Identifying a Problem Before Prescribing a Solution

by Jason Jones

Choosing to take on a mobile or software solution as a project is a massive undertaking, and can consume a considerable amount of time, effort, and money. Whether it’s a software idea on a napkin that’s never been built, or an imagined piece of code that may overhaul a clunky old process, technology is a tempting solution with unlimited applications. However, you have to be careful not to go too far down the line in planning the solution before first identifying the problem.

Don’t get us wrong – we won’t  dismiss any ideas that potential clients bring to us when they engage us! After all, our clients are very likely to know the ins and outs of their industry, and the pain points that either they or their own clients have on a consistent basis.

Our work at Vertical Motion is all about creating solutions for businesses. In our case, ‘solution’ fulfills multiple meanings: 1) a product or service created to meet a need, and 2) a means of solving a problem. When we work with clients, we collaborate with them to figure out the root of why they would like to work with us, by finding what it is that they are trying to solve. We always strive to identify the problem before we prescribe a solution. Here’s why.

Tom Higley, the founder of 10.10.10 (10 Wicked Problems. 10 Prospective CEOs. 10 Days) wrote a great article about the “Problem-First” model and why he pivoted his program to start with 10 problems, instead of ideas. “The idea as a venture starting point confuses and conflates two things that should really be considered separately,” he says in the article. Ideas tend to combine both the problem and the solution, causing people, in this case, startup founders, to skip the crucial step of truly considering the problem to find the best solution. In a business setting, this happens often. We can get caught up in the ideas very easily that we lose sight of what we are trying to solve in the first place. The possibilities that today’s technology provides can make this even more likely.

Here is how we apply the “Problem-First” model to the solutions we build for our clients.

Building a New Mobile or Software Application

Building a new mobile or software application to solve a problem should require answers to the following questions:

  • Who is your audience? “Build it and they will come” does not apply to new applications. Whenever you build an app, you must also know who will be using it. You must have an existing audience of potential users. How else would it solve a problem if no one will be there to use it?
  • What is their pain point? What is the problem that you are trying to help your users solve? In order to attract users for your app, you must show them the value of your app – that it will be addressing a pain point they experience. The pain must also be significant enough to warrant exploring options other than the current solution to their problem (whether it’s a direct competitor for your app or it’s a patchwork solution that they’ve found to work for them in the meantime).
  • What is the monetization plan? If you are building a new mobile or software app, chances are it’s the basis of your business, and you want to make money off of it. A good mobile or software app must provide a service that a) people will want to pay for, and b) will be priced appropriately to sustain your businesses but not so much that users will find another solution elsewhere.

Updating an Existing Process with Software

Here are some questions to get you started on identifying the problem you want to solve:

  • What is broken about the current process? This is an important question because it will allow you to pinpoint the specific issue affecting your workflow.
  • What is working? Are there aspects of your current process that you can keep? It might be worth integrating a solution within the current process instead of building an new solution for the entire process.
  • Who are the stakeholders using the current process? These are your users, and will be the people most impacted by your changes. Consult with them to learn more about how best to help them.
  • What are the measurable improvements your changes need to make? What does success look like for this project? Also, is your new solution actually better for your stakeholders? Will they want to change their habits and adopt the new solution? (Tip: don’t underestimate the power of user feedback! Sometimes the easiest way to obtain this info is to simply ask).

When we concentrate on the problem first, we believe that we are able to fully understand what it is that we need to build. It enables us to understand what our client needs – and sometimes our clients realize that they were looking at the wrong issue in the first place! By working together to find the root cause we can then find the best possible solution to address it.

Every custom development project we take on at Vertical Motion begins with our Discovery process to ensure that the solution that we build is the solution that you need. Do you have a business problem that can be solved with a custom software solution? Contact us today so we can find and build the best solution for you.

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