Where to start? Some of us like to jump right in and starting fixing something. Others want to look at every angle and analyze the situation to figure out what needs to be done. The first often results in doing the wrong thing and needing to do it over. The latter often leads to analysis paralysis and nothing getting done. What if we all started with identifying the problem? From there, we can get moving while still taking the necessary time to make a plan. Let’s look at how to start with the problem rather than the solution.
Step 1: Stop, Look, & Listen
Whether you think it’s time for a website redesign or a new CMS, to set up a blog or Snapchat account, you need to consider why. When you take the time to look at what is really going on and compare that to what you want as an outcome, you can get to the problem rather than a preconceived solution. And then you are positioned for success. The most important thing to do at this stage is ask “Why?” A lot. Otherwise, you might be chasing the wrong solution.
Most of us don’t realize it, but we are solving bad problems. Bad problems focus on a task or a feature. Good problems focus on the experience. Stephen Anderson gives many examples of bad problems and how to get to the real problems in his talk Stop Doing What You Are Told. If you find yourself or your team trying to figure out how to build the “Uber for Ambulances” or are constantly chasing the latest request from the board or thinking about making a way to do a specific task (say, register for a conference), you are solving bad problems. If you are asking Why? a lot and defining outcomes, then you are solving good problems. Here are some examples.
Bad Problem: We need a new CMS so it’s easier for people to publish to the website. (“Solutioneering”)
Good Problem: Our CMS does not support our content publishing workflow.
Possible Result: Instead of a new CMS, you might need to change your workflow or make changes to your current CMS to support it properly (or both). Imagine how much money you’ll save by making updates to what you have rather than buying and implementing a new system!
Bad Problem: No one can find anything on the website. (“Amplifying the feedback”)
Good Problem: How can we make it easier for people to find membership rates on the website?
Possible Result: Doing a usability test to discover how people are looking for membership rates and adjusting the content and interface to meet visitor expectations. No need for a full redesign!
Only when you’ve taken the time to really understand what is going on can you start solving the right problem.
Step 2: Set a Course
Think about your last project. Do you know why you did it? What were the outcomes? Was it a success? What were the measures of success? If you’re like many, you have a hard time answering those questions.
Instead of jumping right in and getting started, take the time to create a roadmap. Just like going on a trip, you want to know where you’re going, the best way to get there, and how much money and time you’ll need for the journey. A project roadmap offers many benefits:
- Getting rid of assumptions and false expectations
- Setting priorities, budget, and timeline with knowledge instead of guesses
- Gaining greater flexibility for your project or product
- Potentially lowering the overall cost of the project or lifecycle
- Lowering risk for the project, product, and business
It can be hard to take the time early to make a plan. But I’ve seen that, time and again, those who take the time to make a plan have smoother projects that are delivered on-time and on-budget with better outcomes. And with measurable goals set, you now know if you are successful.
Step 3: Move Ahead Cautiously
Your roadmap is a plan, not an exact prescription. There is room for side trips and pit stops or to redirect your project based on new information. Start with one thing, perhaps low-hanging fruit – high value, low risk – gets prioritized first. Success will create momentum to keep going. You will gain lessons learned to apply to future projects or steps.
Be sure to share and celebrate even small wins, as well as what you learn, with the rest of your organization. This is especially important when you are doing something differently than you’ve done it before. Others can learn from what you’ve done, and you’ll build credibility among your colleagues and managers.
Sometimes it is best to bring someone in from the outside to help you set a roadmap. Not only will they have no pre-conceived notions about how things work, they also will ask more questions. Additionally, they may be able to move you forward while your staff focuses on keeping things going. However you do it, do it differently. Be the one to ask questions. And don’t stop until you get to the real answer.
As principal strategist for Tanzen, Carrie Hane untangles content by aligning people, processes, and systems so organizations are ready for what’s next.