The Difference In Lean Problem Solving for Sales and Marketing


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The transformation of Lean into Sales and Marketing has a few subtleties and one of them is the way you go about solving problems. The typical Lean Thinker goes about solving a problem very systematically using a variety of processes such as A3s, PDCA, 8D or DMAIC, etc. They are all based on the scientific method and the steps are:

  • Define a Problem
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

In contrast, Sales and Marketing people have a tendency to make an initial exploration which I phrase EDCA or Explore-Do-Check-Act versus the scientific method of PDCA or Plan-Do-Check-Act. I prefer to use the word Adjust over Act. This initial step seems relatively the same but the real difference comes in the framing of the context. The engineer or scientist views it as a problem-solve analysis. Sales and Marketing solve from a solution-focused synthesis.

Paraphrased from Nigel Cross’s book, Engineering Design Methods: Strategies for Product Design:

Designers tend to use conjectures about solution concepts as the means of developing their understanding of the problem. Designers impose a primary generator and generate early solution concepts. This is used to base a tightly restricted set of constraints or solution possibilities. The problem cannot be fully understood in isolation from the solution, so solution conjectures should be used as a means to understand and explore the problem formulation. As the architect, Richard MacCormac has said, “What you need to know about the problem only becomes apparent as you’re trying to solve it.”

Solution-focused strategies are perhaps the best way of tackling sales and marketing problems which are by nature ill-defined problems. The major hindrance to this type of thinking is found in becoming fixated on a particular early solution concept and an unwillingness to discard the concept. Instead the make minor improvements rather than discard the work and stat with a fresh idea. Another problem is going too much in depth versus staying at a minimum level to continue the process. You should look to having a “reflective conversation with the situation,” so wonderfully said by Schon.

Cross added these steps for the solution focused process:

  • Clarify requirements by asking sets of related questions which focus on problem structure.
  • Actively searched for information and critically check given requirements.
  • Summarize information on the problem formulation into requirement and partially prioritize them.
  • Do not suppress first solution ideas, hold on to them and return to them to clarify the problem rather than pursuing them in depth.
  • Detach themselves during conceptual design stages from fixation on early solution concepts.
  • Produce variants but limited the production and overview periodically assessing and evaluating in order to reduce the number of possible variants.

Another part of the process, especially used by designers and architects is the act of sketching. They have a tendency through sketching to handle different levels of detail shifting from overall concept to detailed aspect practically simultaneously. Sketching permits tentative solutions to be explored and investigated and the typical hierarchy steps of problem-solving analysis are prevented.

In marketing, think of exploring a customer journey map allowing for multiple paths to be explored. For example think of a user scenario that might help you identify multiple paths. A few ideas on constructing one:

  • Practice being a user. A good exercise is to use de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and apply that thinking taking different user points of views.
  • Observe users in action. Insure you are watching both novices and experience people.
  • Question users about their experience. You can use a variety of methods that are formal, unstructured and even focused groups.
  • Create user personas and scenarios. A persona is about a well-defined but hypothetical user and a scenario is a storyline about the use of a product or service.

In Sales and Marketing evolving to an answer though customer interaction is one of the best methods of problem solving. You may have to accept a solution that may not be the best in your mind. But an idea that can be implemented is much better than one that cannot be.

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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