Identifying the Steps Needed to Solve a Problem
Means-End Analysis is a simple tool that helps you to identify the practical steps needed to solve a problem or to reach a desired state.
In this article we'll explore Means-End Analysis, and we'll look at how you can apply it.
About the Tool
Means-End Analysis is essentially an early form of Gap Analysis. It was created by researchers Allen Newell and Herbert Simon in the late 1950s, and it was then published their 1972 book, "Human Problem Solving."
Newell and Simon were creating an effective problem-solving program for early computers, and Means-End Analysis was a direct result of this research. They named the tool "Means-End" because it helps you define the means needed to reach a desired end.
Means-End Analysis might seem quite simplistic at first glance. However, when you begin using it, you'll find that it's a practical and useful method for solving simple problems.
How to Use the Tool
Step 1: Define Your Initial State (Problem)
Start by defining the problem you're trying to solve. It might help to write the problem down on a piece of paper, or even draw out a diagram.
It's important to you make sure you're trying to solve the right problem, and not just a symptom of a deeper issue. If you're struggling to do this, you can use tools such as Root Cause Analysis, Cause and Effect Analysis, CATWOE, and the 5 Whys to help define your problem, and to make sure that you're addressing the real issue.
Step 2: Visualize Your Goal State
Next, picture the ideal state you'd like to be in. This is the outcome you'd like to see, once the problem is solved.
Again, it might be helpful to write this out on paper.
Step 3: List the Differences Between States
Now, look at the differences between your initial state and your goal state. And then explore the obstacles that are stopping you from reaching this state. Make a list of these differences and obstacles.
If the obstacles seem overwhelmingly large, consider using Drill Down to break them down into easy-to-understand chunks.
Step 4: Create Sub-Goals
Once you have a list of the differences and obstacles that you need to overcome, you need to create sub-goals that will help you address each of these.
Think of these sub-goals as steps that will ultimately lead you to your desired goal state – look at each obstacle you've listed, and then create the plans you need to overcome them.
Step 5: Take Action
The last step is to take action on your analysis.
If you're dealing with a simple problem, you'll be able to identify all of the actions that you need to take to solve your problem quickly. (Action Plans are useful here.)
However, if you're solving a difficult problem, or planning a new project, you'll likely have to do further analysis and planning. The Simplex Process is useful for solving complex problems, while our project management section will help you plan more complex projects.
Means-End Analysis is a simple problem-solving tool that you can use to solve well-defined problems, and to kick-start the planning stage of a new project.
To use the tool, first look at your initial state (the state you're in right now). Then, picture your desired goal state – this is the state you want to be in once you've solved the problem or completed the project.
Next, make a list of the obstacles that are standing in the way of your goal state, and create sub-goals that will guide you in overcoming all those obstacles.
Finally, take action on your analysis.