Categories
Coaching Leadership

You Don’t Have One Problem Anymore

When you only have one problem, it’s almost certainly got an approachable solution. It might not be easy, and it might take a while to get there, but you will likely be able to see a path to get to where you need to be.

This can often be the state of play when you are working at the level of a single team. You have one big overriding problem to deal with at a time, you figure it out, then you solve it.

As you take on more responsibility, the chances that you are dealing with just a single problem become vanishingly small. Working across a group of teams, you quickly find that each team has their own problems, whether that’s product, project or people issues. There’s also things going on in the wider world, across the organisation and even inside your own department.

Now you need to work with different strategies. These problems are going to be linked to one another, so working on one could make another worse. You won’t be able to solve them all, so you need to figure out where to put your focus. Things will change, so you need to be ready to adapt to what’s coming.

  • Understand – Look at everything that’s a problem right now. Figure out the Important or Urgent ones, delegate or ignore the rest.
  • Relate – Put together problems that are related. If working on one impacts another then you need to understand that relationship.
  • Communicate – If people feel their problems are being ignored, then they will feel that those problems are unsurmountable. Let them know where the focus is, and why.

Keep going through this process on a regular basis. You’ll solve a few problems, some will get more important and need more focus. Some might just go away!

There’s a lot more that you need to do when working at the higher level. You don’t just have a single big problem any more, and you need to recognise that to succeed.

Categories
Leadership

Work the Problem

Technologists love solving problems, it’s one of the defining characteristics that pulls people into the world of high-tech. When this desire is put towards the right ends, then it’s a powerful force for good. There are some tools and techniques that can keep you on this path, and a few traps to watch out for.

First up, be clear what the true problem is you are trying to solve. Understand what the issue is, consider who is impacted now and what will change once it’s solved. Look at the value in the solution, the costs involved in solving it and the opportunity cost of targeting this vs something else.

Taking time to build this understanding gives a proper frame to the problem. It’ll prevent a couple of the traditional mistakes we can make, things like automating the existing bad process, or only providing benefit to the noisy stakeholders who are demanding a solution right now.

Now, step away from pure technical solutions. If you stay fully in the world of software and hardware, you’ll find you default to solving all problems by just writing code. The longer you do this, the easier it is to drift away from your customers, until all you care about is the minor version of the tech stack and wringing out another micro performance update. You’ll probably place too much weight on getting rid of old software just because it’s built in a slightly outdated way, rather than moving on because it’s no longer serving a purpose.

So, look over the problem again. If you aren’t selling enough of a widget, then don’t immediately jump on updating a feature. Maybe you are not marketing it to the right people, or your copy is out of date. Is it a complex product that has a sales funnel? Can you optimise that? Are people using it correctly or is it too complex? Maybe the right solution is taking away features rather than adding more?

When you look up beyond the purely technical, you increase the overall impact you are able to have. Work with the cross-functional experts in all the disciplines relevant to the problem and you’ll always come up with a better solution. You can be confident that when you break out the development environment and start cutting code that you’ve worked the problem and that a technical solution is the right one.