Solution Design: Template, Steps, & Definition

In business, solutions are a way of life. Companies aim to solve customers’ problems, and to do so, they have to overcome many of their own problems. However, solutions are rarely easy. They have to be fast, affordable, and qualitative — but they’re rarely all three. In addition, they need to be well understood throughout the organization. If not, it’s tough to get employees all working around a common goal.

In other words, solutions need to be designed in a way that is accessible to everyone and optimizes speed, cost, and quality. The process of finding business solutions outputs results in visual representations that we call solution designs.

Solution Design Template

If you’re here for a solution design template, you can download a flow chart template here for PowerPoint. It can be adapted to any solution — just make the appropriate changes to fit your situation. That said, if you want to really understand how to use them and impress your team, keep reading below to learn about the steps to make a good solution design and to see a few examples.

Definition of Solution Design

So what is solution design exactly? Written succinctly, solution design is the high-level visual representation of business solutions that outline how the company will minimize the time & cost of solution implementation and maximize the solution’s quality.

It’s important to note that the actual solution is not the design — only the visual representation of the solution is. It’s just like an architect’s blueprints: the building itself is the output, but the blueprint in the design for that output.

Solution designs come in a number of formats, including diagrams, bar charts, interactive visualizations, time lines, waterfall charts, and combo charts, but the most common format is flow charts.

Let’s look at steps to creating a solution design, then use a downloadable template to explore some examples.

Solution Design Requires Data Analysis

Modern solutions require modern skills. Big companies like Amazon made the transition to a data-driven culture in the early 2010s, and all other businesses and industries are following. Data analysis is a key part of any solution because data determines (1) which solution is best after testing, and (2) how successful the solution is through KPIs (for example, ROI or customer acquisition). When designing solutions, you must rely on data!

Don’t forget, you can get the free Intro to Data Analysis eBook to cover your data fundamentals in under 60 pages.

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Steps to Creating a Solution Design

Before you can start building a solution design, you need to discover what your solution is. The steps to developing a solution design, thus, are divided into two categories: 1. discovering & testing the solution, and 2. creating the solution design. Let’s look at them in detail here:

  • Discover & Test the Solution
    1. Identify the target time frame. Timing is a core criterion for your solution, so you should define it well and get a buy in from all of the shareholders involved.
    2. Identify the budget for your solution. It’s all about the money — define your budget so you have a clear idea of if your solution is in the right price range.
    3. Identify the quality standards. What do your stakeholders expect? Do they want a quick-fix solution or one that will stand the test of time?
    4. List out all of the stakeholders and their requirements. Other than time, money, and quality, ask yourself if there are other criteria important to shareholders? Does your boss want the solution to look a certain way? Does he/she prefer accessibility over efficiency?
    5. List your assumptions. You can do this by verbally explaining the problem to a teammate and having him/her give you feedback on assumptions you’re making. Likewise, let other teammates explain the problem so you can understand what assumptions they make.
    6. Think of all possible solutions. This may sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s less common than you might think. In my experience, when people find a solution, they want to run with it instead of investigating if there’s an even better one waiting.
    7. Get creative with solutions by brainstorming even the craziest of options. This is my favorite step. You can let your imagination run wild. Forget about money and time, and just try to imagine a bunch of different ways in which you can find a solution to the problem. It often results in a number of useless ideas, but at least one good one.
    8. Settle on the solution. Once you’ve brainstormed and imagined a host of solutions, you need to settle on one that responds best to your requirements. This is your going-in position.
    9. Test the solution. If possible, try testing the solution in a mock environment. If you’re using data, use dummy data. If the solution doesn’t work, go back to step 6. If it does, get an initial buy-in from stakeholders. Once they agree, you can use this as the basis for your solution design.
  • Creating the Solution Design
    • Test a few formats for your solution design. We’ll look at formats in the next section. It’s important to try several different formats with only the major information to see which one best fits your solution. As a rule of thumb
    • Decide on the format you want to use.
    • Include the problem. If there are more than one, make sure to show the several problems needing resolution.
    • Include the constraints. Often called stakeholder requirements, constraints are non-mission critical borders by which the solution must abide. For example, a car mechanic may need to use an off-color paint simply because the car owner wants it that way.
    • Create your solution design in a user-friendly software, such as PowerPoint. There are loads of software available for creating solution designs, but the challenge is making the design shareable among many parties. If you remember from the introduction, solutions need to be well understood throughout an organization. If not, it’s difficult to gather people behind a common goal. That’s why I suggest using Microsoft PowerPoint. If you’re working in a company that doesn’t have powerpoint or an equivalent, you can use the software available to you and take a screenshot. It’s less flexible, but get’s the job done.

Formats of Solution Designs (with an Example)

To illustrate what solution designs look like in practice, let’s look at an example across three formats: waterfall charts, combo charts, and flow charts.

Imagine you run the sales department in a wholesale watch company called Batch Watch. The company just suffered a bad year, and your job is to increase sales by 15% in the this year. You can’t increase the current employee count, but you can lay off people if they are value destructive, and hire new ones in their place.

You decide the best way to increase sales is to eliminate your top 2 sales people, who have less experience in internet marketing, and hire 3 new internet marketers. You’re betting that your clients have moved to online purchases instead of in-person contact sales. You can also minimize the cost of your batch sales by eliminating the travel fees.

Bar chart

Solution Design Bar Chart

A bar chart is helpful to understand the situation, but it’s does little to explain the solution. We have to read the text to understand what the next steps will be.

Combo chart

Solution Design Bar Chart with Percent Change

A Bar Chart with Percent Change is also helpful for understanding the situation, but it does little to illustrate the solution. Again, we have to read the descriptions to understand how we plan to find a solution.

Flow chart

Flow Chart

This flow chart clearly identifies the problem, the reason for the problem, and the solution. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve kept it very plain here, but you could add a timeline and more labels if it adds value in your situation.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solution Designs

Solution Designs come with advantages and disadvantages. Some professionals glorify them as ultimate cross-departmental communication devices, while others critique that they oversimplify situations, resulting in poor collaboration. Here’s a list of advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Simplifies complex topics
  • Clearly identifies steps to solutions
  • Easy to share across and organization

Disadvantages

  • Oversimplifies otherwise complicated challenges
  • Leads to false consensus that must be modified in later stages