Defining The Expected Outcome
To A Problem
A frequently overlooked step in the problem solving process involves defining the expected outcome of a problem. Defining an expected outcome is important because you need to objectively state the idealized result that will be obtained once you implement your problem solving strategy. By defining your expected outcome before you implement your problem solving strategy you will have a benchmark that can be used to determine if you are on the right track to solve your problem, and to evaluate the final outcome to your problem.
Think of an expected outcome this way, you are the Captain of a cruise ship and you have been assigned the task (i.e., problem) to navigate the ship to Port “X” in seven days. You define the problem and you gather information pertaining to the problem (e.g., weather reports and data on sea currents). Based on the information that you have gathered you determine that it will be unlikely that the ship will reach Port “X” in seven days because of rough seas due to a tropical storm and the corresponding need to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew members. You ask your navigational engineer to recalculate the route of the ship, and after considering the path of the storm, sea currents, the ship’s consumption of fuel, etc. you determine that the ship’s expected arrival at Port “X” will be in eight days. The ship’s arrival in Port “X” in eight days will be the benchmark that will enable you to determine the effectiveness of your revised navigational plan and the decisions that you make in route to Port “X”.
In the above example it is important to note that the expected outcome when the problem was first presented to the Captain (i.e., reach Port “X” in seven days) was different from the expected outcome once the Captain went through the problem solving process (i.e., reach Port “X” in eight days). It is for this reason that expected outcomes must be operationally defined in Step Six of the problem solving process. Any outcome expectations that you had at the beginning of the problem solving process must be objectively reevaluated once you have (1) defined that a problem exists, (2) operationally defined the problem, (3) gathered information pertaining to the problem, (4) listed all of the possible strategies that may be used to solve the problem, and (5) selected a strategy to solve the problem. It is only after you have gone through the first five steps of the problem solving process that you can objectively formulate your expected outcome.
As you will discover in steps six and seven of the problem solving process, your expected outcome will have an important role in the implementation of your chosen strategy and in determining whether or not your observed outcome is aligned with your intended results. So, take a few moments, review the information that you have gathered and develop your expected outcome. It will be worth your time.
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