What kind of problem solving is that?

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When I first started working years ago there seem to be a fairly prescriptive way of doing things.

  • In sales: We used Rackman’s SPIN Selling techniques and of course, we did this with the decision maker.
  • In Marketing: We looked at three different lead generation techniques – Public Relations, Advertising and Referrals.
  • In operations: We followed Total Quality Management principles with a little Material Resource Planning and a good solid operations/project plan to follow.
  • In Management: We used Management by Objectives.

All we had to do was hit our numbers. If we ran into a problem, we followed a sequence of steps which if done well resulted in pretty good solution. As the world became more competitive, TQM and MBO fell out of favor and along came Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and Theory of Constraints. There was a little Systems Thinking, but we left that to the affluent, the educators and stuff.

Lean Manufacturing made great strides as we moved from making standard products to more customized products. We used Lean to minimize waste and reduce setup times. It was still linear thinking and many of us caught on right away. We even optimized the system by utilizing the Theory of Constraints to pinpoint the problem and work on the right solution. We took a deeper dive (I say this tongue in cheek) into higher quality utilizing Six Sigma. As we moved into a service economy the same linear thoughts continued. We modified our value stream mapping tools and changed a few names but waste by golly was waste. We continued to make great strides.

Customers are becoming more fickle, they wanted to enjoy the experience beyond just functional use. We brought designers in and had them add a few more features. What they did helped, it sold a few more products. So, they become more involved in our work. It was funny those designers thought different. They did not begin with understanding the problem or finding root-cause through a linear approach. They looked at solutions and opportunities. I had heard of things like this before. There is the Shainin Method that looked and isolated the Y’s. But these designers did not know the difference between a X and Y. They just tried things. They even tried things, in my opinion way to early with customers. We knew about prototyping, but we did that internally to protect our trade secrets. These designers did not seem to care. Why should they, they had already changed their mind and were trying something else before anyone could copy it.

It looks to me that you will have a lot of problems with companies that adhere to this. It is a very chaotic way to progress, very little clarity through the entire process. I heard a designer quote this person Horst Rittel, “You will never understand the problem until you have developed a solution.” What kind of problem solving is that? All this seems backwards to me. They did mention a few companies that had tried it, funny names, I had not heard of them before; Amazon and Google.

Fictitious letter from a seasoned executive – maybe date it around 2004?

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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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