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“Opportunities don't happen. You create them.”

– Chris Grosser

Have a problem? How do you know? And who gets to define it?

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A full garbage can is a problem, it's passed on once the bin is emptied. Then it becomes someone else's problem: namely, your trash hauler, truck driver, and landfill operator. Those logistics and expenses are THEIR project to manage and you don't have to think about it anymore, but without you, they wouldn't have work or income.

So is it a problem?

How do you define it, discuss it, analyze the solutions and identify all the viewpoints and stakeholders? That's what makes all the difference.

Who's asking the questions?

What's going on that can affect our strategy and our performance? Is it affecting the organization or a project Now, and what is likely to affect it in the Future? By understanding the "Big Picture" environment, you can take advantage of opportunities and minimize challenges – thanks to context and objective facts. And you need an analytical tool that accounts for external factors and helps you to think about their impacts.

Maybe it's time for a PEST...

A PEST analysis helps you determine how these factors will affect the performance and activities of your business in the long-term. Analytical tool that could help you pick up trends and developments in the external environment which can be used to inform longer term planning and strategy making It's an acronym for Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors. 

P- Political

  • Regulation and de-regulation trends 
  • Environmental regulations, consumer protection
  • Industry-specific regulations, 
  • Customer values, market values, stakeholder/ investor values
  • Management style, staff attitudes, organizational culture, staff engagement

E- Economic

  • Stage of a business cycle 
  • Current and projected company growth
  • Labor costs 
  • Impact of globalization and outsourcing
  • Likely impact of technological or other changes on the economy 

S- Social

  • Organizational culture, attitudes to work, management style, staff attitudes
  • Employees skill, experience, expertise 

T- Technological 

  • Maturity of technology, competing technological developments, research funding, technology legislation, new discoveries
  • Information technology, internet, global and local communications 
  • Technology access, licensing, patents, potential innovation, replacement technology/solutions, inventions, research, intellectual property issues, advances in manufacturing

PEST is a wider-focus, external-looking exercise and often teams with Michael Porter's Five Forces. Some organizations use PEST before diving deeper into specifics like SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

The PEST analysis usually produces a list of positive and negative factors that can affect a project. Those factors should be graded by the value of importance: increasing, unchanged, decreasing. This information could help you better analyze the problem, better identify project constraints and assumptions.
Armed with this type of data, you're ready to write down a "problem statement" - a comprehensive definition of the problem that's as objective as possible. The problem is in the eyes of the beholder.

Ask yourself:
  • Whose problem is it? Is it the customer's or does it begin somewhere else?
  • What assumptions are made as part of the definition? What if they change?
  • Define the key terms of a problem statement, even if you think everyone understands them.
  • Are we ready to discuss solutions? Who benefits if a problem is solved?
Can you define the problem situation in terms of needs? Solutions often close out other answers. “Needs” open a discussion about providing resources.
What results have you seen if you're using PEST? Does it start everyone with the same understanding of the situation?