posted 26 May 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 8
What’s the problem?
David Gurteen explains the downsides of a solutionsled approach to business problem solving
Clearly identifying and articulating the business issue or problem that you wish to respond to is the first and most fundamental step in any project but strangely it is one that is often skipped. People jump far too readily to the solution they already have in mind.
‘Doing’ KM, social networking,
One of the problems of a solution-led approach is that it is often obvious to people that you have fallen in love (so to speak) with the technological solution or concept and this is often seen to cloud your judgment, which of course may or may not be true.
If you are not faced with an obvious problem – for example, you have been asked to ‘do KM’ – then you have two main options:
Talk to the CEO and other senior managers in the organisation and ask them what keeps them awake at night. The really serious business problems and challenges are usually well known by the business managers; or,
Conduct a series of knowledge cafés to surface hidden problems and opportunities within the organisation. Be cautious of knowledge audits, as if you are not careful they cause you take your eye off the business and to focus too much on the information and knowledge issues and not the business problems themselves.
As you identify issues keep asking why they are problems.You need to get at the root of the issues in business terms. For example, ‘people won’t share their knowledge’ is not a business problem but ‘slowness in bringing new products to market’ is.
Ask whether the business is addressing the real issue or the symptoms of the real issue? For example, is the problem ‘a loss of critical business knowledge’ or ‘the loss of the actual people themselves’? Understanding the real problem means you are much better equipped to come up with an appropriate response – in this case, ‘not to capture knowledge in a database’ but ‘to reduce the attrition rate’. And be specific. Find out which ‘critical’ people are leaving and which vital business knowledge is being lost as a result – along with the resulting cost to the business. Don’t generalise; be specific.
When you have identified the issue (or issues) you plan to tackle, write the problems, opportunities and risks down as clearly and as concisely as you can. And then, relentlessly refine the document.
If people cannot agree on the issues or if no one cares about them, especially senior management, then forget about it as you will be wasting your time.
The great thing about getting so clear about the problem, obtaining people’s buy-in and not focusing too intently on the solution at this first stage, is that it makes it so much easier to make the business case for the eventual solution and to justify the cost involved later.
Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. To my mind, far too many people in organisations run around spending 60 minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t actually matter, or for which there is no mandate to fix.
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. He can be contacted via his website at www.gurteen.com