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What is the (your) problem?

A familiar conversation starter with customers and prospective customers alike are variations on: “We need to replace our ERP system”; “We need to move to the cloud”; “We need a CRM system”; “We need an early alert system”; “We need a new reporting solution”; “We need [fill in the blank]”.

Repair Questions

I believe that most people will agree that these are solutions searching for a problem. This is not to say that there is not a real problem. In all likelihood, there is. The problem that people want solved, however, is usually not the technical system they have, the one they desire, or the one that a colleague in another competing organization has.

Usually, the problem is rooted in something else. As often as not, the problem is easily solved. But often the problem is hard to resolve. And more often than not the problem is hard to resolve because the problem is not defined in a way that lends itself to be solved. And, admittedly, the problem is sometimes people or leadership.

As an example let us focus on student retention in higher education. This is a “problem” which gets a fair amount of attention in the popular press, congress and state legislatures. As a result, student retention garners a great deal of college and university administrators’ attention and time, not to mention expense. But is retention a problem, a symptom, or a proxy for the real problem or set of interacting problems?

Student retention has to be measured – the federal government defines it and requires it to be measured. But is it really the problem that needs to be solved? How an institution answers the question will determine how it approaches “the problem”.

Future blogs will explore this question.

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