A structured approach to solving any problem.
Edition 11 of Forward+
1 big idea worth considering.
Have you ever found yourself faced with a complex problem or challenge, but unsure of how to approach it or where to start?
(Yes. Yes is the answer.)
It can be easy to get overwhelmed and stuck in a state of analysis paralysis.
Enter the Simplex method - a problem-solving approach popularized by Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great." Simplex is a structured process that involves four key stages: build-up, breakdown, breakthrough, and build-out.
Let’s take a look at each.
The build-up stage is all about gathering information and data to gain a deep understanding of the problem at hand. And we can break this stage down into parts as well:
Identify and write down who the key stakeholders in the problem are or should be.
Research the problem you’re trying to solve. With tools like ChatGPT, gathering research as a starting place has become easier than ever.
Analyze any existing data you have related to the problem.
Interview the stakeholders.
The goal of this stage is to establish a baseline of knowledge and clarify the scope of the problem.
In the breakdown stage, the problem is broken down into smaller components and analyzed in detail to identify the root causes and potential solutions. Ask yourself and the stakeholders two simple questions:
Why is this happening?
What are the underlying factors contributing to this problem?
The goal of this stage is to develop a detailed understanding of the problem and its underlying causes.
Once you've gained a deeper understanding of the problem, move on to the breakthrough stage. This is where you generate creative solutions to the problem by exploring new ideas and approaches using divergent and convergent thinking. This can involve brainstorming, prototyping, and experimenting with different solutions to see what feels like a good potential path forward. The goal of this stage is to generate a range of potential solutions that can be evaluated and refined.
Finally, in the build-out stage, you implement the chosen solution and continuously refine it over time to ensure long-term success. This should include:
Developing a plan.
Setting clear goals and metrics.
Monitoring progress to ensure that the solution is effective.
The goal of this stage is to implement the solution and ensure that it delivers sustainable results over time.
To make this idea a bit more concrete, what follows is an example of how Simplex might be applied at a software company.
Scenario: Imagine you're a product manager at a software company, and you've noticed that user engagement with your product has been decreasing over the past few months. You're not sure why this is happening, but you know that you need to take action to improve engagement and ensure the long-term success of your product.
Build-up stage: To start, you gather information about the problem. You review user data from the past few months, talk to your customer success team about their observations, and gather feedback from users who have stopped using the product. From this information, you learn that there are several factors contributing to the decline in engagement, including a lack of new features, a difficult onboarding process, and technical issues that are causing frustration for users.
Breakdown stage: Next, you break down the problem into smaller components and analyze each one. You might ask questions like "why are users struggling with the onboarding process?" and "what features are users asking for that we're not providing?" You identify the root causes of each issue and brainstorm potential solutions.
Breakthrough stage: Using the information you've gathered and the insights from your analysis, you generate several solutions. These might include simplifying the onboarding process, adding new features that users have been requesting, and improving the technical stability of the product to reduce frustration and improve user experience.
Build-out stage: Finally, you develop an action plan and implement the chosen solutions. You simplify the onboarding process by creating a step-by-step guide for new users, add new features that have been requested by users, and work with the engineering team to improve the technical stability of the product. You monitor the results of each solution, track progress toward your goals, and make adjustments as needed.
By using the Simplex method, you were able to identify the root causes of the problem and generate solutions to address them. By implementing these solutions and monitoring progress, you were able to improve user engagement and ensure the long-term success of your product.
Notice that nothing above is rocket science - it’s all things that the product, customer success, and engineering teams are likely well-versed in.
But what it does is organize the problem into a coherent framework that can drive alignment and clarity quickly across a disparate group of people and teams. You shorten the path to solutions by having a common framework and language to operate from.
Next time you’re faced with a complex problem at work, try the Simplex method.
It should decrease the overwhelm that can come from these problems which is good for everyone involved, and lead to solutions sooner than later.
2 questions worth asking.
Good questions are the root of good coaching, because inquiry has the power to spark ideas and uncover gold that lies just beneath the surface. Each week on Forward+ I share 2 questions that you can use with yourself, at work, or in your relationships.
Question 1: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
Most of us are really good at saying yes to things. Projects, meetings, commitments. We want to help and that usually comes in the form of saying yes. But every yes comes with a no to everything else. If it doesn’t, that’s when we end up in a state of being overwhelmed and stretched thin. Protect your time. It’s the greatest currency we have.
Question 2: What does done look like?
Projects run the risk of going on in perpetuity because done has never been defined. Define done at the beginning. And when you get to the point of being done, move on. You can always come back to something if the priority of it is obvious. Code should be shipped. Deals should be signed. Projects should be completed. It starts with defining done.
3 links worth exploring.
📚 The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed. (Adam Grant)
💡 Life is a picture but you live in a pixel. (Wait But Why)
🎧 Live a healthier life. (The Knowledge Project by Farnam Street)
That’s a wrap for this week’s edition of Forward+.
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