Problem solving & innovation

A figure from Alan Weiss' book 'Million Dollar Consulting' gives a great overview of what is a fix, what is innovation and why you should always have some kind of monitoring on what matters to you and your business.

Problem solving & innovation
From Alan Weiss' - Million Dollar Consulting, Sixth Edition

 While reading the Million Dollar Consulting, Sixth Edition: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, I came across the above figure about problem solving and innovation. I let you read that book if you want more about the initial content and context. It took me a minute to get it and truly make sense of it. Now, I am obsessed about it.

 The first part of the figure describes a common situation where something happens and the standard performance degrades over time. This prompt looking for fix and applying it to restore the usual expectations.

 The second one describe a different situation where the standard performance isn't considered good enough anymore and that it requires actions to make it better. It requires innovations to improve the performance and raise expectations to an higher level.

 In both cases a problem needs to be solved. What differs is what triggers problem solving period. Do you need a fix or some innovation ? A fix is an emergency response to degradation, making sure that things don't get worse. Innovating is a decision you need to make.

A fix, you have to do it, innovation, you choose to.

 Now, I became obsessed with this chart are for multiple reasons. But mainly because it makes a lot of sense to me, not only as is, but also when you expand it to different situations, and how things evolve over time. It also packs a lot of elements in a simple way. It covers a lot of the aspects I am trying to expose and present through

 As I wrote those lines, I started to think there may be some flaw in the reasoning. The word "innovation" and its current expectations tripped me. But, by sticking with the real definition : "make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products." (Oxford Languages, 2023), those flaws disappear. An innovation doesn't have to be some new invention or something big, it just need to be a new part of the process. In our faucet example, changing the diameter of a pipe can be an innovation, as long as it is not a fix to a clogged one.

Measure performance

Standard performance are normal operations. You won't be able to notice the alarms and decline if you don't set up any monitoring. Something that will help you notice and prompt looking for a fix before it gets too bad, too late.

 Innovation is looking for areas of improvements, once you have some reliable process and expectations, how do you get better ? And that is a decision you / a manager / someone responsible makes. It has to be a conscious effort. It also introduces risk and uncertainty. Eventually, you should end up with better performance (ranging from simply improving the reliability and resilience to improving the expected outcomes).

You need to consider both sides as part of your standard processes

 This chart does a good work in expressing the 2 different scenarios. But I believes it falls short in terms of expressing what the real situation is. It is not one or the other. Both can and will (or should) happen either alternatively or simultaneously. And you need to prepare and be ready for both.

 Once you innovate and get improved performance, those then become your new standard performance. So, yes, celebrate the win today, but know that it is the expected standard tomorrow.

 A fix could lead to innovation (I wanted to replace could by should, but, it is a matter of cost and whether it is worth it). When you notice a problem, the first step is to restore the standard performance as quickly as possible. Once done, you should launch an investigation into really understanding what the issue was (root cause analysis) and tackle that problem, improving your resilience (if it makes sense).

Don't mistake fixes for innovation

 I mentioned previously that your improved performance quickly become your new normal performances, and it should. Raise the bar, raise the expectations and grow as you can.

 But, be wary of the opposite, don't make the mistake of considering degraded performance as standard performance. That can happen if you're not careful and don't have good metrics and monitoring on performance. If you don't know what to expect, whatever you get at any given time can be considered standard.

 When declined performance becomes standard, fixing a problem becomes innovating. It is a more involved process to handle. What you could have (quickly) fixed previously suddenly becomes a full-blown R&D project by lack of attention.

 You need to measure performance.

You need to know your baseline. You need to know what you can expect to be the standard, and be able to notice when the situation changes below an acceptable level.

The tap pressure example

I want to take some time with an easy to understand example that can illustrate what I meant : your kitchen tap and the water pressure it delivers.

What do you consider the standard performance ?

If you just build your house, everything is new, everything hopefully works to the best it can. You then can know what are its best performance. You can consider it the standard performance for your house.

Now, imagine you move in an older house. You likely won't have the same expectations. You could assume some wear and tear in the piping and all around. You don't really know what had been installed, ... What you have when you open the tap is your standard performance (you haven't seen better) but you also likely assume that you don't get the best performance your installation can deliver.

What is the monitoring ?

You don't need something very precise. Do you really care about 62 vs 65 psi ? Probably not. However, you may be using the tap daily when doing dishes, washing your hands, ... and you would notice if the water isn't as strong as it used to be, or not strong enough too low. And that's is probably a good enough measure. You will try to fix and improve the water pressure if you feel it is an issue.

How will you improve your low pressure ?

I used the word improve there as depending on your context, that may involve fixing something or bringing in clever solutions.

One option is that you believe that the infrastructure can deliver a stronger pressure. You there is something wrong, somewhere. The piping, it may be dirty and something is blocking the water flow; there is a leak, ... you may go through the list of what can be wrong starting from the easiest things to look into and hope you can bring back the stronger pressure quickly. You'll be looking for a fix (especially if the water was strong yesterday).

Another option is that you feel that what you get is the most you can get with the infrastructure you have. There is nothing wrong going on, you just want stronger water. Then, you may look into other ways to get a stronger water flow. It may be having another water source to complete the first one, reducing the pipes diameter, to increase the flow, moving the tap to a different location, ... innovating to fix a new issue.

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