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6 Enablers of Effective Problem Solving

22 May 2017

One of the best predictors of an organisation’s future performance is its ability to solve problems (and seize opportunities).

I sometimes visualise this by imagining organisations as big problem solving machines. I imagine myself standing at the output of these machines, watching solved problems flowing off a conveyor belt, each passing the quality control at the end of the line.

If I were able to do this in reality though, I wonder just how many certified solutions I’d find or how often I’d be wondering why the line had stopped or why ‘solved problems’ weren’t making it past quality control.

We can’t do this, of course. In reality, our organisations' problem solving machines are virtual and operate as emergent properties of the structures, processes, norms and methods that dictate how things work within them.

This makes it hard to see them quite as clearly as were they a simple conveyor belt of quality controlled solutions but we can still get a good sense of their capability.

We can ask, for example, how different today’s problems are from those of the past and we can ask whether there are features of how we go about solving problems that mean we go slower than we might or generate less impactful solutions than we could.

In practice, organisations that have the most effective problem solving machines tend to have some common characteristics.

For example, they:

  • make it easy for people to see their work in the context of its end-to-end purpose, connecting what they do to the work of those around them;
  • make it easy for people to see through the fog of all the complexity that could be managed to those few things that really matter;
  • make it easy for people to understand the consequences of their actions by creating tight, rapid feedback loops;
  • make it easy for people to make decisions about how to work and what work to do, rather than having to seek permission; but also…
  • make it easy for people to know who to involve (and how) in order to co-produce good decisions; and
  • make it easy to stay focused by deliberately limiting the number of things that are worked on to fit capacity, favouring getting benefits over spinning plates.

So how well does your organisation reflect these lessons from effective practice and, to whatever extent that it does not, how much might it improve if it did?


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