Problems vs. Projects: what are you working on at the moment?


25/05/2018 by Chris Green

What are you working on at the moment?

“We’re preaching our way through 2 Peter.”

“I’m trying to tackle the small groups.”

“Leaders! We need more leaders!”

Look at those three – or however you replied to the question.  What they share (apart from all being good things to do) is a certain haziness.  They leave you scrabbling for resources, surfing Amazon, hitting random blog sites for ideas.

The reason they share that haziness is because they are projects, rather than problems. 

I was recently talking through an idea with a friend, and he shrewdly asked, ‘What’s the problem this is trying to solve?’ And the mist cleared in my mind.  I’d thought of my idea as a Project – let’s do X, and it was starting to bloat, adding more and more features.  Steve invited me to identify the Problem, and once I began to think in that way, it became leaner, cleaner.  I’m not there yet, but is was a really clarifying moment.

Let me explain.

We’re currently rethinking and redesigning our Contact card.  It’s what we have at the back of church for new people to fill in, so they can give us their details and also express interest in various ministries, or reach out for some spiritual help. Our current model is based on one from Saddleback, but it needs a refresh.  We have run out anyway, but GDPR compliance means it does need to be rethought from the ground up.

So here are two approaches.

If we tackle this as a Project, we’re going to say, ‘How do we redesign the Contact card?’  So we shall pore over the questions and options, surf from some other models out there, and within a few days have our new version.  Which would be good.

But if we tackle this as a Problem it looks rather different.  What exactly is the problem we are trying to solve?  Is it, how do we encourage newcomers to church to find out about ministries relevant to them, and give us enough information that we can make contact with them? Or is it, how do we encourage people to give us their email address so we can send weekly information?  Or is it, how do we encourage people to give us enough information that we can encourage them to join a suitable small group? Or to the next newcomers event? Is it a good idea to say, ‘All of the above’? Then, what’s the best way to enable that right answer to happen?  We currently have a self-service welcome table – is that the right answer? Do we need to go digital, like the check-in at an airport (which we already do with the children’s work)? Or do we go human, like a hotel? Is a card the right answer?  Would people feel comfortable doing it on a screen? How do I feel when other organisations ask for my information?  Which information feels easy to give (name, email) and which more personal (mobile, date of birth)? Is this about their needs or ours?

What exactly is the problem we are trying to solve?

See the difference?  It’ll take longer, but once we’ve answered the Problem question, we’ll have a clear, sharp Project to design.

So, what are you working on at the moment – is it a Project, or a Problem?


Thanks for stopping by. Let me know your thoughts, additions and questions below.

3 thoughts on “Problems vs. Projects: what are you working on at the moment?

  1. […] Problems vs. Projects: what are you working on at the moment? by Chris Green […]

  2. […] Problems vs. Projects: what are you working on at the moment? by Chris Green […]

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