Posted tagged ‘Opportunities’

Problems vs. Opportunities

December 21, 2009

The single greatest issue in addressing a client’s or colleague’s needs is understanding what we are trying to solve or manage in the first place. The reason this is so critical is because misunderstanding what the desired outcome is supposed to be typically results in the wrong solution.

Here’s a simple example. If we want to entertain ourselves and our friends on a Saturday night, we can ask what are the options? Once we add criteria or constraints, the choices narrow. For example, determining that we are on a budget of, say, less than $50 per person might eliminate tickets to a Broadway show. Deciding that we had to be back by 11 pm to relieve the babysitter might mean that we have to stay local.

What it all comes down to, in management speak, is clearly defining the problem. Solving the “right” problem usuall produces a subset of choices that will yield outcomes for which we would be happy.

Words, here though, are very important.

If one shifts from a problem definition to an opportunity definition, the options will become richer, the choices more exciting. And with that will come far greater and more robust ways of creating an outcome.

After all, wouldn’t it be more fun for you, your clients and colleagues to create an opportunity rather than solve a problem?

The Importance of Looking at External Threats and Opportunities

May 17, 2009

My recent forays into the housewares industry and events within my own community have heightened my sensitivity to the importance of looking at our businesses and organizations in the context of the environment within which we operate.

My friends in the housewares industry are very concerned about how their major clients will react to any efforts that they undertake to create new channels for their products and services. Still, the advent of online communities, while representing a unique opportunity, also represents a perilous threat. If the industry ignores the opportunity and someone else chooses to capitalize on it, their businesses may be further imperiled.

Closer to home, my community is experiencing a tuition crisis. The core lifeblood of the community for several generations has been its ability to educate its children about religious and cultural values. The recent economic downturn has accelerated a crisis that has been developing, and been largely ignored, for years. Parents are finding it difficult to pay for this type of education and many, by economic necessity, are choosing to send their children to schools that do not supply this core sustaining educational program. Leadership in identifying and addressing this problem has been conspicuously absent.

What both situations have in common is that there is an external environmental factor that needs to be seriously considered and addressed.

In the case of our housewares friends, failing to act and create that other channel may result in a significant competitor that further erodes their businesses. In the case of the community, failing to act may decrease the connection between the members of the community and their culture and ultimately lead to an unwillingness or lack of desire to support projects that are integral to the community’s growth, simply because the connection to its values has been compromised.

The lesson in external threats and opportunities is that failing to act has as significant a set of consequences as choosing to take action. Decisions and non-decisions have consequences. As long as one is prepared to accept the consequences, any decision is acceptable.

The important thing is to make sure that those consequences are considered before choosing whether to move ahead or whether to pass on an opportunity.

Putting It All Together: Initiatives, Priorities and an Approach

November 3, 2008

Today’s post is the culmination of the “trilogy” of posts (see the “Managing by Priority” and number of Business Initiatives” posts for the first two.) My intention is to provide a working model that allows you to decide which projects should be in the portfolio of projects that you would choose to address.

To accomplish this, I have found it best to apply the classical decision making process with a strategic twist. (To learn more about this approach, you may want to visit the American Management Association site and research their seminars on Strategies for Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making or look at some of Peter Drucker’s books and particularly The Practice of Management)

Here’s the model we will use:

  1. Prework: Understand and agree on the problem / opportunity. This is really one of the most critical steps. Often decisions are made incorrectly simply because the “wrong” problem or opportunity is defined. I consider it wise to add a strategic filter to any discussion. Put more simply, the problem or opportunity has to be supportive or related to one of our strategic goals.
  2. Define the Objectives: Establish the outcome of the process. This is a further refinement of the defined problem or opportunity. It speaks broadly to the attributes of a successful decision. Performing this step allows us to assess the decision that we make is in the context of a specific outcome. If it allows us to meet the outcome that we were aiming at, the decision is probably a good one. This can be quickly accomplished by merging perspectives into a brief written statement regarding the desired outcome.
  3. Establish Criteria: Establish boundaries within which the decision must fall. This is yet another level of refinement of the objectives. I like to execute this step before we discuss tactical options. This is because it is not uncommon for the people in the room to be biased toward a particular tactic(s). By establishing criteria first, the group tends to offer more objective factors or conditions by which the options will later be evaluated. Examples of criteria might be ROI, availability of resources, committed executive sponsorship or complexity.
  4. Generate Alternatives: At this stage we are ready to list all of the tactical options. An effective facilitator should be careful not to edit out options or pre-judge them. To enable buy-in, everyone must be heard and the process must have integrity.
  5. Evaluate / Analyze Alternatives: With our choices in front of us and criteria establish by which we may evaluate them, the group is well positioned to determine which projects are the most appropriate ones to be addressed. I do counsel the group to create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term projects as well as allowing some room to handle emergencies.
  6. Make the Decision: This is the final stage. At this point the group reaches alignment. (The choice of the word “alignment” is by design. It is a more apt word to me than “consensus.” In many situations the group does not fully agree but they can “get behind” the decision and agree to move forward with it as the plan for the organization.)

Once all of this has been accomplished, there is typically one of two steps that must take place. Either the group must obtain approval from someone else or it can begin implementation planning. Each of these processes has very defined steps to success and I hope to discuss them in a future post.


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