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“What is your problem statement?” A Change Manager’s secret tool


In the world of program / project management, we are often faced with these situations:

  • Everything seems to have come to a standstill, everyone complains that they are frustrated, they are not getting the support from other team members.

  • Team members don’t communicate, or fail to communicate to each other.

  • There are too many silos, team members from different streams working in their own ways.

As a Change Manager myself I have often been successful in breaking the standstill and making sure the ball gets rolling again. Other Change Managers I know have been through similar situations where they have been successful in similar situations.

In what follows in this excerpt, let us explore this together.

Root cause analysis

One major reason for the problem scenarios in the Preface section is that people (team members) do not define a problem statement, i.e. they don’t explain what outcome they are working towards, how their work might impact the work of other team members and vice versa.

What is a problem statement?

Using a common sense approach, we can define a problem statement as the description of a desired outcome against a condition requiring a change to the status quo. It can comprise of one or two sentences touching upon different components of the condition and the proposed solution.

Creating problem statement

There is a process to define a problem statement. You will obtain a very effective outcome if you follow these steps:

  • Identify the components of a problem statement, e.g. organisation, system, process, people.

  • Determine how the components related to each other.

  • Determine if all the components are relevant to your problem statement.

  • Frame a draft statement.

  • Check this draft statement with another team member, i.e., whether it makes sense to them from their point of view.

Encourage team members from other streams on the project / program to create their own problem statements and see if their problem statement makes sense to you from your point of view.

Some examples

Some examples of problem statements for different roles can be as follows:

  • Program sponsor: Because of a regulatory change, I need to implement some changes to the way my organisation currently report to the regulator on issue X. It will require us to increase the frequency of the report submissions from monthly to fortnightly and in a new format.

  • Program Manager: I have 5 projects in my program stream and I need to make sure that all of them go live by the mandatory regulatory date of 30 June, and to do this I need to make sure I have all the required resources and funding.

  • Project Manager: I need to make sure that my project goes live on 30 June, and to do so I need to get the schedule and timeline ready by 1 February, start the sprints from 7 February, get the UAT environment ready by 30 April, and the release to be done on the night of 29 June.

  • Change Manager: I need to ensure that all the stakeholders impacted are made aware through communication and engagement so I can complete a detailed Change Impact Assessment and a Training Needs Assessment. To start with, I need a copy of the Business Requirements Document from the Business Analyst so I can understand what the changes are and then add a people lens to the problem so I can reach out to stakeholders to initiate a conversation.

  • Business Analyst: I need to map the current processes that reporting teams follow and, to complete this, I will need the names of the systems the relevant teams use, who completes what parts of the process, and a list of processes they currently perform. Once I complete my analysis, I will create a Business Requirements Document so everyone understands what changes we are making and which areas of the business are likely to be impacted.

  • Operations Manager: I need to understand what changes your program is introducing, how that will require my team members perform differently to what they do now, how many hours of training they will require, and who I go to when my team members have enquiries.

Change Manager’s role

Change Managers have the skill and capability to look at language from different points of views. They can leverage these skills to create problem statements not just for themselves, but also for other team members on the program.

A very effective way is asking other team members in difficult situations, ‘So that I can help you can I ask what your problem statement is? For example, as Change Manager, my problem statement at this stage of them problem is <insert your problem statement>?

If they have a problem statement, paraphrase it and make sure you have understood it. I’m sure the end result will be beneficial to the program / project.


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