Sunday, July 8, 2018

Running IT as a Systematic Problem-Solver

Fundamentally, running a business is an iterative problem-solving continuum.

With the overwhelming growth of information and fierce competitions, IT becomes the decisive factor for the business’s long-term success. Fundamentally, running a business is an iterative problem-solving continuum. Nowadays, Information Management is not just about information or process, but a systematic management discipline for problem-solving. Organizations today have to aggressively leverage digital technologies, platforms, and tools as the enabler of communication, collaboration, social interaction, and brainstorming, for proactively engaging in problem-solving.

Define the business problem, not just the IT initiative: To reinvent IT to get digital ready, IT management needs to shift from inside-out operation-oriented to outside-in business driven; focus on solving business problems, not just fixing IT issues. Logically, a solution is nothing if the real problem is not perceived. Many IT organizations getting stuck at the lower level of organizational maturity spend significant time and resources on fixing symptoms, but the real problems keep coming back; it wastes time & resources, decreases productivity and stifles business performance. Behind every problem is a relationship dynamic out of business-IT alignment. Therefore, creating the awareness of the real problem is the first step to make a solution understood and accepted; not just the band-aid approach to fixing the symptom. IT leaders and managers should leverage Systems Thinking to understand the “scope” of the problem, see a larger system with interactive pieces and “conflict” goals; provide the insight into the emergent properties, gain an accurate understanding of the overall situation and hence better defining the real problem structurally. It is important to assess the problem systematically by understanding human dynamics, systems, and relationships, the combination of parts and the interactions within the system and between the system and its environment. It's worthwhile considering why things are the way they are for, in doing so, you are challenging automatic assumptions that something needs 'fixing.' Problem-solving is about seeing a problem and actually delivering a real solution to that problem, not just the band-aid approach to fixing the symptom.

Figure out alternative solutions: To reinvent IT as the change department and business problem-solver, IT leaders need to shift “we always do things like that” mentality, practice out-of-the-box thinking to figure out better solutions to either existing or emerging business problems. IT leaders need to have a strong business orientation and ability to bring the benefits of IT to solve business issues innovatively. To run IT as a systematic problem-solver, the emphasis is in doing “better pre-work” to define the situation and “success criteria,” enabling consideration of the range of options, rather than the traditional “jump to solution” problem-solving mentality and methodology. The role of modern CIO is to identify and blend the ways that information and technology can assist and shape the business by linking all digital aspects together to create business synergy for solving complex problems today. It requires IT leaders and staff to work closely with the business as thinking creatively about a problem requires being close to the problem, understanding context, and intangible variables. It is also important to experiment, explore, and encourage the new way to solve problems, you can't always wait for the "best" solution to emerge. Digital leaders and professionals today should have a learning attitude to think about alternative solutions and focus on effective problem-solving, not finger-pointing. The success of any problem-solving must follow a set of digital principles, as well as include the welfare of the principals - employees, giving them active roles, make them feel important, appreciate and reward them, solve real issues, not just fix the symptoms, in order to run a high-performance business.

Measure the achieved business results: Besides defining and solving problems, building transparent problem-solving processes should also include measuring the achieved business results. Effective measurement enables business improvement. The organization that didn't have a systematic approach to measurement and analysis at both the strategic and operational level has a giant blind spot that is impairing their performance or problem-solving effectiveness. Leverage the “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bounded) framework to discuss timelines, set goals, identify relevant metrics and drive accountability. The foundation is the management process for problem-solving. Coming up with 1-3 major aims/goals that everyone understands and agrees upon is key. Having a goal that has the purpose should always have first priority, followed by refining that said goal, measure the achieved business results and make continuous improvement.

IT needs to be a proactive and systematic business problem solver by setting priority right, working collaboratively with the business to identify blind spots, close management gaps, applying creativity in a recursive way to the business process for both problem identification and problem-solving, and managing a systematic problem-solving cycle skillfully.


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