Conciseness is an art.
Especially when trying to solve problems, we can easily get lost in unnecessary details and endless analysis.
And this time counts for staying in course of the digital transformation.
Defining the problem is the first step provided by problem-solving methodologies, but what to analyze, when to stop, what really matters?
I found the method of One-Slide Problem Summary effective to accelerate problem-solving while increasing its performance and efficiency.
This article shares the definition and framework of One-Slide Problem Summary to deliver Quality at Speed software in Quality Engineering.
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What is One-Slide Problem Summary
A problem is a gap to solve between a desired and an actual state—that can be mental, physical, or perceptual—creating a force for action.
Problems can be complex as composed of sub-problems, interrelated forces and conflicting constraints, complexifying their definition.
That’s where the One-Slide Problem Summary comes in to present the essence of a problem and associated solution in one-slide.
One-Slide Problem Summary contains the following elements:
- Background and relevant context
- Concise formulation of the problem
- Emphasis of constraints, impacts and issues
- Shortened list of evaluated scenario
- Retained scenario with motivations and outcomes.
Creating this slide results from the standard stages of problem-solving going through the definition, analysis, solution generation, evaluation and selection.
The benefits of creating this slide through the process are to force a good problem definition and to keep the focus on the essential elements.
Let’s deep dive into its value for Quality at Speed software.
Why using One-Slide Problem Summary in Quality Engineering
Our environment constantly increases in complexity and ambiguity due to accelerated cycles of innovation and worldwide competition (linked to VUCA).
And when software is supporting entire businesses—from customer experience to internal operations—software problems are business problems, becoming the main priority.
But organizations are constantly suffering from multiple problems, requiring them to work only on the main issues with minimal efforts for maximum outcomes.
Companies able to quickly formulate and solve problems increase their capability to develop their business and to iterate with Quality at Speed software.
How One-Slide Problem Summary contributes to Quality
The increasing complexity of our environment and technology make digital and customer experience problems harder to solve at the high-standard.
The focus provided by One-Slide Problem Summary is essential to solve problems that matter in a systematic and scalable way.
One-Slide Problem Summary contributes to Quality being:
- Result-oriented on the problem to solve and emphasis of key elements
- Systematic being easily applicable in processes like Definition of Ready
- Scalable for multiple teams and to solve different problems efficiently.
How One-Slide Problem Summary contributes to Speed
Solving the right problems with speed is critical to capture revenues before competitors, creating the need for economies of speed.
Methodologies of Quality Engineering enable to streamline the activities to solve problems in an efficient way to iterate with velocity in the short-term and long-term.
One-Slide Problem Summary contributes to Speed with:
- Focus in the problem definition with minimal required elements
- Rhythm in forcing to explicit and present problems before solving
- Asynchronous being a document that can be done collaboratively
- Visibility by formulating the key points of a well-defined problem.
How To Use One-Slide Problem Summary in Quality Engineering
The process of solving problems is like crafting software: there are repeatable steps to follow while each change is different.
It’s in the details that the One-Slide makes the difference—forcing the step back on the problem to solve and essential elements to formulate the problem.
One-Slide Problem Summary follow a similar structure as the one of problem definition:
- Get the big picture
- Formulate the real problem
- Assess options and retain a scenario.
I strongly recommend you to use a slide-deck software with plain text like Microsoft Powerpoint or Google Slide, forcing to remain concise into a single slide.
Get the big picture
The problem context is essential to understand the problem motivations, dynamics, and contributions to the overall picture.
The act of stepping back in the first place lets you see the problem from different perspectives not provided with the problem, and think out-of-the-box later on.
“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it”
At that stage, the focus is to get the big picture by asking questions:
- What are the identified problems and issues?
- Is there any background information to know?
- Who is impacted, internally and externally?
- Which part of the business, domains and teams are concerned?
- What are the actual and expected outcomes?
- What are the key constraints to consider?
This exercise will give you a set of information to don’t organize yet; the focus must be kept on gathering and collecting as much input as possible.
At that stage, the initial problem and elements of context must be formalized into the one-slide to filter the most relevant data. Here’s an example:
Formulate the real problem
Equipped with the big picture, the problem identification can start by narrowing the interrelated elements with specific techniques.
Different process-solving methodologies solve different problems but they all have in common to represent how the problem can be decomposed.
Depending on the issue at hand, you can use:
- Appreciation filters facts with “so what?”
- 5 Whys get root cause asking “whys”
- Drill Down helps to divide problem into parts
- Affinity Diagrams represents elements relationships
- Cause-and-Effect Diagram verifies causality links
- Root Cause Analysis enable to identify core issues
- Flow Chart, Swim Lane Diagram or Systems Diagram map processes.
These techniques let you narrow down the true causes of problems, identify the link, and possible side-effects that could happen when changing the system.
The exercise of summarizing the problem can now be done, ensuring that the essence has been captured. Thinking about possible solutions only starts after that.
Assess options and retain a scenario
Problems have different solutions, requiring to first identify the range of possible solutions to then narrowing down a recommended scenario.
The work done previously will improve this step as:
- Solutions will focus on solving root causes
- Constraints help to select within possible solutions
- Outcomes let differentiate the gap of value
The generation of solutions is a back-and-forth process between brainstorming solutions with the big picture, assessing them and iterating on alternatives scenarios.
A risk at that stage is to be lost in scenario analysis assessing all possible variables and options. Once again, focus is necessary.
Judgement is your best ally to retain 3 main scenarios making sure they are:
- Realistic to implement in your context
- Independent scenarios and not variations of one
- Solving the root causes at a minimal level.
The One-Slide Problem Summary can be completed:
One-Slide Problem Summary within MAMOS
This single slide contains the essence of the problem and the recommended scenario, giving you a powerful way to share, influence and drive valuable changes.
Busy executives and teams appreciate this summary as giving them the essential points to support and solve a problem, without time to lose in the full analysis.
A One-Slide Problem Summary is a deliverable useful in the rest of your software problem journey:
- OKRs with associated deliverables can rely on the summary
- Architecture reviews can use the slide to support the instruction
- Outcomes measurement can measure change effectiveness from the data.
These methodologies are the foundations of any Quality at Speed software flow continuously delivering valuable increments.
That’s what Quality Engineering is about: simple things that are hard, but highly valuable.
Which problem will you start with?
Dwayne Spradlin (2012), Are You Solving the Right Problem? Harvard Business Review.
Jonassen D.H. (2012), Problem Typology. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_209
Vinh Pham (2014), Rich Pictures and CATWOE: Simple yet Powerful Scope-Modelling Techniques. Elabor8
Markus Hammer, Wouter Michiels (2019), Root-cause problem solving in the Ops 4.0 era, McKinsey.
McKinsey Problem Solving: Six steps to solve any problem and tell a persuasive story, StrategyU.
Problem-Solving resources, ASQ.