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Four Stages of Implementation in Problem Solving

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You’ve conducted your audit, discovered the problem, and found the solution. In a sense, you have completed the most stressful part of problem solving. Yet, implementation of the solution is where many leaders and tribes fail. 

Implementation is possible only if:

  • Everyone is committed to seeing a solution. Sometimes individuals or team place their own self-interest above the need to solve a problem, asking, “What’s in it for me?” They may resist the solution because it requires a change that they find unacceptable.
  • The solution is feasible with the resources at hand. Sometimes a solution is clearly right but the technology, people, time, or budget is not available. Sometimes the existing work-arounds are the most anyone can hope for.
  • The problem is worth solving. Sometimes a problem is too minor or too unlikely to recur to be worth the commitment or the resources needed to solve it. 

Many implementations both at work and in your personal life have only two parts: convince everyone involved that this is the right solution (communicate your strategy) and then do the work yourself (develop an action plan). 

More likely, implementation involves an entire tribe that you lead. It requires you to communicate your strategy, identify and assign resources, develop an action plan, and monitor and measure results.

Form and Communicate Your Strategy

Among questions you may want to consider before you communicate your strategy are the political implications of your solution, any assumptions you have overlooked, whether accountability is clearly defined, and what sort of communications structure you will need. For example:

  • Is everyone clear on their expectations for the solution? Will it solve the problem, mitigate it, or work around it?
  • Are all stakeholders aware of your resource requirements, including budget and timeline?
  • Have you looked at the solution from the perspective of everyone affected by it?
  • Have you established milestones and are they logical?

Your strategy should also succeed in rallying your team, who need to connect with both the problem and the solution in order to implement wisely and efficiently. Why is the problem important? Why is this solution the one selected? What is their role?

Strategy gives your team the “why.” The “how” is something that can be worked out in conjunction with your team as part of evaluating resources and establishing the action plan. The strategy is on you.

The strategy must encompass:

  • Persuasive reasons for this solution
  • Goals  (without a goal you will never know when your implementation is finished or when the problem is solved)  
  • Timing (gradual, as you test out the solution in phases; or full commitment to a set deadline)
  • Feedback (how you and stakeholders will communicate, to know if you are succeeding, if the situation has changed, or if a course correction is needed).

Know Your Resources

Implementation requires time, money, people, and tools. If any of them are lacking, your solution will stop in its tracks.

  • Scheduling ensures that you have organized the available time.
  • Budgeting ensures that you have properly distributed the money.
  • Team building ensures that you have the right skill set on the team in sufficient numbers, as well as people you can depend upon to follow through.
  • Research enables you to identify the tools required by you and your team to improve productivity, communications, monitoring, and measurement.

Once you know the resources available, your next step is to compensate for the resources that are lacking. Which missing resources will have the greatest impact on implementation? Where will time and money crunches occur? Which priorities demand the most resources and effort and which can get by?

While evaluating and scheduling resources, consider:

  • Risks: Anticipate changes in your resources, as well as unexpected events, using such risk management methods as the pre-mortem.
  • Assignments: Make sure the right resources will go to the right people at the right time.
  • Interdependencies: Track what needs to happen before the next thing can happen.

TIP: Most implementations takes longer than you can imagine at the start. To avoid stress, we suggest multiplying your estimated time by 3.

Establish an Action Plan

Communication is important at this stage to bring the team together, check that you have accounted for all the skills and resources that the solution requires, and establish the rules of the implementation and teamwork. When your team contributes to the action plan, they have more of a stake in seeing that it succeeds.

Your action plan should encompass:

  • Tasks: Break the action plan down into manageable tasks to maximize the effectives of your team, enable team members to understand their individual contributions, and ensure accountability.
  • Structures: Establish the reporting schedule, the key performance indicators, the milestones, and the criteria that the solution must meet at each milestone.
  • Communications: Establish how often and in what form you want to communicate with the team, including written or oral reports, meetings, and demonstrations. Have you over- or under-estimated the time needed and commitment of your team in keeping you informed?
  • Innovation. At this point, you are working on the assumption that the chosen solution is the best. However, during implementation, you or your team may identify new data, roadblocks, or other challenges to the intended solution. You may find that you need to redefine the problem or solution, alter the action plan, and suspend implementation.

TIP: In creating your action plan, incorporate any standard operating procedures, industry-wide practices, or prior lessons learned that allow your team to work more efficiently and with less stress.

Monitor and Measure Results

Your monitoring covers:

  • The progress of the implementation 
  • The effectiveness of the solution
  • The lessons learned.

You keep track of the progress of the implementation through regular updates from your team and attention to key performance indicators. You also need a reality check: has anything changed, such as the technology, the problem, or the expectations of stakeholders? Unless you monitor the situation as it unfolds, you may find yourself progressing rapidly in entirely wrong direction.

When you measure the effectiveness of the solution, you look at: 

  • The criteria you set up at the beginning of the implementation to indicate how  you will tell if the solution succeeds 
  • Feedback from the stakeholders to indicate their level of satisfaction and their perception of an improvement in the problem
  • The results from solving the problem (which may end up pointing to another problem that needs solving).

The last stage in implementation is lessons learned, your review of what worked and what didn’t, both during the implementation and afterwards. One of those lessons that most managers learn quickly is that a successful solution is seldom a permanent solution. You must keep your eye on the situation because problems have a habit of resurfacing, solutions fail over time, and stakeholders change their minds about what they need. Regular audits help to maintain the effectiveness of solutions and alert you to problems before they become crises.

Finally, your measurements of success may indicate this solution deserves more widespread attention and should be communicated throughout the organization in case others encounter a similar problem. This outcome brings you right back to strategy.

Key Takeaways

When you implement the solution to a problem, you must think strategically, know your resources, join with your team to create an action plan, and monitor and measure the results. Successful implementation requires vigilance to make sure that the requirements have not changed, everyone is committed to the solution, and the problem is actually solved.

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