Define Project

Define The Problem Clearly.

Do you want to know the real secret to success in problem solving and in new product development?

The real secret to success in problem solving is to learn how to define the problem clearly

A problem well defined, is a problem half solved!

For our purposes, we define the problem in two steps.

Step 1: Describe the problem in simple terms.

Here is an example: 

Develop an Optimum Recipe for Cheesecake
Develop an Optimum Recipe to compete with Sara Lee's cheesecake recipe available in frozen section of the Grocery Stores.
A good cheesecake has high Moisture - % content, is smooth to feel - low particle size, Nice light orange color, no burnt spots, is fluffy - tall in Height - inches. Has a high Weight and low Cost.
We would like to commercialize this product in six months.

Keep the description simple, six to ten sentences  in non-technical terms so that anyone can understand the problem.  Include a brief description of your success criteria, what you are trying to achieve. 

The above example, is not perfect but a good first start. You will have many opportunities to revise the Project Description, so don't sweat over it. 

Feel free to share the description with your peers and your manager, so that if something critical is missing, you can correct it easily and no project time is wasted.  

Step 2: Develop a rigorous problem definition using formal system thinking. .

Defining a problem rigorously is difficult. We will try to do that by integrating"

  • The gut feel of the scientist(you or your team)
  • Voice of the Customer, the Success criteria.
  • Voice of the Manufacturing. Process and Safety Constraints
  • Voice of the Regulatory Agencies, if needed 

This is hard to do, because:

  • We were not taught the concept of an operational definition(Russell Ackoff),  
  • Most people do not have good examples.

So let us start with our Cheesecake Example. Here is an Excel Template we use for creating Project Definition.

Our scientist's (or his team's) gut feel is captured in columns 2 through 5. For simplicity Our Cheesecake "System" has 8 Recipe and Process Variables, some times they are referred to as Independent Variables, a technical term in Statistics literature, or Inputs t to the system.  I like to call them Control Variables.  The scientist/team believe that a good start would be to run experiments, make cheesecake, by varying the recipe and process between the Low and High  values. If they do that, they expect the product, Cheesecake, is likely to produce results (responses) between the Low and High values.

Manufacturing requirements are specified by using the Min and Max values for both the Controls and Responses.  

This is a good way to involve Manufacturing early on in the project and get their buy-in. More importantly, we want to make sure our project definition is reasonably sound and there are no surprises.

We specify the Voice of the Customer, formally through last two columns, "Acceptable Value" and "Goal." Quite often these are provided by Sales and Marketing people with the feedback from Customers. 

Notice, a good template makes our job order of magnitude easier. 

In a few cases, "Min" and "Max" would be identical to "Low" and the "High."

That's all. We have completed the two steps. We have a very simple yet very powerful project definition for the Cheesecake project.

We have made a good start. A problem well defined, is a problem half solved!

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