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Understanding the real problem – in business or elsewhere – is a prerequisite to coming up with the right solution, says Harvard Business Review.

It may be obvious that you can't solve a problem that's not well defined, but many people neglect this detail. Next time you think you're ready to go into problem-solving mode, consider the following:

1. Establish the basic need for a solution.

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Why does the problem need solving?

2. Justify the need.

Make sure it's worth your time. Is the effort aligned with your company's strategy? What do you, your team, or the company stand to gain from a solution?

3. Give it context.

What approaches have you already tried? What have others done? Are there constraints on the solution?

4. Write the problem statement.

Take your answers to the questions above and lay out the problem. Indicate the scope, the requirements of a solution, and who will be involved.

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Today's management tip was adapted from "Are You Solving the Right Problem?" by Dwayne Spradlin.

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