Many people in the development sector waste money, time and resources by making this mistake.

They dive into working on their projects thinking they know what exactly to do to resolve a particular community related or environmental problem.

When we are doing something meaningful, (eg. helping our community) it is very easy to get emotionally attached to what we do and how we do it. This can often lead to big disappointments.

Have you experienced this?

Often, by the time the real core issue reveals itself, a lot of folks find that they were doing the wrong job the whole time… This is a pretty disappointing feeling, especially when you have invested quite some time, money and resources into your project.

I find that it is imperative to stay objective and develop the ability to take two steps back when it comes to managing our projects.

The good news is, there is a great way to do this. It starts with doing problem analysis the right way.

In PMD Pro (Project Management for Development Professionals) there is a great tool called Problem Tree.

The problem tree provides a simplified but robust version of reality. It identifies the core problem, the effects of the core problem and the underlying issues that contribute to the current state. Here’s how it works:

  1. When developing a Problem Tree it is important to BEGIN WITH THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE STARTER PROBLEM! In this example, the Starter Problem is “quality of local water supplies deteriorating” (Please take a look at the picture).
  2. Once this is clearly identified you can begin elaborating the Problem Tree, preferably via a participatory group process (communicate with your stakeholders).

Problem trees can get extremely complex. The below sketch is a simplified version to illustrate my point.

Problem tree – Zoltan Feher

3. Problems that are directly causing the starter problem are below ground level and problems that are effects of the starter problem are above. Often, one problem is the direct consequence of another.

It is a fantastic tool if you want to make sure you are doing the right job. Use this to make sure you are not wasting time, money and resources on something that won’t ever solve the core issue.

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