Analyze the Problem to Innovate in Pharmacy

SEPTEMBER 28, 2015
In order to be innovative in pharmacy, a systematic process must be followed.

The first step is to identify and define the problem. Because this has already been described and addressed, this column is focused on the second step: analyze the problem.

After brainstorming and determining multiple issues within your workplace or profession, you must select a specific one on which to focus your attention. Selecting a single problem to address is important, because trying to solve multiple problems at once is not recommended.

However, it is also important to do more than just select a problem. You need to refine the problem, specify what is in and out of its scope, gain other stakeholders’ perspectives, and describe what the victory will look like.

1. Form the problem statement.
Once you have a problem to work on, you’ll probably want to begin solving it. However, don’t start doing this until you clearly define the problem, which is best done by writing it down.

While this step does take time and can be difficult, it forces you to be specific in your language and allows you to better understand your focus. It also assists you in communicating your problem statement to others.

2. Set up boundaries.
Without having boundaries in place, it is difficult to know what is within the problem’s scope and what is not.

When countered with obstacles to implementation or opportunities for exploration, having a defined problem statement will tell you whether or not something is important to address.

Depending on the nature of your problem statement, it could be extremely broad in nature. Having these boundaries will identify and clarify your target activities.

While there might be resulting initiatives that could address various problems, having a focused problem statement will determine whether or not you should continue to address those issues.

3. Gain different perspectives.
After you have written down your problem statement and its corresponding boundaries, share it with others in the profession, as well as those who are not in pharmacy but might have insightful perspectives. Some might not share your excitement or believe that the problem is not really one to address, but most feedback is usually constructive.

Using different perspectives to further refine the problem statement and subsequent boundaries will ensure that your ultimate solution is relevant, specific, and hopefully achievable. Strategically choosing the right people for this review may also develop stakeholders who can be used in the future to either test your solution or champion it when it’s ready for dissemination.

4. Describe the victory.
Although no solution has been developed or tested yet, it can be helpful to describe what the victory will look like.

There is a reason why you are addressing this problem. Putting this down on paper will provide focus on why you are doing this to begin with (problem to be solved) and when your victory can be declared (problem is solved).

Describing victory will also let you know when your goal is not attainable and show you the appropriate point to stop the endeavor.

Even though new opportunities might emerge along the way, these should be codified as unique and different projects, rather than blended into one large goal. This will allow you to track individual successes over time.

I would appreciate any insights and experiences you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think by e-mail at or on Twitter @stepheneckel. 

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