Problem-Solving Success Tip: Use Your Time for Truly Important Problems
by Jeanne Sawyer
Hard as it may be to walk away once you're aware of it, just because a problem is there doesn't mean you have to solve it. Ask yourself and your colleagues, "What will happen if we don't solve this problem?" If the answer is, "not much," then turn your attention to something more important. If you don't know what will happen, find out before you undertake a problem-solving project. It should be clear to you and everyone else involved that the problem is worth the effort--and expense--to fix it.
Quantify the cost of the problem quickly, but as realistically as you can. Include lost opportunity costs as well as real expenses such as staff time to deal with the problem, travel expenses, etc. Use actual costs where you can; estimate where you can't. Then guesstimate what it will cost to analyze and fix it. Write your analysis down, stating all your assumptions explicitly. Get a colleague to verify that your assumptions and estimates are reasonable. Start with a rough "order of magnitude" estimate. That may be enough to answer the question of whether you should proceed. If it's not clear, especially if the cost to solve it will be high, do a more careful analysis.
If it will cost more to fix than to live with the problem, or if the number is even close, perhaps your resources (time, people, money) are better spent on other projects. If you decide to proceed anyway, you can do so with a better understanding of what you're undertaking. On the other hand, if you can demonstrate that the cost of the problem is much higher than the cost of solving it, using estimates based on reasonable assumptions, it will generally be much easier to get the resources you need. You can use your written analysis as a sales tool to help win support for your decision to proceed or not.
We have to learn to distinguish those things that are truly important from those that are merely urgent. --Jerry D. Campbell
copyright 2005. Jeanne Sawyer. All Rights Reserved.
Jeanne Sawyer is an author, consultant, trainer and coach who helps her clients solve expensive, chronic problems, such as those that cause operational disruptions and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. These tips are excerpted from her book, When Stuff Happens: A Practical Guide to Solving Problems Permanently. Find out about it, and get more free information on problem solving at her web site: http://www.sawyerpartnership.com/.
Jeanne Sawyer may be contacted at http://www.sawyerpartnership.com or firstname.lastname@example.org