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The Right Solution: How to Evaluate Feasibility with Less Stress

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Leadership involves facing problems every day. At some point, you will be asked to select between, approve, or disapprove solutions. That creates the enormous stress of wanting to be right.

No matter how minutely you define the problem, you are likely to face several competing solutions, all of which appear to have high feasibility and potential for success.

How do you decide? One group of researchers identified two major avenues for deciding on a solution: “high-assessors” are people who must evaluate every step of a solution to minimize risk and avoid failure while “locomotors” define a goal and move toward it. They concluded that in selecting between the speed and accuracy of a solution:

“…assessment-oriented individuals tend to be more accurate but slower, whereas locomotion-oriented individuals tend to be faster but less accurate.”

The feasibility of the solution doesn’t enter into our thoughts: we simply look for the solution that favors our predisposition to be accurate or to be done with it. By using objective criteria to judge the feasibility of solutions, you mitigate the influence of your personal preferences—and lower your stress.

The discussion that follows assumes a company problem and stakeholders, but applies just as well to a personal problem, where the stakeholders are family, friends, or significant others.

Criteria 1: Who Benefits?

Every solution to a problem affects someone, and usually, the effects extend beyond the people suffering the problem. Let’s say the problem is that employees are showing up late to work and leaving early. This is an annoyance for their manager, but it also delays the delivery of products or services to the customers. Therefore, it is likely that the solution you come up with will also affect both managers and customers at some point.

Who is the most important? What benefit is most important to them? If you are looking to reduce annoyance for the managers, you might fire everyone who is late or leaves early. But that would leave the department short-handed, causing further delays to the customers. Is that acceptable?

TIP: Solutions that do not make sense to the people affected are simply ignored. They may be feasible solutions but they are also useless.


Criteria 2: How Closely Does the Solution Meet the Requirements?

Consider the requirements of stakeholders and others (in this example, managers and customers). Eliminate constraints of resources, such as people skills, budget, and time but keep in mind who needs to benefit.

A feasible solution to the problem will meet the most important requirements set by the stakeholders. Our example has two requirements: ensuring the employees work a full day and reducing managerial annoyance.

  • Which solution will meet the minimum requirements? You fire the guilty employees. That solution stops the absenteeism but annoys the managers because it leaves them short-handed. It meets only one of the two requirements.
  • Which solution will meet the maximum requirements? You require employees to clock in and out. That solution doesn’t involve the managers at all, so it meets both requirements.

TIP: The better you understand the requirements—which might take several iterations—the more likely you will come up with a feasible solution.


Criteria 3: What Are the Tradeoffs?

You might determine feasibility mathematically by data related to the problem. For example, flex time is a possible solution to employees arriving late and leaving early. You might graph different amounts of flex time against different delivery schedules. What is the minimum and maximum flex time you could offer and still deliver on time?

Many problems do not lend themselves to a mathematical solution. Physical, psychological, emotional, and social concerns also affect the feasibility of a solution. For example, what if customers don’t care if deliveries are late but do care when your employees are surly because they have to clock in and out?

By considering the downside as well as the upside, you are more likely to select a solution that benefits the most important stakeholders and meets the requirements. 

Criteria 4. Does the Solution Account for All the Constraints?

In addition to the constraints of resources (people, time, and budget), many constraints are specific to a particular problem. Among other constraints, you should consider:

  • Energy—how much energy are you willing to devote to selecting and implementing the solution?
  • Compliance—does the solution meet legal, professional, regulatory, or industry standards?
  • Cooperation—how much commitment and support do you have from stakeholders, the organization, your team, and others for implementing and maintaining the solution?
  • Information—do you have enough information to proceed and do you trust the data?

Your evaluation of constraints will improve and be less stressful if you prioritize. Here, your core values may come into effect. If your core values include saving jobs, then firing employees is not a feasible solution.

Another evaluation technique is to determine necessity. Constraints such as regulatory compliance must be accounted for when evaluating feasibility, but others can be ignored. For example, a champion delegator might ignore the constraints of personal energy.

Your ability to judge the level of importance and necessity of a constraint may be compromised by your past experience, biases, and previous commitment of resources, among other factors. Consulting with other people on your team is one way to identify overlooked or misjudged constraints.

Criteria 5. How Risky Is the Solution?

Risk involves a cost/benefit analysis. Your ability to identify the risk of a solution increases if you involve other people, because the judgment of “acceptable” risk is so highly personal. Among the risks you may have to account for are:

  • Over-dependence on one person (one team member, one vendor)
  • High maintenance cost
  • Changes in regulations
  • Loss of stakeholder interest
  • Changes in priority
  • Untested technology.

TIP: If you try to meet all constraints and cover all constraints and risks, you may run out of energy before you run out of potential solutions and select the one that is easiest to implement—to everyone’s detriment.


Criteria 6. Is the Solution Working?

During or after implementation, depending on whether implementation occurs in stages, you find out if the solution works. In the elapsed time, new constraints may have emerged, new requirements set, and benefits and the levels of risk changed. The original solution may need to be modified or abandoned altogether, or perhaps a solution you rejected before gains become more feasible.

This criterion contains a warning: keep measuring and keep monitoring because very few solutions last forever. By periodically auditing and course-correcting, you will find a solution that meets all the criteria and is also reliable, practical, efficient, and, in the best case, elegant.

Ok, you’ve got your problem clearly analyzed, a feasible solution, it’s time for implementation!

Key Takeaways

The feasibility of a solution reflects the benefits it gives to those dealing with the problem, its ability to meet their requirements, and its relationship to constraints and trade-offs, among other criteria. By referring to the criteria for a feasible solution, you lower your stress over making a decision and you are also more likely to find a solution that works.

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