What is a Problem?

That seems to be a simple question: it’s something that’s not right!  Almost – but not quite.

Something may not be right but isn’t actually a problem – or something may be working right but is a problem.  Examples may help (probably simplistic but they’re just to introduce and illustrate the idea).

  • A chip on your phone screen is clearly not right but, unless it obscures your detail or interferes with function, it’s not a problem for you.
  • A rear window on you car that won’t open may be inconvenient but, if that window rarely needs to open, it’s probably not a problem.
  • A phone charger with a UK plug is fine (and as designed) but becomes a problem if you’re currently in mainland Europe without an adapter.
  • A 250 mile design range is good for an electric car but is a problem if you need to drive 300 miles with no intervening charge point.

It’s possible to create a 2×2 matrix with right/not right on one axis and problem/not a problem on the other – similar to Eisenhower’s important/urgent principle.  We can then allocate actions:

  1. Not right and causing a problem.  Fix.
  2. Right but causing a problem.  Investigate.  We need to dig further as there’s possibly a fundamental design issue to address – or even a step change in engineering needed.
  3. Not right but not a problem.  Monitor.  It might give problems later and move up the list.
  4. Right and not a problem.  Ignore.  Obvious but it completes the set and a case of: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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