Discussion Thread for What's Your Problem? April 2020 Book Club
I hope many of you are joining us in reading  Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg’s What’s Your Problem?

Please share your thoughts on the book here. Post as you go or at any point that makes sense of you. 

Here are discussion starters to get you started. Pick one or more and answer away. Do different posts on different questions.

  1. What was your initial reaction to the book? Did it hook you immediately, or take some time to get into?
  2. In your own work, do you often see clients or others struggle with problem framing/solving the right problems?
  3. How does reframing fit into major problem solving methodologies, such as DMAIC Lean Problem Solving, Kepner Tregoe, and 8D?
  4. What one thing from this book can you apply now? How?
  5. Have you tried out the reframing canvas? If so, please share.
  6. What questions do you still have?
  7. What are good ways to avoid bias when framing a problem?
  8. How can we develop empathy as problem solvers?
  9. How can we use the techniques in this book to overcome silo thinking in problem solving?
  10. What other books did this remind you of? Would you recommend these books to others? What, if anything, set this book apart from other problem solving books you’ve read?
  11. What do you think about the author’s research? Was it easy to see where the author got his or her information?
  12. Share a favorite quote from the book. Why did this quote stand out?  
As a reminder, we've scheduled two online sessions with the author on the 21st (see the events) that we hope you can join us for! We'll be looking for good questions and discussions from here to bring to those events.

Looking forward to the discussion!
13 Replies
My initial reaction of this book starts with a love-hate, usually hate, relationship with the 5-Whys. They are lazy, they are bad ritual, they usually lead to easy, off-the-cuff answers. I think the author hits it on the head when on page 34 he discusses  formulaic questions and their limited utility. This is about the point in the book where I was really grabbed.

For that reason, as you read this book, seek to understand the essence of each strategy: What is the intent of the questions that are asked? Focus on how to think, not on what to say.”

This book is a master class in asking questions. While supplying a methodology for inquiry, it strives to avoid a ritualistic approach.

I’m curious if the author is familiar with Ozghur Eris’s work in Effective Inquiry. I was recently given his book from 2004 and I’ve been mulling over his ideas on generative questions. I think the approaches are pretty related, and reinforce the need to reach people how to question.

Question Class Types of Questions
Low-level questions (information-seeking questions and they are formulated when the questioners want clarification about a given topic/event or are trying to obtain missing information) Verification
Feature specification
Concept completion
Deep Reasoning questions (trying to encourage other people to think about the reasons
for using a particular approach)
Causal antecedent
Causal consequent
Generative Design questions (questioner is trying to encourage others to think of as many ideas as possible, and not be satisfied with the solutions at hand or the first obvious idea that comes to mind) Proposal/Negotiation
Method generation
Scenario creation

Throughout the book the author works to teach questioning as part of re-framing, and often stays in higher order inquiry of deep reasoning and generative. This is an important lesson as we often find individuals engaged in problem solving and root cause analysis staying squarely in the low level questioning.

I haven’t read the three books listed for questioning in the further reading section, but I definitely will be.

Questioning is one of the topics from the book that deeply resonates with me, and I’ll definitely be posting more on it.

On page 42 the author discusses problem types, laying forth three types of problems:

  1. An ill-defined mess or pain point
  2. A goal we don’t know how to reach
  3. A solution someone fell in love with

When I read this list I immediately thought of Four Types of Problems: from reactive troubleshooting to creative innovation by Art Smalley (2018, Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. ), one of my favorite quality books of 2018.

One of the things I liked about “What’s Your Problem” is that it sets out a set of principles and tools, re-framing, that nicely applies to the entirety of the problem-solving and innovative space. I’m seeing more and more books doing this, and thank goodness.

While Thomas’ 3 types of problems aren’t a direct match with Art’s four, there’s enough commonalities that I am going to write a separate post on that in the next few days.

What I do want to discuss more is the third category, “a solution someone fell in love with.” We all see this in our organizations, just how many deviations get ineffective CAPA as a result of that problem?  What’s Your Problem has a nice section on dealing with solutions baked into the problem, naming it and asking about emotional connections. Also, I felt the Royal Palms example might have been calling me out.

One of the things I liked about the approach in What's Your Problem? is that it is fairly neutral as part of re-framing, allowing you to avoid call-outs, which can, quite frankly, often be of leaders in the organization. I always like this sort of approach.

I have a ton of additional things I could write about this book and how it fits into a larger set of questions for us as quality practitioners. But I am really dying to hear other people’s thoughts on this book! So tell me, what are your thoughts?

I hope people are enjoying the book. Please post your thoughts as you read.

A question from chapter 2:

you first have to confront two flawed assumptions about problem diagnosis:
• It’s a prolonged, time-intensive deep dive into the problem.
• You must complete this deep dive and understand the problem perfectly before taking any action.

Do you have the problem identified in this chapter in your own organization? What does it most often look like?

What problem did you select in "An Invitation: getting ready to reframe"? on page 35?
The book by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg What’s Your Problem, for me is a very interesting read. I wish I would have written a book about something I feel I am pushed to do with every project I propose to Leadership. For me it seems that re-framing as defined also influences the culture of the organization. It is not only the capability of the project leader to influence the thought of "inventing (or re-inventing) the wheel" since no one ever seems to have the time to capture a successful solution. The successful solution that sticks almost always take constructive time and intuitive development. I am really enjoying this book, because it is taking something I do every day, that I really spend no time thinking about (just kinda do it) and puts it in real-life perspective and makes me questions areas where I can apply this method in a more constructive way. This can pose a better draw from the audience... leadership, stakeholders, etc.
Do you have the problem identified in this chapter in your own organization? What does it most often look like?
-The problem seems to be based on the concepts of maintaining the community of culture or group thought. Revisiting the question; "is the frame still correct" is a great question. Ensuring that what you think you know is not what always holds truth with the common concerns, with the current risks analysis, or problem solving strategies that have been in place for decades. Bringing the standard problems (no matter what industry) back to the table during a leadership meeting, and asking "is this the real problem" may be a god way to keep the conversation alive and moving in many directions. 

Also in chapter two was the key to know when and when not to use reframing; "...its a way of thinking, than a process." This means a leader of change one will have to successfully not only change the way they themselves think, but also how leaders think.  I am going to try "question bursts". 

What problem did you select in "An Invitation: getting ready to reframe"? on page 35?
- I was thinking and pondering as I am listening to the book on audible. I am a hectic life and was like, Oh, I should use the one on networking. But that could really be solved, because I know myself quite easily. I, of course, want a challenge and am looking at the reason why I want a senior executive position, but have not allocated time to rewrite my executive core qualifications. I like the idea of breaking the frame. Maybe it has nothing to do with ECQs and something to do with me. Eh, so I will use that. 
I have a problem at looking at overthinking the big picture and considering too many variables or not getting everyone involved in a problem. This will leave me burned out before the pen even hits the paper in taking on a project. I reframed a personal problem and problem from work. These problems are still there and will be for quite sometime but now I feel more confident in being able to define the problem with other team members. The problems don't look so overwhelming. 

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” -Albert Einstein. 

^ not the author of the book but was mentioned and I love that quote because I am quick to react to things. A shot first and ask questions later in trying to implement a new idea. I often need to remind myself to clearly define the problem and to open communication with ALL of those involved. Data is your friend and to be mindful of what the end goal is and what are the barriers/constraints that are preventing this. Over all short and good book to help with the COVID-19 Social Distancing cabin fever blues. 
Kay Palmer
3 Posts
Jeremiah, thank you for getting this started.  I am looking forward to the discussion with the author.

The book grabbed me in the first couple of pages.  I was excited and began to think of how I could incorporate the Reframing into my cause analysis process.  But then as I read on it seemed that the reframing was less of a ‘process’ and more of a way of thinking.  Instead of a process per se that the author offered a framework version to shape the thought process. 

I was amused by the reframing of the elevator problem at the beginning.  I thought it was a novel approach to the complaints of the elevator being too slow.  Though it was interesting to see how the example was followed through such that there was discussion as to whether the elevator was actually slow.

Jeremiah, it was great to see your comment about a love-hate relationship with the 5-Why’s.  I am not a fan of ‘five why’s’, only in that I have seen the analysis tool taken out of context but can appreciate the authors comment that the ‘why’ would be formulaic.  My experience has shown that the quest to use the ‘why’ question has led people to a path of their preference as opposed to new thinking, or reframed thinking or necessarily factual based answers.

A pause for concern is the reference to doing the reframing loop repeatedly throughout the problem-solving journey if used during a cause analysis.  The concern being that if the ‘problem’ is reframed repeatedly would the analysis betaken in different directions, thus adding confusion rather than clarity to the analysis.  Though it is mentioned that the action mode can be used to validate the problem statement.

Jeremiah, I found your comment – “This book is a master class in asking questions. While supplying a methodology for inquiry, it strives to avoid a ritualistic approach.” Interesting and would like to hear more about your thinking.  I am a proponent of using a systematic approach to problem solving.  IN reading through so far it seems to me that the author skirts a hard step by step process to a repeat the loop “throughout the problem-solving journey”.  Maybe the key here is that it is a journey rather than the step by step process I am looking for.

Alexandra’s comment about the cultural aspects is great.  If I am understanding her correctly, the idea that a problem can be reframed in a short period of time, as she does during the course of her day, rather than a lengthy drawn out process. 

Stephen, great comment on clearly defining the problem and to be open to communication with ALL of those involved.  The book mentions writing the problem down on paper for people to see is helpful in getting people on the same page.



Thank you so much for the feedback and your thoughts. One of the reasons I wanted to share this book with the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum is to have this conversation about formal problem solving and what we need to do to update our methodologies. I sometimes think that some of our tools are linked to the past and haven't followed the research as well as they can.

Adding reframing as part of the methodology just makes so much sense. I'm glad others are agreeing.

I'm really curious on your reaction to doing the reframing loop throughout the root cause analysis? For me, it seemed a little common sense. You get data, it changes you you look at the problem. The symptom stays the same, but what I am wanting to do changes. I'd like to hear more about your thoughts so we can explore this more as I think it may be something pretty fundamental.

Journey versus steps. Thank you for phrasing it like this. I want to think more about what you said and get back to it.
I want to get some more conversation on questioning and problem solving. From my post I chose the following to start with
Reframe canvas with just problem solvingChapter 4 "Look Outside the Frame" has 4 tactics:
  1. Look beyond your expertise
  2. Look to prior events
  3. Look for hidden influences
  4. Look for nonobvious aspects of the situation

I'd love to hear how others would apply these tactics to my question!
In Chapter 2, some points that made me reflect on both organizational (in general), team and or personal behavior/dynamics:

1.) Pg. 29 " A team might start with a round of reframing on Monday, then switch into action mode for a week..."  At the moment, I am trying to bridge lessons from the book with the DMAIC methodology.  The quoted statement helped me wed the two as I can definitely see a team reframing either before or after implementing a tool depending on the specific phase of the project.  For example, the team may be in the Analyze phase and use reframing during the discussion on the relationship between variables and both before and after completing correlation coefficient statistical testing.  I am excited about the prospects of utilizing lessons from the book as a gauge of "are we still on the right track" type of thinking.

2.) Pg. 33  “Dive into the stakeholders only once you are fairly sure you are looking the right people.” My question is here, how do you know who the right people are? So, many time it seems crystal clear whom the stakeholders are; however, this statement makes you pause. 

3.) Pg. 34 The author mentions using challenges vs improve opportunities vs problems.  The use of language is so important.  You really must know your audience and regardless if you’re a straight shooter or have Tony Robbins level motivation, tact and respectful communication is key.

Kay Palmer
3 Posts

I lost the thread!  I am first getting up to speed on My ASQ.

Great comment!

That is exactly way I was so excited about discussing this book.  I am very sensitive to getting stuck in the ‘old’ methodologies.  I have a great (or disappointing) story of a colleague who is training to CAPA materials that he first designed 25 years ago!  Though in full disclosure I have my version (that I believe reflect what I have been tracking as new research) of the traditional cause analysis tool that I tend to go to.

In continuing to read the book I came to realize that there are an infinite number of problems which Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg puts into one of three categories.  The 1) Ill-defined mess or pain point, 2) a goal we don’t know how to reach, 3) a solution someone fell in love with.  If I put my cause analysis hat on, the majority of the  ‘problems’ I encounter, would fall in to the first category of an ill-defined mess or pain point.  Much of my work has been in the energy sector, nuclear power generation mostly.  In the regulated industry, not sure the problems, as we defined them, were necessarily ill-defined.  In that there would be an equipment failure or a deviation from a requirement.  But to your point, the event so to speak could be seen as a symptom of the organizational aspects rather than the problem as defined here.  My head is processing through the definitions as I know them.

To your question to my comment, about adjusting the problem statement periodically during the course of the cause analysis maybe in the style of the analysis process.  In the case of a cause analysis, I like to think of the problem statement defining a single event, such as the pump broke.  My practice is to have the management agreed to problem statement written where it can be referred to during the course of the analysis.  During the analysis the problem statement is referred to make sure the analysis is on track to solve the ‘problem’.  That the analysis had not gone down a rabbit hole, or fishing for a red herring.  That it stays on track to address the ‘problem’ that was determined at the start.  My concern and somewhat based on experience is that more then gets added to the cause analysis and scope creep comes into play.

However, I can see where thinking outside the frame would be helpful in getting the problem statement right at the start when it is an event type ‘problem’ that is based on a single event.

Where I see the value in reframing is when I am working on other ‘problems’.  The example of the market’s perception of the company’s stock price.  As the book continues the reframe is laid out to be an excellent tool for individuals or a management team.  I can see where it would be helpful in working through transition (change) management or other management issues that are keeping them from peak performance.

I am looking forward to the discussion with the author.

Kay Palmer
3 Posts
Greetings All,
A first go at responding to Jeremiah's challenge on reframing his problem of "The 5 Why limits problem solving", are:
I /People don’t know the right questions to ask that would not limit the problem solving.
Another could be:

Feeling c
onstrained by having only 5 why’s.


Kay Palmer:
Greetings All,
A first go at responding to Jeremiah's challenge on reframing his problem of "The 5 Why limits problem solving", are:
I /People don’t know the right questions to ask that would not limit the problem solving.
Another could be:

Feeling c
onstrained by having only 5 why’s.

We teach tool over method so that folks when rushed or busy fall back on the easiest tool and then that easy tool replaces a thoughtful process.

During last Tuesday's author events this really came home to me. We need to get better at teaching the how and why, and just not the how of a tool when it comes to problem-solving. This resonates as I was just reading an article on re-skilling from McKinsey and decision-making was discussed as something front-line workers were indicating they needed more of.

jeremiah genest
greeting to all

Taking others perspective also is most valued. 
in the reframing section given below. 
That is the key point where all the statement combine to form a better results.