What’s the Problem: the Decision or the Outcome?

I listened to Marcus Blankenship’s podcast Finding Career Opportunities Through Experimentation with Josh Doody. During the podcast, Marcus said something like this (I’m paraphrasing):

“I wonder which was the problem: the decision or the outcome?”

I thought that was a wonderful frame for how we might think about decisions. I don’t always differentiate between the decision itself or the outcome of that decision.

Here’s an example I see a lot in my clients: They want to use agile approaches (the decision). Too often, they decide on a framework (might be a reasonable decision). However, the framework they choose doesn’t accommodate their needs. The outcome—agile in name only—becomes their next problem to solve. And, they haven’t addressed the real problem, their reason for wanting an agile approach.

In this case, the solution became part of the problem.

Why Does the Solution (Outcome) Become Part of the Problem?

My clients now have several problems: the problems that triggered them to want to use an agile approach. And, the framework they chose. When I think about this decision/outcome conundrum, I see these possibilities:

  • We don’t understand what causes the original problem.
  • We jump to one solution—often the first solution we see. (Or, “best practices.”)
  • We don’t include enough people in thinking about the problem.
  • We don’t include enough people in thinking about our solution.
  • We didn’t experiment. We decided this was the One Right Answer.

I’m sure there are more possibilities. What can we do?

  1. We can reconsider the problem itself.
  2. Apply the Rule of Three to possible solutions.
  3. Experiment with short feedback loops.

Reconsider the Problem

As a consultant, I often discover my clients see the symptoms of a problem. (Ben Linders, in his upcoming book, Problem? What Problem? calls these “signals.” A fine word.)

We think we know the root cause(s), but we don’t. We see the symptoms, the signal that there’s a problem. And, we don’t understand the problem. We jump to the first possible solution.

When I don’t understand the problem enough, I apply the Rule of Three. To be honest, unless I apply the Rule of Three to generate many options, I suspect I don’t understand the problem well enough.

Apply the Rule of Three

How many solutions did we imagine the first time? How can we create more alternatives? Do we need to relax constraints?

If you see that your outcomes cause more problems, consider generating many alternatives. If I continue this example of an agile approach, I offer these options to my clients:

  • Several principles, such as working in flow efficiency and create WIP limits (Work in Progress).
  • Combination of several frameworks to manage what we think their problems are as an experiment.
  • Experiment with one framework and then the other in short timeboxes (one or two weeks).

This isn’t standard agile dogma. (That might be the biggest understatement of the year!) And, when my clients start to see these alternatives, they are more likely to generate more alternatives themselves. I love that.

Whatever we choose, we experiment with short feedback loops.

Experiment with Short Feedback Loops

The higher risk the outcome risk, the shorter the feedback loop we need. Notice that the decision itself might have some risks. But, it’s probably the outcomes that incur the most risk.

What’s the smallest step you can take to get feedback on, so you can assess the outcomes and then assess the decision?

Finding that first small step to assess an outcome—that might be tricky. It’s relatively easy for products and processes. I find it much more difficult for personal problem-solving. I often suffer from FEAR when taking that first small step.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that’s the question this week: What’s the problem: the decision or the outcome?

1 thought on “What’s the Problem: the Decision or the Outcome?”

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 14 July 2020 – 5blogs

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