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Most business executives and managers approach problem solving using a method whose end result is excessive data collection, analysis paralysis, and solutions that cause more problems than they solve. One temporary fix after another is all too common in organizations, with true resolution being the exception rather than the norm. Research indicates that about 92 percent of the population approaches problem solving in a manner that yields the aforementioned results, so what are the other eight percent doing right? In Smart Questions, Gerald Nadler and William Chandon reveal that those most adept at creating lasting solutions are people who ignore what they have been taught about planning, designing, and creating solutions in favor of a holistic approach that is based on asking different types of questions. Rooted in the core concepts of these leading solution creators, the Smart Questions Approach is a repeatable methodology others can emulate to reach breakthrough solutions in their organizations.
SMART QUESTIONS Learn to Ask the Right Questions for Powerful Results AUTHORS: Gerald Nadler and William J. Chandon PUBLISHER: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2004 297 pages
FEATURES OF THE BOOK Smart Questions offers a holistic framework for creating solutions that would benefit any type of organization—business, government, nonprofit, or education—by taking the mindset and strategies of leading solution creators and using them to create a repeatable approach to problem solving.
THE BIG IDEA The holistic approach to solution creation, as exemplified in the Smart Questions Approach , creates lasting, breakthrough solutions.
INTRODUCTION Most business executives and managers approach problem solving using a method whose end result is excessive data collection, analysis paralysis, and solutions that cause more problems than they solve. One temporary fix after another is all too common in organizations, with true resolution being the exception rather than the norm. Research indicates that about 92 percent of the population approaches problem solving in a manner that yields the aforementioned results, so what are the other eight percent doing right?
THE PROBLEM WITH PROBLEM SOLVING Most people are taught to solve problems from a reductionist or “ rationa l” standpoint. Reinforced by the enlightenment philosophy of relying on empirical evidence, logic, and reason, this reductionist method follows a systematic approach of identifying an assumption, collecting data about it, proposing a hypothesis, testing this hypothesis, evaluating results, and stating what knowledge is correct. While this paradigm was an important historical shift to expand scientific knowledge, it has now become the exclusive analytic method in which most people are trained.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF SQA Taking what these solution creators knew intuitively, the authors created a process that others can repeat and use daily. The Smart Questions Approach (SQA) is a holistic methodology for creating solutions of any kind, whether they address family conflicts, corporate strategies, or political issues. SQA is anchored in three foundation questions and a four-phase iterative process that allows people to more fully understand their problem and create a purposeful, living solution.
SQA PHASE 1: PEOPLE INVOLVEMENT Getting a wide range of stakeholders involved and obtaining a diversity of opinions at the outset of a solution creation effort is essential to its success. In a reductionist approach, the process frequently begins by attempting to determine who is at fault for the problem; consulting with those affected by the problem is rare, and when it does occur, it is often done by an “ objective ” outside consultant. The absence of true people involvement is especially evident when the solution crafted by an outside expert or small team must garner “buy-in” from those who are supposed to implement it.
SQA PHASE 2: PURPOSES The purposes phase takes an initial problem statement and turns it into a list of purpose statements in order to broaden the scope for finding a solution. For instance, problem statements focus on a failure of some kind, such as, “We are having late deliveries.” Purpose statements focus on what is trying to be accomplished, such as, “To deliver software that has been ordered.” An expanded list of purposes often reveals that the organization should address a different, and usually larger, purpose than what the initial problem statement implies.
SQA PHASE 3: FUTURE SOLUTION While the purposes phase helps clarify and define what the organization is trying to achieve, the future solution phase begins to frame how to achieve that purpose. The future solution represents the ideal solution; it is the motivating goal for where the organization would like to be in the future under ideal conditions but cannot be presently due to barriers such as unavailable technology, lack of resources, training that is still needed, or additional staff. This is an important step despite these solutions being presently un-installable.
SQA PHASE 4: LIVING SOLUTION While the future solution represents an ideal solution, the living solution represents what can be installed now and planned for in the near future. It has three features: 1) a detailed description of immediate changes, 2) a plan and timeframe for successive stages of change to demonstrate how the living solution will move toward the future solution, and 3) a specific installation plan for the first stages. These features are interconnected and should be considered simultaneously while developing the living solution.
SQA IN ACTION: A CASE STUDY SQA is best understood with concrete examples, and the following case study will help clarify and give greater meaning to the process. This case regards a provider of semi-perishable products which had one of its 24 warehouses experiencing high costs, excessive overtime, late deliveries, and poor product quality at the loading dock. Initially, an engineer was given the task of solving the problem and approached it in a typical reductionist manner.
SQA IN ACTION: A CASE STUDY He collected data about flows, costs, damage, and errors and made various models to try and determine the causes of poor performance, such as misplaced order documents, multiple handling of cartons, etc. The engineer concluded that the best way of improving productivity would be automating the loading dock. He estimated that the $60,000 cost of installation would be paid back in eight months time and, given the striking projected improvement, advised all 24 warehouses to be automated.
SQA IN ACTION: A CASE STUDY <ul><li>In the Purposes Phase, the assistant began by asking his colleagues, “Think about the purposes of the loading dock in as many ways as you can.” Ultimately, they arrived at the following purpose hierarchy from smallest to largest: </li></ul><ul><li>To load trucks </li></ul><ul><li>To consolidate shipments to dealers </li></ul><ul><li>To transport products to dealers </li></ul><ul><li>To distribute company products to dealers </li></ul><ul><li>To make company products available for sale </li></ul><ul><li>To sell company products </li></ul>
SQA IN ACTION: A CASE STUDY The living solution ultimately fostered team-building, increased productivity, reduced costs, and had strategic importance, none of which would have been achieved using the reductionist approach. Shifting toward a holistic approach to problem solving takes patience and dedication at first, but SQA can result in powerful breakthroughs for organizations of all kinds.
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