The Last One – A Universal Application
Back in 1981 there was a software application launched with the enigmatic title, “The Last One”. The idea behind this application was that it would write applications to solve problems for people without programming skills. Great concept but its now long obsolete. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_One_(software)
People and businesses are always looking for solutions to what appear to be complex problems but often the ambiguity surrounding the real problem and the human trait to be impetuous or to dive in and explore complex solutions results in analysis paralysis, delays, wasted budgets or partial solutions.
The Solution is Out There
Businesses all over the world are struggling to solve problems, sometimes technical, commercial or environmental. Of course there is no “universal solution” there is a “universe of solutions”, like the “X-Files” famous tag line; “The Truth is Out There”, the answer to your problem is out there you just have to find a way to connect to it.
The main problem in connecting to a solution that works is setting out in the right direction. What does this mean? It means we have to spend sufficient time understanding what our problem is before embarking on our quest for a solution. Sounds obvious doesn’t it but over the years I have seen businesses waste vast amounts of capital in new IT systems that haven’t delivered the intended benefits, in applications that simply were not up to the job, in overly complex management information systems and in technical solutions that had insurmountable integration problems.
1. Articulate the Problem
Make sure you spend a lot of time talking and asking questions, make sure you and your management team really understand what the problem is. Try to state the problem in the simplest terms possible in a way that someone outside your business could easily understand it. Use a simple diagram or picture make it “Fisher Price” if necessary, test it on your kids even.
2. Look for the simplest solution
Next think about the simplest way of solving the problem and state this in high level terms, again in a way that someone outside your business would immediately understand. Get your management team to brainstorm ideas, this will also help you to understand whether they really get the problem, I guarantee that the solutions that some of your team come up with will show that they haven’t really understood, this is particularly common in multicultural organisations and teams. Use this information to make sure you correct any and all misunderstandings. Try again to use a simple solution diagram that can be drawn on a single slide. Don’t get drawn into details, calculations, implementation definition or timescales.
3. Share the problem and simplest solution with your teams
Share the problem/solution pairing for at least a week so that it gets bought into. Its like ‘marinading’ your team in the problem/solution space. During this time get your teams to help articulate the benefits of the solution and monetize these as far as possible since this will help you determine how much the business is prepared to invest to solve the problem. Is there a timeframe associated with the benefits, what is the financial imperative? The budget defined by the monetized benefit will help focus on solutions that you and your business can afford or at least justify in a business case to investors.
4. Solicit implementation options
From the benefits assessment you will have a good idea of the budget that can be allocated so the next step it to solicit options for implementation. These could be in-house or out-sourced, if the implementation is not your core business or you don’t have the free resource face up to the fact and go outside. Try to get at least 3 viable implementation options consistent with your budget but no more than 5.
5. Structured Assessment
Assess the 3 to 5 implementation options in a structured way, agree criteria based on your original problem statement, use your management team as assessors and weight their influences as required but with their knowledge and agreement. The key thing is to get a rational selection of just one implementation option that your team is 100% behind with a great audit trail for the selection and that there are no dissenters or doubters that might turn into ‘snipers’ downstream.
6. Manage the Implementation
Execute the implementation option as a project, make sure it is run to time, quality and budget and that your management team are kept in the loop of progress and issues. Any problems that come up should be subject to the same methodology, state the problem, look for simple solution options.
Remember the implementation doesn’t stop at go live. So often we see implementation celebrated as a success! The real success is in solving the initial business problem so monitor the realisation of the benefits that you used to set the budget. Make sure that you track these through to break-even and beyond.
Human beings have a tendency to make simple things complex and to ‘not see the wood for the trees’. Make sure you don’t get drawn into sexy complex solutions driven by the most techno savvy person on your team that will look great on their CV but won’t necessarily benefit your business.
What is important in everything in business is clarity of thought and action and overcoming ambiguity and complexity. Seeing a clear and rational path from your problem to the simplest solution.