To solutionise is human

14th February 2021

 

One of the biggest challenges faced by teams of change professionals is that of early solutionisation.  Projects are initiated and executed based on an early decision over what the ‘solution’ ought to be, without sufficient analysis of the underlying problems. Perhaps a new piece of technology has caught the attention of the board and they are keen to implement it. Over time people’s reputations get staked on the implementation of the technology and there becomes a political imperative to “just get on and deliver the thing”.  Left unchecked this can lead to the perfect storm: the project delivers on time and on budget, but sadly it delivers zero or minimal benefit.  The person who has commissioned the project may well have moved on by that point, leaving those at the coalface to pick up the pieces….

Perhaps I’m being a little cynical with that last statement, however I’m sure you’ll have seen similar situations.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of blaming stakeholders for solutionising, or berating them for gravitating towards the first seemingly viable solution that they come across.  However to do so would be vastly unfair, in many ways seeking solutions seems to be an inherently human trait.  Everybody does it, even those of us that work as change professionals in our day jobs! You probably do it too.

Painkillers Sell 

When feeling pain, there’s a very human tendency to seek out some kind of remedy to quickly and effectively quell that pain. You may have seen adverts in newspapers and online for tonics and potions promising to “solve” the problem of tiredness.  Imagine a full page ad which proclaims: “Tired? Exhausted? Buy our product and your life will be better!”.  It’s a compelling proposition….

Except of course even if the product works, it’s likely to be somewhat of a temporary fix.  Clearly I’m no medical expert, but I’d assume there’s a good likelihood that tiredness is caused by getting the wrong amount of sleep, possibly combined with stress or other factors. We’ve probably all reached for the occasional double espresso to get us through the day, but that’s hardly a cure is it?  Probably sleeping more is, although that’s easier said than done.

If we accept that humans tend to gravitate towards painkillers, let’s shift this up to organisational level and put ourselves in the shoes of an organisational leader.  Perhaps they’ve been tasked with increasing profits in a fiercely competitive environment whilst also being asked to ‘do more with less’. Not only this, as well as focussing on changing the business, they also have accountability for running the business too, or at least part of the business.  Is it any wonder that stakeholders who are under these types of pressure tend to gravitate towards an organisational painkiller? Perhaps a vendor provides them with a case study that seems so similar to their situation.  Why wouldn’t they want to go ahead and implement it?  Particularly when something is widely described as being ‘best practice’ or ‘best in class’.

It’s All About Providing Options 

There are of course situations where just getting on and doing it is the most appropriate approach. Sometimes the cost of pausing is greater than the risk of implementing something and having to trash it later.  In other cases, putting the brakes on for a modest amount of time can actually save time.  A small investment in time to understand the needs, desired outcomes and the benefits being sought can pay dividends in the long run.  What is considered ‘best practice’ in one context might completely flop in another, and unless appropriate analysis has been conducted to determine this, it might be discovered at a point that is too late to change course.

Ultimately, in situations like this, it is all about providing early options.  We could go ahead and begin to specify and implement the solution that’s been suggested.  But what if there were a better, cheaper one that could be delivered in half the time?  It’s likely that the sponsor would want to hear about that!  And what if there was an insurmountable problem that meant the chosen solution wouldn’t work? I bet they’d want to hear about that too.  Providing them with options will enhance their ability to make a decision.

Options provide empowerment. By knowing that other options might be available, the decision maker can make an informed choice.  As change practitioners, we ‘lighten the load’ by taking responsibility for the analysis and providing recommendations.  We inject systemic and holistic thinking, asking questions like “what else would this impact?” and “who else would need to be involved?”.  Alongside good project or product management, this will maximise the chance of project success.

We should never feel guilt for suggesting a modest pause while options are examined. A few days now might save months of effort further down the line.

 

by Adrian Reed, Business Analysis Expert

 

Further reading:

I used the example of tiredness above.  If you are feeling tired all the time, check out the NHS resources.  I’d also recommend ‘Fast Asleep: How to Get a Really Good Night’s Rest’ by: Dr Michael Mosley.