Just After Solving One Problem, He Was Faced With Another

The rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a good solution. Many organizations, however, are not proficient at articulating their problems & identifying which ones are crucial khổng lồ their strategies.

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They may even be trying to solve the wrong problems—missing opportunities and wasting resources in the process. The key is lớn ask the right questions.

The author describes a process that his firm, InnoCentive, has used lớn help clients define & articulate business, technical, social, and policy challenges & then present them lớn an online community of more than 250,000 solvers. The four-step process consists of asking a series of questions & using the answers khổng lồ create a problem statement that will elicit novel ideas from an array of experts.

Establish the need for a solution. What is the basic need? Who will benefit from a solution?Justify the need. Why should your organization attempt to lớn solve sầu this problem? Is it aligned with your strategy? If a solution is found, who will implement it?Contextualize the problem. What have sầu you và others already tried? Are there internal & external constraints to implementing a solution?Write the problem statement. What requirements must a solution meet? What language should you use khổng lồ describe the problem? How will you evaluate solutions & measure success?

EnterpriseWorks/VITA, a nonprofit organization, used this process khổng lồ find a low-cost, lightweight, và convenient sản phẩm that expands access to lớn clean drinking water in the developing world.


Most firms aren’t, & that undermines their innovation efforts.

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“If I were given one hour lớn save the planet, I would spkết thúc 59 minutes defining the problem và one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein said.

Those were wise words, but from what I have sầu observed, most organizations don’t heed them when tackling innovation projects. Indeed, when developing new products, processes, or even businesses, most companies aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting lớn solve and articulating why those issues are important. Without that rigor, organizations miss opportunities, waste resources, và end up pursuing innovation initiatives that aren’t aligned with their strategies. How many times have sầu you seen a project go down one path only lớn realize in hindsight that it should have gone down another? How many times have you seen an innovation program deliver a seemingly breakthrough result only khổng lồ find that it can’t be implemented or it addresses the wrong problem? Many organizations need lớn become better at asking the right questions so that they tackle the right problems.

I offer here a process for defining problems that any organization can employ on its own. My firm, InnoCentive, has used it lớn help more than 100 corporations, government agencies, & foundations improve sầu the quality & efficiency of their innovation efforts và, as a result, their overall performance. Through this process, which we hotline challenge-driven innovation, clients define and articulate their business, technical, social, và policy issues và present them as challenges khổng lồ a community of more than 250,000 solvers—scientists, engineers, & other experts who hail from 200 countries—on InnoCentive.com, our innovation marketplace. Successful solvers have sầu earned awards of $5,000 to $1 million.

Since our launch, more than 10 years ago, we have sầu managed more than 2,000 problems và solved more than half of them—a much higher proportion than most organizations achieve on their own. Indeed, our success rates have improved dramatically over the years (34% in 2006, 39% in 2009, and 57% in 2011), which is a function of the increasing chất lượng of the questions we pose và of our solver community. Interestingly, even unsolved problems have sầu been tremendously valuable to lớn many clients, allowing them to cancel ill-fated programs much earlier than they otherwise would have & then redeploy their resources.

In our early years, we focused on highly specific technical problems, but we have since expanded, taking on everything from basic R&D và hàng hóa development to the health và safety of astronauts khổng lồ banking services in developing countries. We now know that the rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a suitable solution. But we’ve sầu seen that most organizations are not proficient at articulating their problems clearly and concisely. Many have considerable difficulty even identifying which problems are crucial to lớn their missions & strategies.

In fact, many clients have realized while working with us that they may not be tackling the right issues. Consider a company that engages InnoCentive sầu lớn find a lubricant for its manufacturing machinery. This exchange ensues:

InnoCentive sầu staffer: “Why bởi you need the lubricant?”

Client’s engineer: “Because we’re now expecting our machinery khổng lồ vày things it was not designed to vị, and it needs a particular lubricant khổng lồ operate.”

InnoCentive sầu staffer: “Why don’t you replace the machinery?”

Client’s engineer: “Because no one makes equipment that exactly fits our needs.”

This raises a deeper question: Does the company need the lubricant, or does it need a new way to lớn make its product? It could be that rethinking the manufacturing process would give sầu the firm a new basis for competitive sầu advantage. (Asking questions until you get lớn the root cause of a problem draws from the famous Five Whys problem-solving technique developed at Toyota và employed in Six Sigma.)

The Problem-Definition Process
Establish the Need for a Solution What is the

basic need?

What is the

desired outcome?

Who stands to lớn

benefit và why?

Justify the need Is the effort

aligned with our strategy?

What are the

desired benefits for the company, and how will we measure them?

How will we

ensure that a solution is implemented?

Contextualize the problem What approaches have

we tried?

What have others

tried?

What are the

internal & external constraints on implementing a solution?

Write the problem statement Is the problem

actually many problems?

What requirements must

a solution meet?

Which problem solvers

should we engage?

What information và

language should the problem statement include?

What vì chưng solvers

need to submit?

What incentives bởi vì

solvers need?

How will solutions

be evaluated và success measured?


The example is like many we’ve seen: Someone in the bowels of the organization is assigned khổng lồ fix a very specific, near-term problem. But because the firm doesn’t employ a rigorous process for understanding the dimensions of the problem, leaders miss an opportunity to address underlying strategic issues. The situation is exacerbated by what Stefan Thomke và Donald Reinertsen have sầu identified as the fallacy of “The sooner the project is started, the sooner it will be finished.” (See “Six Myths of Product Development,” realchampionshipwrestling.com May 2012.) Organizational teams tốc độ toward a solution, fearing that if they spend too much time defining the problem, their superiors will punish them for taking so long to lớn get khổng lồ the starting line.

Ironically, that approach is more likely to waste time and money và reduce the odds of success than one that strives at the outset to achieve an in-depth understanding of the problem và its importance to the firm. With this in mind, we developed a four-step process for defining & articulating problems, which we have sầu honed with our clients. It consists of asking a series of questions và using the answers to create a thorough problem statement. This process is important for two reasons. First, it rallies the organization around a shared understanding of the problem, why the firm should tackle it, & the màn chơi of resources it should receive. Firms that don’t engage in this process often allocate too few resources lớn solving major problems or too many lớn solving low-priority or wrongly defined ones. It’s useful to assign a value to the solution: An organization will be more willing to lớn devote considerable time and resources khổng lồ an effort that is shown to represent a $100 million market opportunity than to lớn an initiative whose value is much less or is unclear. Second, the process helps an organization cast the widest possible net for potential solutions, giving internal và external experts in disparate fields the information they need lớn craông chồng the problem.

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To illustrate how the process works, we’ll describe an initiative khổng lồ expvà access khổng lồ clean drinking water undertaken by the nonprofit EnterpriseWorks/VITA, a division of Relief International. EWV’s mission is khổng lồ foster economic growth & raise the standard of living in developing countries by expanding access khổng lồ technologies & helping entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses.

The organization chose Jon Naugle, its technical director, as the initiative’s “problem champion.” Individuals in this role should have a deep understanding of the field or tên miền and be capable program administrators. Because problem champions may also be charged with implementing solutions, a proven leader with the authority, responsibility, & resources to see the project through can be invaluable in this role, particularly for a larger and more strategic undertaking. Naugle, an engineer with more than 25 years of agricultural & rural-development experience in East và West Africa and the Caribbean, fit the bill. He was supported by specialists who understood local market conditions, available materials, và other critical issues related lớn the delivery of drinking water.

Step 1: Establish the Need for a Solution

The purpose of this step is to articulate the problem in the simplest terms possible: “We are looking for X in order khổng lồ achieve Z as measured by W.” Such a statement, akin to an elevator pitch, is a điện thoại tư vấn to lớn arms that clarifies the importance of the issue and helps secure resources khổng lồ address it. This initial framing answers three questions:

What is the basic need?

This is the essential problem, stated clearly và concisely. It is important at this stage to focus on the need that’s at the heart of the problem instead of jumping to a solution. Defining the scope is also important. Clearly, looking for lubricant for a piece of machinery is different from seeking a radically new manufacturing process.

The basic need EWV identified was access khổng lồ clean drinking water for the estimated 1.1 billion people in the world who lack it. This is a pressing issue even in areas that have sầu plenty of rainfall, because the water is not effectively captured, stored, and distributed.

What is the desired outcome?

Answering this question requires understanding the perspectives of customers and other beneficiaries. (The Five Whys approach can be very helpful.) Again, avoid the temptation lớn favor a particular solution or approach. This question should be addressed qualitatively & quantitatively whenever possible. A high-cấp độ but specific goal, such as “improving fuel efficiency lớn 100 mpg by 20đôi mươi,” can be helpful at this stage.

In answering this question, Naugle và his team realized that the outcome had to lớn be more than access lớn water; the access had lớn be convenient. Women & children in countries such as Ugandomain authority often must walk long distances khổng lồ fetch water from valleys và then carry it uphill to lớn their villages. The desired outcome EWV defined was khổng lồ provide water for daily family needs without requiring enormous expenditures of time and energy.

Who stands to benefit & why?

Answering this question compels an organization to lớn identify all potential customers & beneficiaries. It is at this stage that you underst& whether, say, you are solving a lubricant problem for the engineer or for the head of manufacturing—whose definitions of success may vary considerably.


If the problem you want to lớn solve sầu is industrywide, it’s crucial to lớn underst& why the market has failed lớn address it.


By pondering this question, EWV came lớn see that the benefits would accrue to individuals & families as well as khổng lồ regions và countries. Women would spover less time walking lớn retrieve sầu water, giving them more time for working in the field or in outside employment that would bring their families needed income. Children would be able to attover school. And over the longer term, regions và countries would benefit from the improved education and productivity of the population.

Step 2: Justify the Need

The purpose of answering the questions in this step is to explain why your organization should attempt to solve the problem.

Is the effort aligned with our strategy?

In other words, will satisfying the need serve the organization’s strategic goals? It is not unusual for an organization khổng lồ be working on problems that are no longer in sync with its strategy or mission. In that case, the effort (and perhaps the whole initiative) should be reconsidered.

In the case of EWV, simply improving access to lớn clean drinking water wouldn’t be enough; lớn fit the organization’s mission, the solution should generate economic development and opportunities for local businesses. It needed khổng lồ involve sầu something that people would buy.

In addition, you should consider whether the problem fits with your firm’s priorities. Since EWV’s other projects included providing access khổng lồ affordable products such as cookstoves và treadle pumps, the drinking water project was appropriate.

What are the desired benefits for the company, và how will we measure them?

In for-profit companies, the desired benefit could be to reach a revenue target, attain a certain market nội dung, or achieve specific cycle-time improvements. EWV hoped khổng lồ further its goal of being a recognized leader in helping the world’s poor by transferring technology through the private sector. That benefit would be measured by market impact: How many families are paying for the solution? How is it affecting their lives? Are sales and installation creating jobs? Given the potential benefits, EWV deemed the priority to lớn be high.

How will we ensure that a solution is implemented?

Assume that a solution is found. Someone in the organization must be responsible for carrying it out—whether that means installing a new manufacturing technology, launching a new business, or commercializing a product innovation. That person could be the problem champion, but he or she could also be the manager of an existing division, a cross-functional team, or a new department.

At EWV, Jon Naugle was also put in charge of carrying out the solution. In addition lớn his technical background, Naugle had a traông xã record of successfully implementing similar projects. For instance, he had served as EWV’s country director in Niger, where he oversaw a component of a World Bank pilot project to lớn promote small-scale private irrigation. His part of the project involved getting the private sector to manufacture treadle pumps & manually drill wells.

It is important at this stage lớn initiate a high-màn chơi conversation in the organization about the resources a solution might require. This can seem premature—after all, you’re still defining the problem, và the field of possible solutions could be very large—but it’s actually not too early to begin exploring what resources your organization is willing and able to devote khổng lồ evaluating solutions và then implementing the best one. Even at the outmix, you may have sầu an inkling that implementing a solution will be much more expensive than others in the organization realize. In that case, it’s important lớn communicate a rough estimate of the money và people that will be required và lớn make sure that the organization is willing to continue down this path. The result of such a discussion might be that some constraints on resourcing must be built into the problem statement. Early on in its drinking water project, EWV mix a cap on how much it would devote to initial retìm kiếm và the testing of possible solutions.

Now that you have laid out the need for a solution and its importance khổng lồ the organization, you must define the problem in detail. This involves applying a rigorous method khổng lồ ensure that you have captured all the information that someone—including people in fields far removed from your industry—might need to solve sầu the problem.

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Step 3: Contextualize the Problem

Examining past efforts to find a solution can save sầu time and resources & generate highly innovative sầu thinking. If the problem is industrywide, it’s crucial to lớn underst& why the market has failed khổng lồ address it.

How Well-Defined Problems Lead lớn Breakthrough Solutions
The Subarctic Oil Problem

More than 20 years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, cleanup teams operating in subarctic waters still struggled because oil became so viscous at low temperatures that it was difficult to lớn pump from barges khổng lồ onshore collection stations.

How the Problem Was Defined

In its search for a solution, the Oil Spill Recovery Institute framed the problem as one of “materials viscosity” rather than “oil cleanup” & used language that was not specific to lớn the petroleum industry. The goal was khổng lồ attract novel suggestions from many fields.

The Winner

A chemist in the cement industry was awarded $đôi mươi,000 for proposing a modification of commercially available construction equipment that would vibrate the frozen oil, keeping it fluid.

The ALS Research Problem

By the late 2000s, researchers trying khổng lồ develop a cure or treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) had not made much progress. One major obstacle was the inability to detect và trachồng the progression of the disease accurately & quickly. Because researchers could not know precisely what stage ALS sufferers had reached, they greatly increased the pool of participants in clinical trials and lengthened their studies, which drove sầu up costs so much that few treatments were developed và evaluated.

How the Problem Was Defined

Instead of framing its initiative as a search for a cure, Prize4Life, a nonprofit organization, focused on making ALS retìm kiếm feasible và effective. The solution it sought was a biomarker that would enable faster and more-accurate detection và measurement of the progression of the disease.

The Winner

In 2011, a researcher from Beth Israel Hospital in Boston was paid $1 million for a noninvasive sầu, painless, và low-cost approach, which detects ALS & assesses its progression by measuring changes in an electrical current traveling through muscle. This biomarker lowers the cost of ALS research by providing accurate and timely data that allow researchers khổng lồ conduct shorter studies with fewer patients.

The Solar Flare Problem

In 2009 NASA decided it needed a better way to forecast solar flares in order lớn protect astronauts & satellites in space và power grids on Earth. The mã sản phẩm it had been using for the past 30 years predicted whether radiation from a solar flare would reach Earth with only a four-hour lead time and no more than 1/2 accuracy.

How the Problem Was Defined

NASA did not ask potential solvers simply lớn find a better way to predict solar flares; instead, it pitched the problem as a data challenge, calling on experts with analytic backgrounds to use one of the agency’s greakiểm tra assets—30 years of space weather data—lớn develop a forecasting mã sản phẩm. This data-driven approach not only invited solvers from various fields but also enabled NASA lớn provide instant feedbaông chồng, using its archived data, on the accuracy of proposed models.

The Winner

A semiretired radio-frequency engineer living in rural New Hampshire used data analysis and original predictive sầu algorithms lớn develop a forecasting model that provided an eight-hour lead time and 85% accuracy. He was awarded $30,000 for this solution.


What approaches have sầu we tried?

The alặng here is to lớn find solutions that might already exist in your organization và identify those that it has disproved. By answering this question, you can avoid reinventing the wheel or going down a dead end.

In previous efforts lớn expvà access to clean water, EWV had offered products & services ranging from manually drilled wells for irrigation lớn filters for household water treatment. As with all its projects, EWV identified products that low-income consumers could afford và, if possible, that local entrepreneurs could manufacture or service. As Naugle và his team revisited those efforts, they realized that both solutions worked only if a water source, such as surface water or a shallow aquifer, was cthất bại to lớn the household. As a result, they decided to focus on rainwater—which falls everywhere in the world khổng lồ a greater or lesser extent—as a source that could reach many more people. More specifically, the team turned its attention lớn the concept of rainwater harvesting. “Rainwater is delivered directly to the over user,” Naugle says. “It’s as cthua trận as you can get to a piped water system without having a piped water supply.”

What have sầu others tried?

EWV’s investigation of previous attempts at rainwater harvesting involved reviewing retìm kiếm on the topic, conducting five field studies, và surveying đôi mươi countries lớn ask what giải pháp công nghệ was being used, what was & was not working, what prevented or encouraged the use of various solutions, how much the solutions cost, và what role government played.

“One of the key things we learned from the surveys,” Naugle says, “was that once you have a hard roof—which many people do—lớn use as a collection surface, the most expensive thing is storage.”

Here was the problem that needed khổng lồ be solved. EWV found that existing solutions for storing rainwater, such as concrete tanks, were too expensive for low-income families in developing countries, so households were sharing storage tanks. But because no one took ownership of the communal facilities, they often fell inkhổng lồ disrepair. Consequently, Naugle and his team homed in on the concept of a low-cost household rainwater-storage device.

Their research inlớn prior solutions surfaced what seemed initially like a promising approach: storing rainwater in a 525-gallon jar that was almost as tall as an adult and three times as wide. In xứ sở của những nụ cười thân thiện, they learned, 5 million of those jars had been deployed over five years. After further investigation, however, they found that the jars were made of cement, which was available in xứ sở của những nụ cười thân thiện at a low price. More important, the country’s good roads made it possible to manufacture the jars in one location & transport them in trucks around the country. That solution wouldn’t work in areas that had neither cement nor high-unique roads. Indeed, through interviews with villagers in Uganda, EWV found that even empty polyethylene barrels large enough to lớn hold only 50 gallons of water were difficult to lớn carry along a path. It became clear that a viable storage solution had lớn be light enough lớn be carried some distance in areas without roads.

What are the internal & external constraints on implementing a solution?

Now that you have sầu a better idea of what you want khổng lồ accomplish, it’s time lớn revisit the issue of resources and organizational commitment: Do you have sầu the necessary support for soliciting và then evaluating possible solutions? Are you sure that you can obtain the money & the people to implement the most promising one?

External constraints are just as important khổng lồ evaluate: Are there issues concerning patents or intellectual-property rights? Are there laws & regulations lớn be considered? Answering these questions may require consultation with various stakeholders & experts.


Do you have the necessary support for soliciting and evaluating possible solutions? Do you have sầu the money và the people to implement the most promising one?


EWV’s exploration of possible external constraints included examining government policies regarding rainwater storage. Naugle và his team found that the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, & Vietnam giới supported the idea, but the strongest proponent was Uganda’s minister of water và the environment, Maria Mutagambố. Consequently, EWV decided khổng lồ chạy thử the storage solution in Uganda.

Step 4: Write the Problem Statement

Now it’s time to lớn write a full mô tả tìm kiếm of the problem you’re seeking khổng lồ solve sầu và the requirements the solution must meet. The problem statement, which captures all that the organization has learned through answering the questions in the previous steps, helps establish a consensus on what a viable solution would be và what resources would be required to lớn achieve sầu it.

A full, clear description also helps people both inside & outside the organization quickly grasp the issue. This is especially important because solutions khổng lồ complex problems in an industry or discipline often come from experts in other fields (see “Getting Unusual Suspects to Solve R&D Puzzles,” realchampionshipwrestling.com May 2007). For example, the method for moving viscous oil from spills in Arctic and subarctic waters from collection barges khổng lồ disposal tanks came from a chemist in the cement industry, who responded to the Oil Spill Recovery Institute’s mô tả tìm kiếm of the problem in terms that were precise but not specific to lớn the petroleum industry. Thus the institute was able to lớn solve in a matter of months a challenge that had stumped petroleum engineers for years. (To read the institute’s full problem statement, visit realchampionshipwrestling.com/problem-statement1.)

Here are some questions that can help you develop a thorough problem statement:

Is the problem actually many problems?

The ayên ổn here is lớn drill down lớn root causes. Complex, seemingly insoluble issues are much more approachable when broken inkhổng lồ discrete elements.

For EWV, this meant making it clear that the solution needed khổng lồ be a storage product that individual households could afford, that was light enough to be easily transported on poor-quality roads or paths, và that could be easily maintained.

What requirements must a solution meet?

EWV conducted extensive sầu on-the-ground surveys with potential customers in Uganda to lớn identify the must-have sầu versus the nice-to-have elements of a solution. (See the sidebar “Elements of a Successful Solution.”) It didn’t matter lớn EWV whether the solution was a new device or an adaptation of an existing one. Likewise, the solution didn’t need lớn be one that could be mass-produced. That is, it could be something that local small-scale entrepreneurs could manufacture.

Elements of a Successful Solution

EnterpriseWorks/VITA surveyed potential customers in Ugandomain authority to lớn develop a danh mục of must-have sầu & nice-to-have elements for a hàng hóa that would provide access lớn clean drinking water. The winning solution, shown here in a Ugandan village, met all the criteria.

Must-Have

1. A price, including installation, of no more than $20

2. Storage capacity of at least 125 gallons

3. A weight light enough for one adult khổng lồ carry a half mile on rough paths

4. Material that would prevent deterioration of water quality

5. An estimate of the cost of operating & maintaining the device over three years and a clear explanation of how khổng lồ repair and replace components

6. A means, such as a filter, of removing gross organic matter from the incoming rain stream

7. A means, such as a tap or a pump, of extracting water without contaminating the contents of the unit

8. A method for completely draining the water và cleaning the system

Nice-to-Have sầu

1. An aesthetically pleasing design

2. Additional functionality so that the unit could be used for multiple purposes

3. Features such as a modular thiết kế or salvageable parts that would add value to lớn the device after its lifetime


Experts in rainwater harvesting told Naugle & his team that their target price of $20 was unachievable, which meant that subsidies would be required. But a subsidized product was against EWV’s strategy và philosophy.

Which problem solvers should we engage?

The dead end EWV hit in seeking a $20 solution from those experts led the organization lớn conclude that it needed lớn enmenu as many experts outside the field as possible. That is when EWV decided to engage InnoCentive and its network of 250,000 solvers.

What information và language should the problem statement include?

To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not unnecessarily technical. It shouldn’t contain industry or discipline jargon or presuppose knowledge of a particular field. It may (và probably should) include a summary of previous solution attempts và detailed requirements.

With those criteria in mind, Naugle và his team crafted a problem statement. (The following is the abstract; for the full problem statement, visit realchampionshipwrestling.com/problem-statement2.) “EnterpriseWorks is seeking kiến thiết ideas for a low-cost rainwater storage system that can be installed in households in developing countries. The solution is expected to lớn facilitate access lớn clean water at a household màn chơi, addressing a problem that affects millions of people worldwide who are living in impoverished communities or rural areas where access to lớn clean water is limited. Domestic rainwater harvesting is a proven công nghệ that can be a valuable option for accessing & storing water year round. However, the high cost of available rainwater storage systems makes them well beyond the reach of low-income families to lớn install in their homes.A solution to lớn this problem would not only provide convenient và affordable access lớn scarce water resources but would also allow families, particularly the women & children who are usually tasked with water collection, to lớn spover less time walking distances lớn collect water and more time on activities that can bring in income & improve sầu the quality of life.”


To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not unnecessarily technical.


What bởi solvers need to lớn submit?

What information about the proposed solution does your organization need in order to lớn invest in it? For example, would a well-founded hypothetical approach be sufficient, or is a full-blown prototype needed? EWV decided that a solver had lớn submit a written explanation of the solution and detailed drawings.

What incentives do solvers need?

The point of asking this question is khổng lồ ensure that the right people are motivated to lớn address the problem. For internal solvers, incentives can be written into lớn job descriptions or offered as promotions and bonuses. For external solvers, the incentive might be a cash award. EWV offered khổng lồ pay $15,000 khổng lồ the solver who provided the best solution through the InnoCentive sầu network.

How will solutions be evaluated & success measured?

Addressing this question forces a company lớn be explicit about how it will evaluate the solutions it receives. Clarity và transparency are crucial lớn arriving at viable solutions and lớn ensuring that the evaluation process is fair và rigorous. In some cases a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach is reasonable—for example, when a company is looking for a new branding strategy. Most of the time, however, it is a sign that earlier steps in the process have not been approached with sufficient rigor.

EWV stipulated that it would evaluate solutions on their ability khổng lồ meet the criteria of low cost, high storage capađô thị, low weight, & easy maintenance. It added that it would prefer designs that were modular (so that the unit would be easier khổng lồ transport) & adaptable or salvageable or had multiple functions (so that owners could reuse the materials after the product’s lifetime or sell them lớn others for various applications). The overarching goal was to lớn keep costs low và lớn help poor families justify the purchase.

The Winner

Ultimately, the solution to lớn EWV’s rainwater-storage problem came from someone outside the field: a German inventor whose company specialized in the design of tourist submarines. The solution he proposed required no elaborate machinery; in fact, it had no pumps or moving parts. It was an established industrial technology that had not been applied to lớn water storage: a plastic bag within a plastic bag with a tube at the top. The outer bag (made of less-expensive sầu, woven polypropylene) provided the structure’s strength, while the inner bag (made of more-expensive sầu, linear low-density polyethylene) was impermeable và could hold 125 gallons of water. The two-bag approach allowed the inner bag to be thinner, reducing the price of the product, while the outer bag was strong enough to contain a ton and a half of water.

The structure folded into a packet the size of a briefcase & weighed about eight pounds. In short, the solution was affordable, commercially viable, could be easily transported lớn remote areas, và could be sold & installed by local entrepreneurs. (Retailers make from $4 to $8 per unit, depending on the volume they purchase. Installers of the gutters, downspout, & base earn about $6.)

EWV developed an initial version and tested it in Uganda, where the organization asked kết thúc users such questions as What vị you think of its weight? Does it meet your needs? Even mundane issues like color came into lớn play: The woven outer bags were White, which women pointed out would immediately look dirty. EWV modified the kiến thiết on the basis of this input: For example, it changed the color of the device khổng lồ brown, expanded its kích cỡ to lớn 350 gallons (while keeping the target price of no more than $trăng tròn per 125 gallons of water storage), altered its shape to make it more stable, và replaced the original siphon with an outlet tap.

After 14 months of field testing, EWV rolled out the commercial hàng hóa in Uganda in March 2011. By the kết thúc of May 2012, 50 khổng lồ 60 shops, village sales agents, và cooperatives were selling the product; more than 80 entrepreneurs had been trained to install it; and 1,418 units had been deployed in eight districts in southwestern Uganda.

EWV deems this a success at this stage in the rollout. It hopes lớn make the units available in 10 countries—và have sầu tens or hundreds of thousands of units installed—within five years. Ultimately, it believes, millions of units will be in use for a variety of applications, including household drinking water, irrigation, & construction. Interestingly, the main obstacle to getting people khổng lồ buy the device has been skepticism that something that comes in such a small package (the kích thước of a typical five-gallon jerrican) can hold the equivalent of 70 jerricans. Believing that the remedy is lớn show villagers the installed product, EWV is currently testing various promotion & kinh doanh programs.As the EWV story illustrates, critically analyzing and clearly articulating a problem can yield highly innovative solutions. Organizations that apply these simple concepts và develop the skills và discipline khổng lồ ask better questions and define their problems with more rigor can create strategic advantage, unloông chồng truly groundbreaking innovation, and drive better business performance. Asking better questions delivers better results.