Are creative problem solving methods a waste of time?
Reading lengths: 20min;
Content: Experience; Reflections
Keywords: #sailboat method; #to do or not to do; #challanges; #oportunities; #the gains; #the time
This article will review creative problem solving and preparation from another angle – what might happen if you DON'T invest time and energy to analyze and plan ahead. Regardless of whether you are alone in pursuit of a happy ending or with the other people interested in achieving the goal.
I think that from this introduction it might be transparent where I'm going with this. Might it seem it does lead to the failure? Yes, of course, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this article. However, my key focus in this article is not on the failure itself. Failures do happen, and we (hopefully) learn from them, so they are inseparable from our development path. But what is more interesting is why a person who is native in planning, analyzing, structuring, and does know by heart the reasons to do it does herself skip these activities and afterward are surprised about the consequences. Why did I decide I didn't need analyzing and planning in the case I will be talking about? And what have I learned from it? Will I now plan every single step? Does the time investment pay off to plan every single step? I'll talk about that at the end of this article, but I'll start by describing the situation that led me to this.
Some people who knew me and my professional background in Agile asked me to help out and present this topic at the event they were organizing. On the clarifying question, "What is the purpose, and what are you looking for?" I got a standard answer "We need an overview of what it is, what benefits are there, and when to use it. Everyone is now talking about Agile, and we don't want to lag behind".
Ok, sounds easy to me. I have been talking about this topic quite a lot, in different settings and with quite diverse audiences. I have enough practical experience in organizing products and service development work using Agile methods, and thus I have enough good examples and failures to share. I also don't need to prepare much of the visual materials. I have enough materials with different focus points in my pocket, and I can reuse them. The only BUT for me was the audience - this will be the first time I will talk for Latvia audience and people from the industry my friends come from. However, at first (and, honestly, second and third too), it doesn't seem too problematic for me. My friends asked me to give an overview presentation, and an overview presentation doesn't focus on very much of the specifics and details. So I evaluate the risk as "low" and, since I'll not need to invest lots of preparation time, I agree to do it. I spend some hour or two creating a discussion frame, shaping the story to tell, and supporting it with visual materials. And here I am – ready to go.
What was I lacking?
The beginning of our discussion was really, really good. I started my show with an introduction and general terms. I have some of the jokes in my pocket too, and it always pays off. People are looking at me with a smile on their faces. They whisper something to each other and are nodding – this is extremely good for the Latvian audience. We continue with bit more details, usage scenarios, and key principles. My audience is starting to ask questions, and that is still very good. It means they do understand what I'm telling, and they are interested in the topic. Questions are basic too. I've explained them so many times; it's not hard for me to answer those questions also this time.
Yet, while I'm getting into more specifics, I sense that the trouble might be coming with the back of my brain. It looks like the relaxed and positive atmospheres start to vanish when I go deeper into explaining how it works in practice. It seems like the still basic concepts I'm explaining don't seem so obvious and reasonable to my audience after all. More importantly, based on the body language, I see that these concepts don't seem to be acceptable for them. Well, that's not good at all, and I'm not ready for such a shift at this point when I am still talking about, I'll repeat, very much basics. For me, topics like agile estimation, planning, etc., seem to be the ones I don't need to explain and prove for a long time already. In my presentation, we get stuck on the need and trust in short-term versus long-term planning, about team involvement and motivation. I don't see my audience smiling anymore, and some of the eyebrows have gone high up. My audience doesn't seem to agree and accept what I'm saying, even if I have some perfect examples in my pocket to share. The problem with my examples is that they come from the industry I am from – IT. But these folks represent different industry, and, you know, everyone always thinks their industry is so unique, and other industry examples don't apply to them. And this is what I see here too – these people are not convinced, and they don't digest the information I'm sharing with them anymore.
My personal assessment of the end result - we got stuck somewhere in the middle. My showtime was coming to an end. I managed to run through the rest of the presentation quickly since there were much more of the concepts I wanted to talk about. But at such a speed, I managed to say only one-third of what I was aiming for. So the summary of my showtime – people not convinced and buying what they heard, I didn't manage to explain all what I thought would be valuable and needed for them. So the expected easy presentation turned into a small disaster.
I wished a great day to everyone and left the stage. Yet the case and situation hung up with me for much more longer. What if I had prepared better? What if I had looked up closer fit examples and invested more time before I agreed? I found such cases on the internet afterward and sent those for review, but I don't believe they will make a difference now. Would I have these cases in my pocket at the stage I'm sure I would have succeeded to a greater extent?
How so, Zane?
Yes, I'm also confused about myself. First of all, I can blame myself for too much relying on my persuasiveness. I didn't pay off this time for sure. Second of all, I wrongly assessed the situation, which I did in a hurry. Even if the majority of variables – the theme, the understanding of the topic, the experience, the representation materials – I still don't see as risks, one variable let me down. I did evaluate the industry relevance and case studies as a backup wrongly, and it turned to be the most critical risk that impacted the whole show the most.
Would have the sales method helped me?
Most probably, I'll always confirm questions like this. If we (myself, of course, and the people who invited me) had invested more time in the preparation, the result could be different. For example, if we had used the sailboat method, we would have ideated and assessed the aim we were striving for more precisely. From all of the different ideas we could have thought of, I'm sure we would have also touched the industry relevance risk, case studies as buoys. It could have looked something like this:1. Anchor1: Lack of experience of Agile methods used in industry X.
- Use cases and examples from industry
- Competitors analysis and use cases
- Research in industry and practices
- Search for available information about innovations in the industry
- Practical examples from close industries
- People stories?
- Research in industry and practices
- Competitors analysis and use cases
- Employee motivation theory and use cases
- People stories?
Here I'm mentioning only these two potential risks, which turned out to be troubling for me. Yet, I'm sure we would have thought and prepared much more. And who knows, maybe we would have come up with something extra that would have changed the whole thing.
What makes the sailboat method so unique?
Any method focusing on the structure, risks, and solutions would have worked here. Structure helps to sort and categorize all ideas that come into mind and gives them meaning in the picture. That's why structured methods make much more sense to me than simple brainstorming methods. And the sailboat method is one of such structured methods. As a bonus sailboat method helps to review different angles of the situation at once – strong sides, weak sides, and potential risks as well as give a chance for quick ideation regards solutions. That is even more important when you don't plan to use other methods focused solely on the strong sides, the weak sides, or solutions for potential risks.
If you don't like design thinking methods (are there such people at all??), you can do a classical risk assessment and management activities. I think they would have taken more time, and to me, they seem too heavy for situations like this. And they simply are less fun.
Why don't you use it always than yourself?
Even if it's less time, it still does require some time. It would be 30minutes as a minimum, yet if you plan to use all elements, it will be more. And I know very well that sometimes we are really missing this little time. Even if we could find the time, don't we often feel too confident in the success and don't feel the necessity for extra assessments? Especially if we are talking about risks that might never realize anyway? So the question remains valid – if and when it's worth investing the time?
By the way, I don't think there is a one-fits-all answer to this question. It all depends. It depends on the time we have (need) to invest and the return on investment we plan to achieve. We need to find the balance for these two impacts everyone individually. The balance point where invested time is in balance with the expected return will differ from one person to another. And it is not always constant for the same person as well. It tends to change over time depending on our past success and failure cases—the same way it happened to me.
However, I have two guiding questions I'm paying much more attention to since this case happened:
1. How important is the goal for me?
Personally and professionally, practically and materially. If any of these seems high, I think it's worth investing extra time for analysis and planning just to be on the safe side. If these don't seem important, then maybe it's not worth spending extra time.
2. How much do I know about the situations and obstacles impacting it?
If I'm confident I know all of the factors impacting the situation, extra analysis and planning time might be unnecessary. Only if I'm really, really, triple sure about them. However, if anything is new or unclear, it's worth investing time to gain extra security.
If the situation is entirely new, however, then without any doubt, it's worth investing time for analysis, ideas generation, and planning the path to success. If you commit to doing anything, then better to do it with the best possible quality.
You decide what fits you and what doesn't, when it's too much and when not. "Less is More," or is it "More is less" – that is a great topic for a discussion.
Did you like this method and the description of it?
Do give me a note about it.
I will appreciate it if you include in your message what you did like, what you think should be improved, and of course, any other ideas that would be worth experimenting with.
Maybe you want to join me in some of the method experiments?
Do you have interest or experience in this method usage?
I would love to hear your example. Let me know.