When I’m brought into a company to solve a tough ongoing problem, one of my problem solving techniques is to ask my client to write a “Dear Abby” letter. The technique works wonders. I ask employees to write the letter just like a “Dear Abby” letter and to include as many examples of the problem as possible and lots of details. I have them write Abby so they can paint a vivid picture of everything they know about the problem. In the Problem Solving 6-step process my firm uses, this is known as Fact Finding.
Why Fact Finding? – Before attempting to tackle a tough problem, you need to increase your overall understanding of the problem. You may find that you have to reframe the problem to create a more productive perspective. Fact-finding helps you collect relevant data that can suggest different ways of viewing or restating your original definitions. Fact finding brings clarity to problem solving.
Ever read the Dear Abby column? Questions posed to Abby are clear and complete and usually include examples of the problem and lots of details. The completeness of the question helps Abby explore the problem and offer on- target advice for resolution.
Sounds Interesting, But How Does It Work? When faced with a tough problem (the need to improve a process, speeding up the customer checkout experience, improving the Help section on your website, etc.) you can get everyone impacted by that problem together and announce that they have 15 minutes to write a publishable “Dear Abby” letter. The letters you get back from the group will serve as the first step in defining the exact problem or goal you want to achieve. Often, the answers to the problem are found in the words of the “Dear Abby” letter.
After fully exploring the problem through fact-finding, you can lead your team to succinctly define the problem, generate solutions and lay out an implementation plan. The next time you’re faced with a challenging problem, try having your team write “Dear Abby” letters. You may find the answers appear right under your nose!