Are you solving the wrong problem?
Why you need to stop commissioning “solutions”?
Delegation. It’s something you are undoubtedly good at if you’ve reached a level where you’re making key business decisions. But what do you delegate? Do you delegate the development of solutions, or do you delegate the solving of problems? Or do you delegate the achievement of goals? And why does it matter?
What’s the issue with solutions?
If you’ve identified a problem in your business and given it some thought, you will most likely come up with a few ideas about how it could be solved. Most of us like to solve problems. We tend to jump in, disregarding our biases and assumptions in coming up with what may at first glance seem like good solutions. We then weigh up what we believe to be the pros and cons of our possible solutions, then present our chosen one to our team or an external agency to design and build.
We often do the same with new products, narrowing down the list of features into a neat package to be commissioned.
By giving our team a non-negotiable, predefined solution, we’ve removed any need for them to really dig deep into the business challenges we’re working to solve, or that our product will solve for our customers.
We’ve also deprived our team of the opportunity to gain a shared understanding of the issues involved. We might know why we’ve put a certain specification in there, but do they? This lack of shared understanding opens the door to assumptions and potential misunderstandings. And this is where it can all start to go horribly wrong.
So, what’s the alternative?
Delegate goals rather than problems or solutions
Is delegating what we believe to be the problem a better idea? Well, no. Here’s why.
Let’s say I have an app that sells shoes. The app isn’t bringing in enough business: this is my problem. I want my team to fix the app so that it works better. But ultimately, my goal is to increase sales.
That’s what I should be delegating — my goal! Because there could be problems beyond the app that are stopping me from reaching it. My target market may hate buying shoes through an app, or the product images might be the real problem, not the app itself.
If I tell my team the problem is the sign-up process in the app, I would miss the point. They’d “fix” that and I’d still have poor sales and be no closer to my goal.
Give people a goal and, if they’re going to do a good job, they need to first spend time understanding the problem (or challenges) standing between them and that goal. They need to question assumptions and biases, and really understand what users need, which may be entirely different to what you think they want or need. In the process, they come up with the best possible solution.
This approach requires that your team do the user research necessary to back up their decisions. It opens the door to think about things differently and to innovate.
It’s a demand that professionals appreciate though, as it gives them the opportunity to design the best solution and not just any solution. They’ll have a greater investment in the success of your project since they can help shape it, bringing their best and most innovative thinking to it. And their work reflects well on you, the person who has given them permission to question and space to innovate.
Delegating a predefined solution, whether a new product, a new piece of software or the development of new workflow, guarantees you an inferior outcome, because your list of specifications will most likely include untested assumptions and unconscious bias.
This leaves your team little chance of identifying problems that could be critical to making the solution a success. It also leaves no room for innovation.
Delegate a goal however, and you give your team the opportunity to do the research and ask the questions that can so often bring critical insights. You also give them the chance to invest themselves in the success of the project, and open up space for innovation. You personally have less work to do, the risk of the project failing is diminished, and your starting point (your goal) is a ready-made and business-relevant measure for your project’s success.