Monday, March 22, 2010

Breaking Down Complex Problems

When faced with a complex business problem, don't try to solve it all at once. Don't try to boil the ocean. Break it into bite-sized chunks and plan the best way to approach the overall solution.

My first move is to study the problem from as many directions as possible. That means talking to everyone involved, finding out their perspectives and recommendations for a solution. It means listening and trying to understand all the competing goals and requirements from every level of the business.

You'd be amazed how often a problem is solved during this stage. Misunderstandings and poor communication are more dangerous than loaded guns. I love looking like a genius by solving a seemingly impossible problem quickly.  I digress...

Once you have a solid understanding of the problem, you need to break it into its component parts. Each step is a component. Each result too. Understand how those steps and results combine and come together. It's like solving a jigsaw puzzle with no picture-on-the-box reference.

Your goal is to simplify as much as possible. Eliminate redundant steps. Reduce unnecessary check points. Condense and standardize whenever possible. Always remember your ultimate goals and plan towards them.

Start implementing the smaller, easier steps. Deploy them to minimize interruptions and slowdowns. If you have one massive chunk that will cause a significant work delay then schedule implementation well ahead of time. This will ensure that everyone knows what's coming and will minimize surprises.

The key to solving complex problems is to break them into small, manageable problems. Avoid the urge to solve everything at once since that only gets you into more trouble. Take the easy steps first so you can see how well they work before moving on to larger steps.

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