Organizational Development Consultant

Nineteen Techniques to Gather Information: #9 Is/Is Not

June 25, 2014

“We have a demanding problem to solve and we’re finding it difficult to get our arms around it. Is there a simple technique that will focus our efforts in the right direction?”

#9  Is/Is Not

What is Is/Is Not?

Is/Is Not is a technique for specifically identifying a problem. “A problem well stated is a problem half solved” goes the old adage, revealing that you can’t solve a problem until you clearly and accurately identify it.  Is/Is Not defines exactly what a problem is and what a problem is not.

Sometimes the process of isolating a problem is quite simple. “The problem is not that the order is a week late. The problem is that you didn’t communicate with us.” Sometimes a problem is so ambiguous or complex that it demands a lengthy process of questioning and analysis. For example, “What is causing our company to lose money?” may be too complicated question to correctly diagnose with only Is/Is Not. But this technique will appropriately steer to further in-depth analysis.

The Is/Is Not technique surrounds a problem like a net surrounds a school of fish. As the net gradually tightens, some fish escape while others are trapped and can’t find their way out. Once the net is finally pulled in, the true nature and size of the catch are revealed. The fishermen then analyze their catch, throwing out what is not useful to keep, and keeping only that which will benefit them.

When to Use Is/Is Not

  • When your group is not sure about the cause of a problem
  • When a problem needs to be isolated
  • When the true nature of a conflict between groups or individuals is not clear

How to Use Is/Is Not

1. Explain Is/Is Not and how your group will use it to define the nature of the problem you are addressing. For example: ” Is/Is Not is a technique for helping us isolate the problem we face. By asking a series of questions about what the problem is and what the problem is not, we will be able to clearly articulate our problem. Then we can work on how to solve the problem.”

2. Ask your meeting group a series of questions pertinent to their own situation.

a. You might ask, for example, “Where does the problem happen?” “When does the problem happen?” “How does it happen?” “What processes and people are involved?”

b. And then you might ask, “Where else could the problem occur, but is not?” “When could the problem occur, but is not?” “Where are the same people, processes, and materials being used but without this problem?”

OPTION: Make two columns on a chart or overhead, one for what you know the problem Is, one for what you know the problem Is Not. Record the group’s answers appropriately.

NOTE: Depending on the nature of the problem, groups may need to go out to find information and discuss their findings at a later meeting.

3. Review your Is/Is Not data.

4. Agree on the focus of the problem.

5. Plan to test the cause of the problem as necessary.

6. Plan how to address and solve the problem.

In Summary:

Is/Is Not is a technique for identifying what a problem is and what a problem is not. This allows a group to get beyond assumptions and focus on the core issues that need to be addressed.

1. Set up the exercise and explain the technique.

2. Ask your group a series of Is/Is Not questions.

3. Review your Is/Is Not data.

4. Agree on the focus of the problem.

5. Plan to test the cause of the problem as necessary.

6. Plan how to address and solve the problem.

Source:

Charles H. Kepner, Benjamin B. Tragoe. The Rational Manager, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1965.

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