How to Identify the Right Problems to Solve

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
January 27, 2023
An image of two people collaborating at a desk with a laptop in an office

It might sound basic, but it can be easy to forget: It's important to really understand the problems you're facing before you try to solve them.

Without a solid understanding of the issues at hand, you risk wasting time and resources, delaying the solutions to the actual problems.

So, how do you make sure you and your team are solving the right problems?

In this post, we’ll outline just how to do that with a step-by-step process that anyone can follow, whether the problems you are facing are large or small.

Why we solve the wrong problems

People often solve the wrong problems due to inadequate understanding, or focusing too closely on a single aspect of a larger problem. Asking the right questions can help uncover the root cause, as well as the potential risks that should be considered to avoid misallocating resources.

How do you build understanding? There are two tried and true methods — research and brainstorming.


Research allows you to build on your internal knowledge with outside information that may add layers or nuance to what you already know. In some cases, you may discover that what seems like a large problem internally doesn’t affect the user experience significantly (and, of course, the opposite can also be true).


Brainstorming (especially with a diverse array of stakeholders) helps you consider every angle of a problem, rather than examining only from a familiar perspective. This fosters outside-the-box thinking and opens up more avenues to success.

Risks of misdiagnosing root causes

If you don't identify the real cause of a problem, it can have serious negative consequences. You might waste time and money trying to fix the wrong thing, and then have to start over — all the while, the original problem is still affecting your business.

Taking the time to identify the underlying issue is essential. It’s also important to consider different approaches and perspectives, and explore the possible impacts of each potential solution.

Think about how the desired outcome could be achieved in a variety of ways — there may be solutions that address the main pain points and require fewer resources.

Only after considering the whole context and taking the time to identify the root cause(s) is it possible to find the optimal solution.

How to identify (and solve) the right problems

To accurately identify the right problem to solve, it's essential to take the time to understand the root cause. Following these steps helps ensure that the right problem is identified and addressed, and that solutions can be implemented with confidence.

Define the problem

Develop a thorough understanding of the issue by researching and talking to those affected by the problem. Then, create a shared digital space for discussion that centers the problem you’re trying to solve.

A great place to start is to use a template as your visual guide, like the Problem Tree Analysis template below.

An image of the Mural Problem Tree Analysis template

Place the central problem in the middle, making space for brainstorming with your key stakeholders (on them, more below) to help identify root causes and effects.

Assemble your stakeholders

Bring together a diverse array of stakeholders representing multiple aspects of your team or organization, so that you’ll have a broader view of the problem. (Note: You may want to do a stakeholder mapping exercise to determine whom you should invite to your discussion.)

By leveraging an online platform for brainstorming, you help ensure that:

  • Every stakeholder has a voice in the discussion, and enable both synchronous and async brainstorming should you be working across time zones, or in a hybrid or remote work environment
  • Transparency is built into the process as you collaboratively create a shared document that can be referenced, analyzed, and later used to create action items and assignments

Ask everyone to brainstorm as many causes as they can individually

As your stakeholders analyze the main problem and think of as many potential causes (roots) as they can.

Whether you’re working together in real time or asynchronously, build in a component of individual brainstorming. This helps avoid groupthink and drives faster innovation by helping to create an environment of psychological safety.

  • If you’re brainstorming in real time, Mural’s Private Mode is a great way to get people thinking creatively on their own, by hiding the responses of their teammates until the facilitator brings everyone back together
  • If you’re using asynchronous brainstorming, you may want each individual to create their own document over a set period of time, and then add their feedback to the shared space later to kick off further discussion and analysis
Related: 7 Ground Rules for Brainstorming

Bring everyone back together and briefly discuss the identified causes

Once the initial brainstorming is complete, bring your stakeholders together to see and discuss what the team has identified as the root causes. This isn’t meant to be a voting session (yet) — but a brief look at the feedback so far in order to give better context to the remaining steps in the process.

Ask everyone to brainstorm as many effects as they can individually

Next, ask everyone to repeat the same process as before, only this time focusing on the effects (branches).

Note: To help keep the brainstorming as free as possible, it’s important to make sure that everyone is thinking of the effects based on the central problem, and not trying to directly connect the dots between the roots identified in the earlier step and the downstream effects.

Bring the group together again and reflect on the causes and effects

This step is meant to help further critical thinking and discussion, which may help refine certain ideas or even add more options to the problem tree prior to moving on to a voting session.

Have all your stakeholders vote on the results

Using a framework like the Visualize the Vote template, have each person identify what they feel are the most important causes and effects that have come out of your brainstorming sessions (typically, it’s best to limit everyone to their top 1-3 options).

To do this, give each stakeholder one or more voting tokens that they can place on their top priorities (for example, you might give each person 2 tokens, one red denoting top priority, and one blue denoting second priority — in this way, you can get a sense for what your team feels are the most urgent problems, while also garnering feedback for what action items should come next).

Discuss the results

Once the voting has concluded, have everyone discuss the outcomes. Were there any unexpected findings? How broadly is everyone aligned on priorities? Are there areas of overlap? What resources might be required to take the most popular approach to solving the problem?

Create and assign actionable next steps

Based on the voting session and discussion, begin to build actionable next steps addressing the main problem, while also thinking about which stakeholders should be involved in those steps. With your shared document, your team will be able to refer back to all the brainstorming and analysis to inform future decisions affecting the problem.

Why Mural for more collaborative (and innovative) problem solving

Mural is the only platform that combines the creative space of an online whiteboard with sophisticated facilitator tools and guided methods based on human-centered design principles.

Get started today with one of Mural’s hundreds of templates, and share with unlimited members, all with a Free Forever plan.


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About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.