Can’t See the Forest for the Trees


Sometimes we are so involved in a situation, or we are under so much pressure that we can’t see the forest because of all of the trees, and this can cause us to end up focusing on things which seem important, but that are really just urgent rather than important.

One of the techniques that I learnt to help understand this and then focus on the right thing to do is called SCQA.

SCQA is an acronym for Situation, Complication, Question and Answer.

The reason for using this technique is to try and really understand the question that we should be focusing on, rather than the most obvious question or the initial question.

Often we think we know what the real question is, i.e. the most important question, but its not always the case, and if we have the wrong question, then we definitely won’t find the right solution.

So when you find yourself in a difficult position, just take a little time to step back and write down what the current Situation is, this might be the question that you think you have to answer.

Onc you have done that, then write down any Complications that you are encountering, which may be causing you difficulties in solving what you thought was the original problem.

Then ask yourself, so given all that, what’s the real Question, or Questions, that I now need to answer in order to make real progress.

Many times that I have done this and it has been a real eye opener. It has often presented me with a question that I wasn’t focused on at all, one that really needed to be answered first, or was a different approach.

This then allowed me to better prioritise resources, focus on what was important and then look to make the progress needed to be successful.

This is another way of looking at the situation, to try and get a different perspective, to see whether there is another problem that we could solve first which might remove a major road block for us.

For example I was involved in a project where we had a program which had a Database Query which took 5 minutes to run, this wouldn’t have a been a problem except that we called that Query 1000 times, which meant that this program would take 5000 minutes to run.

So we got all the Database experts in a room and we looked to find a way to reduce the duration of the Query. After a couple of hours the experts had done a great job, they had reduced the Query by 80%, but unfortunately this meant that it still took 1000 minutes which was way to long.

So I stepped back and went through SCQA process.


We have a batch program that needs to complete in 1 hr.


One of the Database Queries takes 1 minutes to run, which we call 1000 times, giving the program an overall duration of 1000 minutes which is way to long.

By writing this down, its now clear that we have two potential complications, one the job takes a minute to run, and two we have to call it 1000 times.

By looking at it this way we now get a different question.


Why do we need to call the query 1000 times.

If we can answer that, and find a way to solve that problem, then the fact that the Query took 5  minutes is not a problem at all.

As it turned out the Query always came back with the same answer, so we actually only needed to call it once.

In this case we really couldn’t see the forest for the trees, there were two problems that we could have looked at but we had only focused on one, the Query duration.

I have used this SCQA technique many times when I have been stuck, or even when I have been creating presentations, to help me better understand and communicate what the real problem is that we need to solve, rather than just focusing on what might appear to be the most obvious problem.


Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles