Increase Your Problem-Solving ROI: Clearly Articulate “What is Needed”
In my last blog post, I described the importance of correctly identifying a problem, and its most intrinsic “prime number” components, as the first step in solving complex and difficult to solve problems. In this post, I will describe the next step in the process – determining “What is Needed,” or envisioning the solution. You should be able to craft a statement, somewhat long-ish, objective, and very descriptive, that will serve as a guidepost, and describes what the ideal solution will look like. The “What is Needed” statement usually has multiple components, else the problem would not be complex and difficult to solve!
If we think back to the men and women who designed and built the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon – what might their “What is Needed” statement contained? Perhaps it read something like this: “What is needed is a conveyance that is strong enough to protect squishy and fragile-on-many-fronts human cargo from intense forces of multiple types encountered all along its journey; small enough and light enough so that lift-off and breaking away from the Earth’s gravity is possible given the constraints associated with known fuel types; the conveyance must continue to be maneuverable and retain propulsion capability while in space; the conveyance must be able to land on the moon; must contain all of the fuel, life support, communication, and scientific equipment required of it in a very small space; and the conveyance must be able to take off from the moon in order to return to Earth, with fuel, energy, and systems to last the entire journey; the conveyance must not burn to a crisp upon re-entry.”
Sufficient time and energy should be devoted to crafting a complete “What is Needed” statement. You and your organization should be able to read the statement and see / identify all of the critical components that are needed from the solution you will craft. If there are critical elements missing from the “What is Needed” statement they should be added, until you are able to read the statement and see / identify all of the attributes required in order to solve your complex and difficult to solve problem.
One of the benefits of the crafting a “What is Needed” statement, using long-ish, objective, and descriptive language is that it will help you to avoid misunderstandings within your organization as to “What is Needed.” Organizations can get themselves into trouble by using too much shorthand, too much jargon, too many false synonyms, and relative – rather than objective – terms. Imagine that instead of the “What is Needed” statement I conjured, above, regarding designing and building the first manned spacecraft, I offered up: “Build a fast rocket to blast man into space.” Much of what was laid out in the “What is Needed” statement would be lost in such a subjective truncation! Many misunderstandings on the part of the team would be possible. Many needed components of the solution could be overlooked.
In a small business solution crafting context, this means eschewing statements like “We need a CRM system!” or “We need to get everyone in a room and work it out!” or “We need a website!” in response to identified problems that require definitive action. Instead, make sure that your “What is Needed” statement captures the true essence of what is required.
Instead of saying “We need an intranet!” try to capture “What is Needed” with a statement like this: “What is needed is an internally-accessed website that contains one version of the truth, templates, branding guidelines, procedures, and instructions for our employees to better communicate with customers and execute administrative transactions, that contains a library of forms that are stored in softcopy format and always up-to-date, that acts as a portal to aggregate different systems that are used for executing different tasks like timekeeping, procurement of goods and services, processing fleet, facilities and technology help requests; that contains organization-wide organizational charts and sub-division organizational charts; that has a homepage for promoting important events and highlighting important achievements in order to unite and bind the culture of the organization; that contains floor plans, equipment and facilities inventories; and that is an application that is permanent part of each employees desktop icon set, so that it is launched each time a desktop is turned on.”
By forming comprehensive and robust “What is Needed” statements, it is much easier to scour the landscape for solution components to complex- and difficult-to-solve problems. Naming all of the pieces of “What is Needed” will facilitate the process of evaluating potential solution components and ensure that important pieces of the problem are not left unaddressed.
In my next post, I will describe creative and innovative ways to uncover and discover solution components – and how to unlock untapped potential in tools, software, equipment, etc. by thinking about them in unorthodox ways.
Until then – here is another strategic operations haiku:
Ignore all current constraints
Describe what you see!
Kevin Kelly is the Deputy Commissioner at the New York City (SBS) responsible for services to help businesses start, operate, and expand in New York City. Kevin writes this column on the NYC Business Solutions Blog on the 1st Tuesday of every month.
If you have a question for Kevin about problem solving at your business, leave a note below. And, don’t forget to share this post with your network on Facebook, Twitter, and email.