Do You Really Understand the Problem You're Trying to Solve?

Qmed Staff

September 28, 2015

4 Min Read
Do You Really Understand the Problem You're Trying to Solve?

If I were to tell you it's important to understand a problem before you start trying to solve it, you might reply with something like "nice one, Einstein" (sarcastically, of course...). Well then, did you know that one of the most common failures of entrepreneurs and startup companies--whether in the medical technology field or in other sectors--is not understanding the problem they are setting out to solve? And worse, that many of them had every intention of understanding the problem, but never managed to achieve it?

Geoff Rogers

In this article, I will attempt to show you how to assess your level of understanding of your own problem, determine what's important (and what's not), and take corrective steps ASAP, if necessary. If you're unsure how this article fits into the bigger picture, check out my recent "vitals list" post.

First, let's draw a line in the sand and remove a potential mental barrier. Right now, in this moment, whether you've started down the solution path already or you've yet to begin, it's irrelevant. What matters is that you have an opportunity to stop the clock for a moment, step back, and take stock. So forget your solution or idea for now, and let's get started!

What Does It Look Like to Truly Understand a Problem?

The best strategy I've found is to reduce everything down to one or more discrete "use cases."What's a use case? Say you intend to develop a solution, a use case is the complete description of when, where, why, and how your solution would be used to solve the problem. It's about putting yourself in your end user's shoes. Someone who truly understands their use case will be able to have a conversation with someone who has no knowledge of the problem, and clearly articulate the series of events that lead to the occurrence of the problem. As Einstein reportedly said: "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."The particularly nice thing about this approach (other than understanding the problem!), is that it's fundamentally user centric.

Do You Understand Your Problem?

Test yourself. Take a step back and see if you can completely articulate your use case(s). In doing so, you should be addressing most, if not all, of the following questions:

  • When and where does the problem occur?

  • What series of events or factors lead to the occurrence of the problem?

  • Who is present/responsible when the problem occurs?

  • Who is affected by the problem? How?

  • Are there any other stakeholders associated with the problem?

  • Can the entire problem be addressed by a single solution, or is it more complex?

  • Are there any constraints or considerations that would prevent the problem from being solved?

There may be other questions you need to ask for your particular problem, but this list provides a good starting point.

Holy Cow! I Don't Understand My Problem. What Should I Do?

If you find that you don't know the answer to some or all of these questions, and thereby don't understand your problem as well as you could, get to work on finding answers ASAP! Make sure this process incorporates thorough consultation with your end users, and be sure to really drill down on all pertinent points. Don't just take things at face value; seek to gain the deepest possible understanding, like you would have if you were the world-leading expert in the discipline. The ultimate goal is to be able to clearly and concisely articulate your use case(s) to both end users and non-users without fault and with an answer for every conceivable question.

Finally, adopt an attitude of continual learning. There's always more you can learn, especially as the field of medicine is constantly changing and developing with the latest best practices.

Geoff Rogers, PhD is a medical engineer and entrepreneur, who specializes in the development and commercialization of next-generation medical devices. He has successfully cofounded and led a number of medtech companies. He is most widely known as the founder of IntelliMedical.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to our daily e-newsletter.

Sign up for the QMED & MD+DI Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like