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Before you find the solution, you need to understand the problem.

December 18, 2017

Besides great software, effective organisational transformation requires consideration, planning and creativity.

While recently travelling in to a customer site on the London Underground, it occurred to me that as Transport for London (TfL) works to expand capacity on their network they are faced with a range of legacy issues: structural challenges, baked in ‘opinions’ and the inevitable hard constraints on what’s actually possible. The similarities with a number of organisations we work and partner with really struck a chord – operating in predefined spaces, with ever increasing demand from a growing population, existing (and much maligned) systems for managing the task, significant cost pressures on capital and revenue budgets, and hard restrictions on accommodating the growing demand.

Faced with a scenario like this, it is not uncommon for organisations to jump straight into software solutions to help them figure out the best way forward – without first considering the full scope of the problem and the business processes involved, and without properly defining requirements and an acceptable range of outcomes. It is often ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ in terms of skipping or discarding lots of useful avenues of discovery that can be used to create a better outcome.

The key question for us is, really, how to best address the problem in such a way that an appropriate solution is achieved. A collaborative approach to achieving a detailed understanding of the problem, and its requirements, coupled with openness to creativity and imagination are all characteristics of a better journey to a solution.

EventMAP are currently working with several large, multi-site, public sector organisations undergoing a range of transformation-related challenges (largely centred around type and availability of space) in regions where space is amongst the most costly and valuable in the world. The distributed nature of the teams involved within these organisations frequently results in a unilateral ‘solution definition’ and, in the particular case of space allocation for meetings and training, the arrival at a quick conclusion that it is simply the incumbent room booking software that is at the root of the problem. And from here, launching headlong into a search for other, narrowly-focused solutions – without coherently, and collaboratively, defining any wider problems, or properly defining the actual scope and requirements needed for a genuinely effective solution.

As professionals involved in user-led, rather than producer-driven, optimisation solutions for timetabling, examination scheduling, room booking, space planning and management over the past two decades, we have collectively long professed the belief that software is only part of the solution. Progressing straight to the identification of the solution without dissecting and scoping the problem in its entirety is not the way forward. A major source of project failure is incomplete, inaccurate, and misunderstood requirements. In a nutshell, if you don't identify the ‘right’ requirements for a project, problems will be multiplied at every other step of the process.

Operational problems, however, are not always straightforward and they can be caused by many factors. Deciding on the best course of action can be more involved than purchasing software or consultancy services.

The definitive capture of requirements for initiatives is a high-stakes activity, faced with conflicting requests from customers, users and partners – the ability to work with an organisation to define and prioritise requirements, foresee related impacts, ways to turn unrealistic expectations into realistic features, and create actionable plans is critical.

The optimum result is to find the best solution, whether it is business procedures, process, change or software-focused (or most often a combination of these), which serves the best business model for that client. And it is the successful progress of the process that ensures the client will prosper.

In this approach, the fundamental value proposition is not software, it is business process change for more effective business function, clearly understood processes supporting this, greater transparency and, ideally, a decrease in workload and stress for the organisation’s community – whether employees or customers – that the solutions provider offers.

And who couldn’t do with a little less stress in their working lives?

JP Lane



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