Describing the challenge

We need to be as clear as we can about the challenge / problem to help us to take improvement action and importantly we need everyone else who is going to be involved in addressing it to be clear.

We know that the work we do in one area is often highly interconnected with other parts of the service or organisation – one issue may be the cause and / or effect of others.

However, we cannot address all the problems that we have in one go, so by clearly describing the challenge we can put some boundaries around what we are trying to address, helping us with control and making improvements at pace. 

A good description of the problem will include most of the following, set out succinctly and factually:

  • What is happening? What is the issue?
  • Any deviation from an agreed standard
  • How often does the issue occur?
  • When is it observed or experienced? How is it observed / experienced?
  • Where is it observed or experienced?
  • Who observes / experiences it?
  • What is the impact? Who is impacted? Can the impact be quantified – financially, treatment outcomes, delays, volumes etc.?

We are trying to describe what the current condition is and we may not yet have enough information to do that. This is absolutely normal and our first action would be to gather the information we need. Remember, one of the key elements of Quality Improvement thinking is to be curious and understand a situation as well as we can before we start making changes.

Get your project team involved describing the problem. If you have assembled a diverse team who have a rounded view of the work then you will get a better understanding quicker. If you don’t have enough information to adequately describe it, then you will need to use some of the tools and techniques outlined later in the guide to help you gather it.

 Using the template, write the description of the problem in the ‘Describe the problem / current condition’ box.