to summarize your decisions on WHAT THE PROBLEM IS through a well-defined and well-written problem statement. If your problem is gargantuan, then you might want to NICHE on a problem. Say, if you want to address World Peace, you may want to niche on the problem of Peace in the Family. It really depends on the scope of your organization or business, and the timeline you are setting to solve a problem. By doing this, you are able to assess if you really know and understand the needs of your market, and plan to meet those needs.

I like what Tony Robbins said, “Identify your problems but give your power and energy to solutions.” Once you’ve discovered the real problem, you can exclaim a big “Aha!” and move forward immediately to solving it.


What’s the #1 problem or concern of your organization?

What’s the #1 problem that you face in your personal life?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.” James 1: 5

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