A framework for dealing with opportunities and problems

As a general rule I categorize my working world into two "buckets" — one filled with Opportunities and the other filled with Problems. I will admit it's an oversimplification but I've found it's a great way to ground myself when I have to deal with things.

op·por·tu·ni·ty [ˌäpərˈt(y)o͞onədē] NOUN — a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something:

prob·lem [ˈpräbləm] NOUN —a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome:

Along with my oversimplified view of things, I have also developed a simple framework of thinking which has increased my probability for success when dealing with "Opportunities and Problems" — see my finely crafted illustration.

At its core, this framework does two things — 1) ensures I consider what's important for my thinking and 2) ensures everything that is actually done stays aligned to address the problem (or opportunity).

There are five considerations that make up this framework, and the result can be as simple or as complicated as you would like to make it (or need to make it).

  1. Identify and understand the "Opportunity or Problem" you are faced with — it is important to understand the situation involved and never underestimate the complexity of what you are dealing with. 
  2. What are your goals to exploit (if it's an opportunity) or solve for (if it's a problem)? You should have no more than two goals, and preferably only one because there is the chance you may spread your efforts too thin, or even miss the mark. If you have too many goals, maybe you have more than one problem or opportunity you have to deal with.
  3. What are the objectives needed to meet your goal(s). Remember objectives need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound) —  I suggest that you have no more than five objectives (three is preferable). If the project is big and gnarly, it may require a few more; I suggest you prioritize them, and as you achieve one objective remove it from the list and add another. 
  4. The activities you need to initiate to achieve the objectives. This could be a laundry list of activities, and they definitely need to be prioritizes because some may build upon each other. Activities, like Objectives, need to be SMART, and are really a tactical subsection of an objective. This sub-sectioning keeps everything you have to do in a manageable form, and helps identify the last consideration.
  5. Resources — nothing gets done without people, money, systems, and time. Rallying the resources around the activities ensure things get done and helps prevent reallocation of your resources somewhere else if scope creep comes into play. Depending on the complexity of the goal and associated objectives, having a resource allocated to act as a project manager or "facilitator" may make sense. Sometimes all of this can get very, very complex and fall off the rails very, very quickly if someone isn't looking at the big picture. 

The order of things I've outlined just reflects the planning process you should go through so you can articulate what you need to do and get approval to proceed — or get the green light as we like or say in the business.

Once you get that... well... then it's just a matter of rallying the resources to get the activities going to drive your objectives forward; in turn meet your goal(s) to solve the problem (or take advantage of the opportunity).

Easy Peasy — then again, I may be oversimplifying.


The messaging of an idea... solutions and problems — PART 3

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As Renée Cormier and I continue to dig deeper into "The messaging of an idea" (which I might add Jerry Fletcher called an arduous task), we have been spending a fair bit of time discussing and debating how to approach it — because as Jerry suggested it's a big and meaty topic. I'm of the mind set that we build our efforts organically using our original posts, incorporating our ongoing discussions, people's thoughts and insights, as well as any comments that come our way. I think the jury is still out as far as Renée is concerned. 

In a recent discussion, the point about not letting an idea be a "solution looking for a problem" came up — and somewhere in the discussion Renée asked, "What do you do when your solution has problems?". She then reached for a blue sticky note in her bag, wrote on it, and stuck it on my computer. Triumphantly she said, "There... there is your next blog topic". 


"What to do when your solution has problems?"

I am almost certain someone, somewhere, is thinking that it can't be much of a solution if it has problems right out of the gate. Although that may be true in a perfect world, in the real world there are two truisms that you need to consider — there is no such thing as perfection and there will always be problems (some big and some small). 

Recognizing this, there are two considerations that come with this question... one has to do with messaging and the other does not; although it does influence the messaging of your solution (aka idea).

Understand the problems that are associated with your solution —

Although this is not directly associated with the art and science of messaging your solution, it does influence what you have you say, as well as how you are going to say it. It is extremely important to understand the problems that will impact how you will make your solution a reality — and I will say it is much easier said than done. It's crucial to look at your solution as objectively as possible, understand its strengths and opportunities, and understand its weaknesses and PROBLEMS. There are two outcomes in doing this: 

  • An understanding if your solution can really solve the problem.
  • A prioritized list of the problems your solution has to work through (from biggest to smallest).

In doing this you will — 1) determine if your solution is viable and 2) identify (and understand) the problems you need to work through for the best solution.

As I say, this can be very difficult to accomplish when you look at your solution in the cold, stark, light of reality — we humans are notoriously optimistic and sadly this has given birth to the saying, "He's living in a fantasyland".

Messaging a solution that inherently has problems (and they all do) —

"Be honest and transparent — full stop".

I suppose I should elaborate a little. It is always best to lead with the strengths and opportunities associated with your solution, and of course minimize your weaknesses and problems — that's just good "selling". This is not to suggest that you should ever misrepresent yourself, but rather acknowledge this is an aspect of managing how you present the problems that come with your solution.

It is important to do two things here : 

  • Without apologizes, be clear what the problems of your solution are.
  • More importantly, have a plan to overcome any major problems (and if you can't, see above).

Oh, and something else...

When you are actually presenting your idea (and solution) make sure you listen to what people are saying, the questions they have, and the challenges they make. Your audience is not just trying to understand what you are saying, but experience has shown, also try to help solve the problems your solution may have.

And one last point since I'm on a roll, and it's a very important one — if you ever find yourself saying "they don't know what they're talking about" after your presentation, then there is a very high probability you are living in a fantasyland.*

Just sayin'.


* I know this to be true because I've heard it said before.

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The problem statement... a solution to a runaway meeting.

A meeting can be defined as a gathering of two or more people that has been convened for the purpose of achieving a common goal such as sharing information, reaching agreement, etc.* - With that said, meetings are one of those business topics that are easy fodder for opinion, which more often than not, isn't flattering.

Dave Barry, the Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist said, "Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate". I myself can still remember a meeting where a team, after 45 minutes, had still not come up with a name for themselves, I truly don't know if they ever did, as I just left to go do something more productive... see how easy it is to take shots. It is not my intention to spend any time on the "six easy steps for a more effective meeting", as the Internet can serve you very well that way. I did however, want to spend a minute or two on how the "Problem Statement" can be used to effectively stop a runaway meeting. 

A while back, I found myself in a "we have to fix this meeting"... six or seven people around the table brainstorming and as you may appreciate, it was a free for all with conversation from every direction. About ten minutes into the meeting, a very wise financial leader asked a very simple question that brought the meeting to a very abrupt and silent halt.

"What is the problem statement we are trying to solve for?"

It was very apparent we really did not know what we were there to discuss, let alone solve for. After about five or so minutes of reflective comments and open thoughts, we rallied around a half-baked problem and finished the meeting. I actually don't know if we had another meeting on the subject, but then again, I may have blacked it out.

As a quick definition, a problem statement is a concise description of the issues that need to be addressed by a problem solving team and should be presented to them (or created by them) before they try to solve the problem*. Asking what the "problem statement is" comes in handy as a galvanizing question in meetings when the objective is to solve a problem - It is also useful to sort out meetings that don't seem to have an objective.

This brings me to another point... all meetings should have articulated objectives:

  • A meeting to share information.
  • A meeting to plan (includes meeting to take advantage of an opportunity).
  • A meeting to solve a problem.
  • A meeting to reach agreement and manage next steps.

In my opinion every meeting should begin with the meeting's objective and the problem statement that the meeting is trying to solve for. But again, everyone has opinions on meetings.


* definitions are from Wikipedia