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Kat Sexton

Digital Services Architect

Problem 42: finding an answer without understanding the question

In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a super computer named Deep Thought tells us the answer to the great question of life is ’42’. But without knowing exactly what the question is, this answer is meaningless.

Adams was a keen programmer. He knew how to unpick a problem without making assumptions. Could it be that Adams is making a comment about how quick we can be to jump to a solution  – when desperate for answers?

Throughout our lives, we’ve been prompted to focus on solutions, not problems – that is ‘the most positive way to be’ we are told! An innate desire to problem-solve, paired with a limited time frame often encourage us to fix things quickly – despite not having all the information. But this can be a huge mistake.

Most people love coming up with fresh ideas and we all feel good if they are implemented.  But if we are coming up with ideas for a product or service for others to use, how did we come up with our ideas and what evidence did we base our solution on?  Coming up with ideas is exciting and we totally agree that idea generation is an essential part of transformation – when we use real research to understand the problem first.


Use real research to understand the problem first.

The danger of wobbly decision-making

A wobbly decision is one that is made without knowing all the information, all the options and all the context. You may not even know you have made a wobbly decision, as the knowledge you do have feels firm and concrete in your head.

Here are some things to think about before making a wobbly decision…

Do only think within the boundaries of what you know?

When problem-solving at work, most of us have a confirmation bias towards our own views. This means that if you as a person prefer verbal communication, you are likely to assume your customers will and select options to support this.  Only thinking within the realms of what we already know means that we might miss out on crucial information or needs, or we might be limiting the creativity of a new solution.

Do you feel safe with what you know?

It’s easy to choose software and methods that you are familiar with. But if you’re doing this out of comfort, think again. Usually there’s something much better available to support your needs.

Do you make assumptions?

We all make assumptions. Usually these are educated assumptions made with the best intentions, but they are assumptions nonetheless. Have you asked your customers and employees about their experiences, or do you just think you know what they might think and need?

Do you know what you need?

Although this sounds like complete common sense, you’d be surprised at how many organisations come to us with one idea of what they need, when really they need something else.  They might have seen something at a conference that looks good, or they might know of someone else who is using something and it seems to work well, so they want it too.  Picking solutions with this kind of limited knowledge and haste can produce some results, but hardly ever really good ones – and they usually end up costing more too.  It might seem like it takes more time or more work to do some research and design work first, but it does help get to the right solution quicker. Really having a good fresh look at how the service is operating now is a great starting point and is a great spring board for generating exciting and innovative ideas. What is happening at the moment? What is working and what isn’t?  What happens around your service? How do staff and customers feel about your service? It may be that there are things about your service that you weren’t aware of – and that’s perfectly normal. If you’re honest enough to confront this, it’s a brilliant place to be as you can begin to investigate the evidence without jumping to conclusions.

How deep is your understanding of technology?

Not everyone understands systems, what new and emerging technology is out there, or how their service could utilise cool digital technology to enhance it. 

If you need support on any of these questions, we can help.


How deep is your understanding of technology?

What is the ultimate question?

The great thing about really focusing on your problems is that they bring to light how your service is working. Looking through data and customer feedback will show you how everyone is connecting (or not connecting) with your service. Talk to your staff, your customers, the public – what do they find frustrating and where are the opportunities for growth?

The deeper you dig, the closer you get to the ultimate question – the one that will tell you why users are engaging with your service in the way that they are.

What we do…

At LGSS Digital, we start with the service you provide and not the systems or technology – we simply try to understand what the service is there for and what it actually does. This way, we can gain a greater understanding of what is working and what opportunities there are. We can work with you from the beginning – mapping the user’s journey from before they even come into contact with your service, to the end point of the service being fulfilled.

We speak to real users to really understand how they interact with your service and identify any pain they have experienced. We look at data about the service – where people are falling out of the service and why people call for support, etc.  We read a lot of legislation to ensure that we design a service that meets all legal requirements.

Working in this way takes things back to basics and almost helps you see your service through a child’s eyes.  When you are knowledgeable about a service and work within it every day, it can be hard to raise your head up and look again with fresh eyes.  Working with our expert team can help you to redesign your service end-to-end, directed by user needs and your own corporate goals.

Possible solutions are proposed by our team of digital experts, all with different skills but unanimous in their empathy for the service users, working in collaboration with you. We work to solve the problems that have been identified, but continue to test our work with your audience, as we respond to feedback and analysis. That means we don’t just take our own word for it, but throw open the doors for improvement with each iteration.

If you’d like to hear more about the way we work, drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.