Every business owner or manager knows what it is like to try to solve a problem. Solving problems is a daily activity for those in any line of business, as it is the solving of problems that usually leads to the best outcomes. If you were to simply ignore the problems in your business, for example, you would quickly be passed by the competition and your company would be a thing of the past.
You already have some degree of problem solving experience and knowledge thanks to your background in business, but using tools like CATWOE Analysis can help you improve how you deal with the major problems that you may face in the months and years to come.
A Holistic Approach
Problems in business are often complex, and they can be difficult to unravel if you only look at one or two components at a time. Usually, in order to get to the heart of the matter and truly solve a problem once and for all, you need to look deeper at what is lying below the surface in order to reach a solution that is going to stand up for the long run.
CATWOE Analysis is a method of problem solving that asks you to look at an issue from six unique perspectives. This in-depth approach requires that you think about any given problem in a variety of ways, and you will find that you have a better understanding and appreciation for the issue after you do so. The six elements that are to be considered in a CATWOE analysis are as follows –
- Transformation Process
- World View
- Environmental Constraints
To help you better understand how each of these six elements can come into play with regard to problem solving, we are going to work through them one at a time below.
In business, everything comes down to customers. Whoever your customers are, they are the most important thing about your business. Without caring for your customers and successfully meeting their needs, you will have nothing.
The revenue that you generate comes from your customers, and that revenue is only going to flow if they are happy and satisfied with your products and/or services. Therefore, it only makes sense to consider their needs first and foremost when solving a problem that has arisen. Is this a problem that has a direct, powerful impact on your customers? If so, you will need to address it immediately to avoid serious consequences. Or, is this a ‘behind the scenes’ problem that won’t be felt by your customers at all? If that is the case, you may have more time to solve the problem without an adverse affect on day to day operations.
The ‘actors’ that are involved in any given business problem are those who are involved in the situation and will likely be involved in its resolution.
Frequently this group includes a number of employees, but it could also include outside agencies such as vendors or even government officials (in the case of regulations). Before you are going to be able to chart a path toward resolving this problem, you will need to figure out the role that every actor in the scenario is going to need to play.
Most businesses are made up of a number of processes that are executed on a periodic basis. For instance, a manufacturing company uses a set of processes to create their final product, which is then sold to customers. No matter what kind of company you run or own, there are a number of processes that need to work perfectly for you to succeed. How does this problem that you are facing impact those processes? What adjustments are going to need to be made, if any, to your processes after a solution to the problem has been implemented? These are just a couple of the questions you need to ask at this stage of a CATWOE analysis.
Step back from the problem and take a look at the bigger picture when you reach this stage of the analysis. Is this an issue that is going to have wide-reaching, long-lasting effects, or is it relatively contained and short lived?
You don’t want to ‘make a mountain out of a mole hill’, but you don’t want to underestimate a serious problem at the same time. Looking at the problem from a ‘world view’ will help you to get a handle on just how important it is in the scope of your business.
Rather than the owner of the company, this point refers essentially to the owner of the problem. Who is it that should be taking ownership of the situation at hand? Are they part of the problem to begin with, and can they be part of the solution?
Assigning ownership of the situation at hand is important because that person or group of people will likely need to be involved in some way in rectifying the matter.
Some problems may have obvious solutions – but those solutions may be impossible to implement due to environmental constraints such as your budget or the time you have available.
This last step in the process is crucial because it brings you back to reality in terms of how you can solve the problem at hand. Once you have filtered out all of your potential solutions by thinking about the realistic constraints that you are working within, a final remedy may make itself clear.
Using the CATWOE analysis methodology may not always be necessary from small, routine problems, but using this line of thinking when facing a significant issue in your business is a great idea. This six-pronged approach to problem solving will ensure that you think about the matter from all sides, and you should be able to come to a smart and viable resolution when you have finished. There will be some investment of time required to go through a CATWOE analysis properly, but that will be time well spent in the end.
You can read more about CATWOE in our free eBook ‘Problem Solving for Managers’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.
- CATWOE is an acronym that stands for: customers, actors, transformation process, worldview, owners and environmental constraints.
- CATWOE was defined by Peter Checkland as a part of his Soft Systems Methodology.
- Soft systems methodology (SSM) is an approach to business process modelling that can be used both for general problem solving and in the management of change.
- The primary use of SSM is in the analysis of complex situations where there are divergent views about the definition of the problem.
- SSM is a seven stage process: Enter situation considered problematical, express the problem situation, formulate root definitions of relevant systems of purposeful activity, build conceptual models of the systems named in the root definitions, comparing models with real world situations, define possible changes which are both possible and feasible, and take action to improve the problem situation.
- It was observed that SSM was most successful when the Root Definition included the elements captured in the mnemonic CATWOE that contribute to the problem under investigation.