Why Problems Persist – Key Blockers of Business Agility

Posted by Ruben Moffett on May 20, 2021

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When the problem-solving equation isn’t adding up, the solution is often foundational.

Business leaders face many challenges today as they attempt to improve business agility in response to rapidly changing demands of the market. Technology can often be seen as a panacea, providing a shortcut to business transformation where hard choices about products, channels, business processes and structure can be avoided. In my experience, I have learned that business leaders need to make sober assessments of their competitive weaknesses. These weaknesses are usually the result of issues left unresolved that, over time, have become problems that can no longer be ignored.

Why Problems Persist

These problems often become extraordinarily challenging, and solutions require ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity. An organization’s ability to bring these skills to bear when problems emerge varies from company to company and also varies over time. Additionally, there are factors outside of a company’s control that can also influence the outcome. Examples include competitors introducing new products or services, rapidly changing customer preferences, or technical solutions not delivering key functionality as advertised. These internal and external factors all contribute to variability in problem resolution timelines, but easier solutions have a higher likelihood of being resolved (and resolved more quickly) than complex problems. Organizations may see solution probability rates similar to the example below:

Solved Within:1 Hour1 Day1 Week
Low Complexity50%85%95%
Medium Complexity35%50%80%
High Complexity10%35%50%

However, solution probability rates are also impacted by three foundational factors that are often overlooked but are essential to a positive outcome. These factors are:

  1. Whether we are aware or agree that there is a problem (acknowledgment)
  2. Whether we commit the time and resources to solve the problem (desire)
  3. Whether we truly understand the problem (understanding – cursory versus detailed)

Acknowledgement

On the first point, our inability to solve problems because we don’t acknowledge them is a common challenge. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is because we are prideful and don’t want to admit that something we are responsible for isn’t performing well. Other times, the ability to acknowledge the problem is tied to someone who isn’t directly involved and who doesn’t feel the impact. This might be due to poor communication from the people directly involved or an unwillingness to be bothered if not immediately affected. But the adage is accurate, “You can’t solve a problem if you don’t admit that there actually is a problem.”

Desire

Secondly, many problems are simply tolerated. Frequently, the people directly impacted don’t have the time, energy, influence or insight to solve the problem. Or the problems are not considered important by those with the competency or authority to resolve them. Of the three factors involved in problem solving, this one is probably the most frustrating. We’ve acknowledged that there is a problem, we just choose not to address it. We can all think of situations like this that have affected us personally. Perhaps we are in a job function that is burdened by a problem that is known, but that management chooses to live with because it is too complex or costly to address. Or we are a customer with an issue that the vendor providing the product or service we use isn’t willing to resolve.

Understanding

Thirdly, if you don’t understand the problem, how can you possibly solve it?  All too often, we quickly jump to conclusions about the problem itself, which leads to the implementation of ineffective solutions. This tendency is especially dangerous as those solutions typically take effort, investment, and time to understand and then to implement. Effective problem solving of complex issues requires a broad and deep understanding of the people, processes and technologies involved. Frequently, root causes of issues are two or three steps removed from where the symptoms are observed. Problem solving tools like Fishbone diagrams, control charts, cause and effect diagrams, Pareto charts, scatter diagrams, etc., can be used effectively to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its various elements.

Impact on Problem Solving

Let’s look at this empirically to illustrate how essential these factors are to problem solving. If we assume that all three factors – acknowledgement, desire and understanding – are required to solve a problem, and if we use a 0-10 scale (lowest to highest) for each of the three factors above, we can create a simple formula to determine our success rate. Let’s assume that we fully acknowledge that there is a problem, that we are fully committed to resolving it and that we take the time necessary to fully understand it. Our formula would yield a numerical result of 1,000 (10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000).

At the other end of the spectrum, if any one of these factors doesn’t exist (e.g., a rating of 0 on our 0-10 scale) our result immediately drops to 0. That is, if we don’t acknowledge an issue, or if we don’t have the desire to resolve an issue or if we don’t truly understand the issue, we have no chance of solving the problem. As a middle ground for each of these factors let’s say we somewhat acknowledge the issue, somewhat desire to resolve it and sort of understand it we end up with a numerical result of 125 (5 x 5 x 5 = 125). That is a far cry from our ideal score of 1,000 yielding a likelihood of success at only 12.5%.

 Rating (0 - 10)
Acknowledgement0510
Desire0510
Understanding0510
Score01251000
Foundational Factor Rate0%12.5%100%
 

By revisiting the Solution Probability Rate graph from above, we can select a medium complexity problem that has an 80% chance of being resolved within one week based on internal and external factors. We must now also account for the impact of these three foundational factors on our base Probability Rate. If we assume that acknowledgement, desire and understanding all rate as 10s, we still have an 80% chance of solving the problem. But, if our ratings on those three factors drop to 5s, our likelihood of finding a solution drops all the way to 10%!

Ex. Medium Complexity Solved within One Week80%80%80%
Foundational Factor Rate0%12.5%100%
Actual Probability of Solving a Problem0%10%80%

Admittedly, addressing these three factors doesn’t guarantee success. We must still possess the aptitude and ingenuity to solve complex problems. But putting the effort into acknowledging the problem and committing the resources and developing a comprehensive understanding of the problem gives businesses a higher success rate than looking for a shortcut. Many problems are left unresolved not because their solutions are extraordinarily challenging, but rather, they remain problems because the foundations of problem solving itself are lacking.

If you are challenged with persistent problems that are standing in the way of greater business agility, perhaps it’s time to examine if these three foundational factors are holding you back. Or contact us and we’ll help get things moving with an objective external voice to help you break through.