Does Lean solve the Wicked Problem of Sales and Marketing: SD-Logic


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In our Sales and Marketing efforts we typically try to systemize the process so that we can become effective and efficient in our efforts. We build sales and marketing funnels to accomplish this. In Design, we create customer journey maps and service blueprints to improve the customer experience. Both types of efforts though well intended, miss the mark. These efforts assume we can control the customers’ journey and arrive at a pre-determined outcome. Hence, a Wicked Problem of Sales and Marketing; the customer cannot be controlled.

When demand exceeded supply the above logic or product/ goods dominant thinking (GD-Logic) became the standard for most organizations. Our economy was transactional based, and value was determined at the point of exchange. We are evolving to a Service Dominant Logic (SD-Logic) economy where value is now co-created with a customer and value is not realized till the product/service is used. However, value is now determined by several parties that typically have different views further defining a wicked problem.

As we move into a SD-Logic world, most organizations are facing a situation which is more complex. The simple ways of GD-Logic are slowly leaving. They are no longer producing the results that they once did. As a result, the approach has to change, which is the reason for SD-Logic. On the surface, this may not seem like an insurmountable problem. We have experts in value. We even have experts in SD-Logic. We know the problem and its environment, and we have numerous processes and tools to solve it. We even perceive we know what the solution looks like. However, the problem is wicked.

If it was not wicked, it would be a tame product or in the above terms GD-Logic thinking. A tame problem is described by Jeff Conklin in Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems

Not all problems are wicked. In contrast, a ‘tame problem’ is one for which the traditional linear process is sufficient to produce a workable solution in an acceptable time frame. A tame problem:people collaborate

  1. Has a well-defined and stable problem statement;
  2. Has a definite stopping point, i.e. When the solution is reached;
  3. Has a solution that can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong;
  4. Belongs to a class of similar problems that are all solved in the same similar way;
  5. Has solutions that can be easily tried and abandoned;
  6. Comes with a limited set of alternative solutions.

Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber coined the term, Wicked Problem in the context of problems in which a scientific-rational approach (a linear approach) cannot be applied because of the lack of a clear problem definition and differing perspectives of stakeholders. Thus, wicked problems are characterized by the following:

  1. The solution depends on how the problem is framed and vice-versa (the problem definition depends on the solution).
  2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
  3. The constraints that the problem is subject to and the resources needed to solve it change over time.
  4. The problem is never solved definitively.

In summary, a wicked problem may never be solved. It becomes a learning experience among the parties involved. We may still have experts of certain domains. We still require leadership, not in a sense of a hierarchy of command and control. It is not in a sense of a defining the customers’ problem and providing the solution. We are not starting from the perspective that someone in the room has the answer. We are looking for higher-level solutions, aka The Challenger Sale model, which can only be found by the collaborative learning of the room. Often times, the solution is found before the problem can be defined – another trait of a wicked problem.

Lean is the methodology of choice for dealing with wicked problems and instituting SD-Logic. The two pillars of Lean form the strength for this argument. However, it is the iterative process of Lean that makes it ideal for working with wicked problems. Many might say that PDCA is to regimented and linear to use. I have introduced EDCA (Explore – Do – Check – Act (Learned from @GrahamHill) in my writings before that creates the Design Thinkers role which is much more applicable to co-creation and, as a result, SD-Logic. However, Lean has always warned us from using the term solutions and has preferred the term counter-measures.

When most people look at Lean, they see Lean is part of the problem. It is a process methodology that can be used to solve tame problems. Lean has been used effectively on the supply side to do this. However, Lean has evolved from a process methodology and into a Business process based on two pillars; Respect for People (Servant Leadership) and Continuous Improvement (PDCA

Respect for people has evolved into the embodiment of the principle of Servant Leadership. This principle must be embraced not only internally but externally. It is not enough to hold focus groups or send out surveys to customers. Our organizations (just not sales and marketing) must embrace the concept of humility. We must go to Gemba (the place of work) on a premise of not knowing. We must be willing to ask others to work with customers knowing that they now hold the solutions to their own problems. This may be viewed as decentralization of power to the frontline and a major stumbling block that needs to be addressed. Servant Leadership and relinquishing the power of the Andon to our internal floor personnel is no different than placing an Andon in our customers’ hand.

The pillar of continuous improvement (PDCA) is not about an organization approaching sales and marketing from a problem-solution approach. If we do that, we start by assuming that someone knows the answer and the organization that could provide an effective solution at a competitive price would win the order. This is GD-Logic thinking. In SD-Logic, co-creation and co-development forms a learning journey. As we moved into SD-Logic type thinking, we find out we can’t know the answer other than by acting. Not consultation, but learning by doing process. It is simply not possible figuring it out by talking about it.

When we step back, Lean could be considered a wicked problem in itself; a problem that never should or could be solved.

P.S. The next Frontier – Super Wicked Problems

From Wikipedia: K. Levin, et al. introduced the distinction between “wicked” and “super wicked problems” in their discussion of global climate change, revised and published in 2012, “Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change” Policy Sciences (May). They define super wicked problems as having the following additional characteristics:

  1. Time is running out.
  2. No central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Policies discount the future irrationally.

Will “Super Lean” be the answer?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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