Sunday, April 1, 2012

What is the problem in problem solving

This is clearly one of my favorite topics. During this experiment, I had the chance to give a couple of lectures on systematic problem solving. I learned a lot about the topic myself since I needed to be able to teach others about. There is not really anything special (aka rocket science) about that topic. Many famous authors in the lean and agile community have provided us with plenty of material and ideas to solve problems systematically.

I like to use A3 method in the course. Even though A3 is coming from Lean manufacturing, in which you try to eliminate variability, I think it can be used in Lean product development. During the course, I typically do an exercise in which the audience is asked to make an A3 on the topic: “What is the problem in problem solving?”.

Interestingly, some of the feedback (also from earlier trainings) has been that the people want to have a “real example”! Come on folks – you are here in this course to discuss why you cannot solve problems in a systematic manner. Ok - like what are your real problems which you cannot solve? Quality problems? Problems with your salary? I admit, my theme is touching problem solving on a meta level.

The idea in this course is that people start to learn how to solve problems NOT to actually solve a particular problem. Why not? Typically someone in the group is to attached. Since the people had trouble to let go in the past to tackle the issue, what would have changed NOW so that they could solve the issue DURING this course???

And I think this issue reveals a lot to me. If I mention a real life problem, the first solutions come to me even before I have finished speaking!
My observations contain the following typical behavior:
  • no common understanding of the problem
  • no common understanding/agreement on the direction/desired state
  • no common understanding of the current state (i.e. how it is REALLY in the organization and e.g. not how managers think what the problems are) (sorry managers, I address you as managers because you manage instead of leading – HUGE difference)
  • at least one solution per person (and this is of course the only one possible) which is by no means proven to be solving the problem
  • no measures in place to verify that the experiment/potential solution is progressing and especially no measures in place to verify that the experiment/potential solution is bringing you closer to the desired state.
  • Weak to no real ownership and follow-up of the agreed actions
  • Manifesting what is working as well as eliminating/stopping what is not working.

It does not matter what method you use. May it be A3, GROW/GLOW, a research-oriented approach (Poppendieck), ideas from Complex Adaptive Systems – I see recurring set of underling principles:
  • Gain common understanding of the problem (what, why, for whom, when)
  • Agree commonly on the ultimate goal (what, why, for whom, when)
  • Agree on utilizing experiment to figure out what works and what does not
  • Gain common understanding what is in your way to get one step closer to your goal
  • Measure your experiments and your progress towards the goal
  • Be humble and open minded – its a long journey.