# Tag Archives: problem

## The problem solving algorithm

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I have been watching several discussions over the years between brilliant people where clear perception of the problem prevented them from solving it.  It is so easy to marry ourselves with our suggestions of action (how) that we loose focus about  what the nature of the problem really was.

For cases like this, I advice teams to follow this problem solving algorithm:

1. Surface problem
2. Concretize problem  – write it down!  (what, when, how, who)
3. Find root cause
4. Surface ideas  (start with those that helps improving the existing situation)

For seeing situations like this, I try to keep the following "aha" reminders in the back of my head..

As an arguing manager, if I can’t concertize the problem it is a sign I need step back and put the right decisions into the right hands – the people closest to the problem.

As an arguing engineer, have I progressed towards engineering a solution, or even evolved into solving another problem (which I felt needed to be sorted first), before concretizing it’s nature with my counter part?

## An exercise based on my PSL experience:The power of open-ended requirements

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Today I held a class in Scrum and Lean.

I was then able to test some of my learnings from the PSL class in a exercises I made up just the day before.

The results were almost too good.

I divided the class in two groups (consisting of about 6 people each) and told them that they in this exercise would do a drawing during silence, following a requirement I would hand out.  The would only have one minute to complete the drawing.

I provided them with a number pencils in red, green and blue and one big piece of paper each.  Then I handed out one paper with the requirements to each group and started a visible timer counting down 60 seconds.

One of the groups got the following requirement:

Draw a beutiful summer meadow with blue and red flowers in green grass, some cows and birds under a shining sun.

The other group got the following requirement:

Draw a beutiful summer meadow with

• 10 blue flowers with 5 petals each
• 5 blue flowers with 6 petals each
• 13 red flowers with 6 petals each
• 2 cows with 3 black spots

• 1 cow with 5 black spots
• 2 cows with 4 black spots
• 2 birds to reside in the upper left corner
• 3 birds in the middle
• one sun to the right with 5 sun beams

Before reading further, look at there drawings here and guess which drawing was made by which group.

Well, as you might have guessed, the drawing to the left was made by the group that got the open-ended requirements and the drawing to the right was made by the group with a lot of specification detail.  And that drawing does’nt even comply to the base requirement; a summer meadow.

And the cows are, although rich in detail, on the wrong angels.  – The group behind the right drawing had such focus on implementing every detail of the requirements that they forgot the main purpose of the “assignemnt”, to draw a meadow.

Do you recognize that from software development ?  I for certain do, and I do remember how boring it have felt implementing over-specified requirements.  I just wanted to get it over with.  Which I think is a very natural reaction when you are left with no opportunity for your own creativity. Or worse, find out obscure ways to put in your creativity anyway, in ways that might yeild even worse solutions.

I felt that the class got the same “ah” experience as I did myself on the PSL class.

Once again I have to give my appreciation to Jerry Wienberg, Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman.

The Problem Solving Leadership class continues to make a huge impact on my life.

It is the most expensive class I ever spent my money on in terms of actual swedish kronas, but not a cost but truly profitable in terms of the leverage it has on my consulting.

If you are a consultant like me and work with teams and leaders I think you can do no better investment than attending the next PSL class. It will be held in late march, check it out and click here!

## Debrief of Problem Solving Leadership class

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The PSL class was a remarkable experience different from any other class I ever attended in my life.   The following youtube clip shows how much fun it was, here when we in "The Red Team" made a "Musical Performance" which we had only one hour to invent and prepare. Remember to watch in high resolution if your bandwidth allows it.
Everyday was full of experiences and triggered strong emotions within and between us who attended.   Probably, the class will meet again many times, since we did a whole lot of bonding through the exhausting exercises.
Most of the exercises were simulations, that is they simulated situations we all where familiar with, but gave us a whole lot of different perspectives on.

In the biggest one, we simulated a whole company.  And during the simulation I found myself feeling distrust for what the "development team" where doing, myself being part of the sale-force of the company (actually, and I am proud of it, I was the first one to figure the whole sale-process, and I got the title Salesprocess manager! 🙂 ).
I have seen people outside development teams, sales people and managers expressing exactly this feeling, and now I felt exactly the same, and I even didn’t recognize that until after the simulation.
Very interesting!
Shows the importance of transparency and of trust I would say.
You might now wonder how did the simulation look like, but I will not blog about it, in case anyone reading this want to experience it themselves, I could risk ruin it for them if I would describe how the simulation worked.

So what did I learn ?   So much, and I am still processing the experience, but I will try to express some insights I got so far;

1.  "The problem is not the problem – it is coping with the problem"
Meaning, often we have a defined solution for a problem that is much more complex than needed.  Our, or better, my instinct to quickly find a solution for any "problem" I face, often leads to a bigger problem, which is implementing the solution, which might be real hard, if the solution is not appropriate, and not what others want.
If I instead try to wait with interpreting the situation too quickly and creating a solution before I actually understand what the problem is, I get much better results.

2. "Finding a zero-level solution first makes it easier to develop a good solution onward"
Faced with any problem, it seems that if I first try to figure out what is the easiest and simplest possible solution for this situation, that requires the smallest amount of work, everything will be much smoother.
With the zero-level solution I get a security, that no matter what, there is a solution.
I can then build on it with small steps.
Which is exactly how TDD works, but this works for anything, not only programming.

3. Going with the flow is much more effective leadership than trying to lead by trying to persuade other to go for your solution.
Being smooth and going with a flow in a team is much more effective leadership than trying to enforce your own will onto the group.  A process is always better than no process, and fighting about it waste a lot of time.
Often fighting or being in the Big Game (the powerstruggle) hides the constructive path to find a good solution.
As important it is to be honest about my opinions, it is important that I accept and commit to decisions made by the team.  There is never only one perfect solution.
The first priority must always be to find a solution, any solution.  Then we can refine it with the time and resources we are given.

4. "Problem-solving leadership may be defined as

The ability to enhance the environment
so that everyony is empowered
to contribute creatively
to solving the problem(s).
"
– excerpt from the class

I think this is so beautiful – and true.  And it goes along the same lines as Patrick Lencionis work.   Leadership is making a team work, and anyone can execute it.

5.  Leadership and management is two different things.
Well of course.   Leadership can be executed by anyone.  It is of course good if a manager is a good leader, but it is not a necessitity.  If there are good leadership skills among the team members that might suffice to make an effective team.

6.  Doing nothing can be an important act of leadership.
Sometimes when a team is struggling, the best thing might be to do nothing, or rather just observe.   Through observations you might get a better understanding of what the problem really is, which often has little to do with anything else than the people themselves in the team.

7. A lot of specification will be bad for the teams creativity and yield in a worse solution.

Letting the team use it’s creativity to find their way to a solution open up for the possibility for the team to get into a creativity flow which probably will yield a better solution than if the team has to work towards a detailed specification.
Of course there are usually boundaries for any problem that has to be specified, but let the team have as much freedom of creativity as possible if you want high productivity and neat solutions.
This I experienced several times in the class simulations as I have in my career.

8. Simulations are a very effective way to learn.
I will remember to use much more practical exercises and simulations in my own classes in the future.  Some of us attending the class are also thinking about forming a society where we can meet and try out ideas for new simulations.
Simulations are not only effective learning – they are so fun!
Maybe because they bring about so much emotions.

9. Keeping a hand-written journal and notebook helps me organize my life and be effective.

I’ve tried to have TODO lists on my computer, and in many other digital forms (PDAs, cell phones etc..) because my handwriting sucks.
Jerry gave me a personal gift.  A Uniball pen.  It has done a miracle for my life.
With a small notebook from the class, I am now able to anytime anywhere write down ideas and todos and reflections on my own behaviour.
My life has taken a new direction, and only this little change has made a huge impact.
Slowly my handwriting will also be better.  And it is fun!  Writing notes on paper is actually fun!  I didn’t know that!  Thank you very much Jerry!

Jerry Weinberg, for those of you who don’t know him, is one of the foremost writers, speakers and thinkers when it comes to leadership.
I just want to give you some small anectdotes he told me:
As a young programmer working for IBM, the computer he was in charge for was hired out to companies, and he came with the package so to speak.  At that time the computer he worked with, was 10% of the worlds total computer capacity.  Having the opportunity to program a lot before most people ever heard about programming might be one reason why he soon was ahead most the others in the business.
Beside being one of the developers of the first Operating system, and the Fortran language, Jerry also was the Chief architect for the NASA Mercury mission, sending the first american into space.
He almost missed that assignment, because he first turned it down being tired after a journey.  In the elevator down from the recruiter, someone told him about the mission of the project, and being very interested in anything concerning space and astronomy and sci-fi, he immediately went back and was able to get the assignment before anyone else took it!

For me Jerry stands out as the most impressive person in the IT business I’ve met so far.

Johanna Rothman was the woman inspiring me to attend the class.  Watching her webcasts on InfoQ before the class, was what made me make up my mind.
She gave me such good advice on how to improve my consulting. I am very thankful to her for that.  She is a very bright woman having so much insights about effective teamwork.

Esther Derby insights about agile processes, and calm and clear leadership was also a guiding light through the week.

I bought some of their books, on the shelf now is "Becoming a technical leader" by Jerry.  "Manage IT!" by Johanna and "Agile retrospectives" by Esther.

I will surely blog about what I learn after having read these books and in connection with what I am learning from the class.

I will also attend Jerry’s class on simulation design later this spring.

If you want to attend the PSL class yourself check out http://estherderby.com/workshops/ProblemSolvingLeadership.htm

The Amplifying Your Effectivness Conference is probably also a great place to be;
http://www.ayeconference.com/