CWS 3.0: February 27, 2013

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Buy-In: The Power of a Good Problem Statement

I recently had a conversation with a procurement professional who is responsible for overseeing a couple hundred million in professional service spend. He knows there are significant opportunities to save money and manage risk better but he is fairly new to the world of professional services and was not sure where to start. He knew he ultimately needs to convince two internal stakeholders, the executive vice president of HR, and his boss, the chief procurement officer, that there’s a project worth taking on.

The first objective was to identify a project that would meet the expectations of his stakeholders. While his boss was focused on cost savings, the EVP of HR was focused on the cost to the company due to poor worker quality. While many HR professionals are focused on talent quality, it is somewhat rare to hear that a HR professional is focused on the cost of poor quality. We set out to create a problem statement.

A problem statement is essentially a boiled metric of a project and is critically important to communicating and directing your project mission. Your problem statement must be quantifiable and specific. It focuses your team on a process deficiency or defect and enables you to communicate your project’s purpose to key stakeholders.

Here’s the problem statement that we developed:

PROBLEM STATEMENT: 25 percent of assignments terminate prior to the agreed-upon end date, resulting in increased cost of $11 million and end-user dissatisfaction rates in excess of 50 percent.

The statement is specific; it defines figures that illustrate the problem and calculates the cost and end-user satisfaction issues.

In contrast, a poor problem statement would be: We need to decrease the high number of workers leaving before their assignment ends.

Creating a good project statement is one of the hardest things to do. Through your statement, everyone understands what the problem is and what the benefit will be once you and your team has fixed it.

I am glad to report that my colleague now has two, instead of just one, executive sponsors for his project. It’s always good to have the support for your project from senior-level executives across different functions within your company, especially when one of them is your boss.

Christopher Minnick is managing partner of Brightfield Strategies, which helps Fortune 500 companies with contingent workforce strategy initiatives. 

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