I know the solution, now find me a problem to make it work

It’s often said that working backwards through a process is the best way to understand and develop a process through a customers eyes.  You tend to find the best path and highlight routes that aren’t really needed.

But is this rule always correct ?

I’ve been on a number of projects where this theory has been taken way out of context and has lead to so much additional work, costs, and discussions.   I’d therefore say this rule is definitely not always right, but let me explain why.

Why then ?

We go through problem solving defining business case (why does it even matter at a strategic level), problem statement (how can we better define this at a market facing level), goal statement (what do we call success), and then options followed by solutions.  I’ve been guilty of skipping the first bits in the past, defining a solution and then failing to get buy in because no one really cares about or see’s the problem, so then I work back through the process and try to force the issue.  I’ve learnt from these mistakes, it’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learn and I presented a story about it at a conference not so long ago.  Learning from these mistakes has resulted in some of the most productive work I’ve done, challenging why we even want to look at a problem and then “fail” (in a positive sense) to progress from first or second base (business case/problem statement), it saves a bunch of time for lots of people and money for the business.

It seems I’m not the only one guilty of this though.

There are far too many experts in a company, they know the solution they want implemented (this can be for many reasons, from genuine business interest through to self interest), they assemble an expensive team, hold expensive workshops, and then spring the surprise “we need to develop a business case that will enable us to implement my solution”.  One of the first tasks for the project team is like the square box / round hole conundrum, how can we make it fit ? Often the best problem solver isn’t needed here, it’s the best with maths, there are so many factors at play to make this fit.  We ask which factors can we tweak to make things fit, what average cost for staff can we use, what pay back period can we use, can we exclude consultants from the costs since they are accounted for differently, do we include internal staff costs or is this BAU, which currency and FX rate can we use (this can change over time, FX changes can make a huge difference).

So in the context of lean thinking and the principle of over processing, we are using the right tool for the wrong job which in turn is causing waste.

Do you ever see this in your world ? What do you do, do you keep busy trying to make things fit, or do you challenge the thinking of others and try coaching them so they see the merits in going through the process in the correct order ?

One final bit of advice, never tell them their solution is wrong, it’s always going to be an option but there may be many others they have missed, they may see this if they go through the process correctly.

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