case study

Tools and Processes for Problem-Definition

Unfortunately, many projects fail, and problems continue. This is often due to the wrong issue or incorrquestion being used as the foundation for the project’s scope. So have you ever wondered what tools and processes other organisations use in formulating the question that becomes the issue/problem to be addressed?

D Munn, CSR

Typically CSR was good at answering the question but not formulating it. They responded to issues but now take a broader look. First, they start with a patent search (to see what’s changing in their functionality) and do a functional analysis / Evolutionary Plot (see example below) to see where opportunities are. Having established a horizon Ideal Final Result for this functionality, they step towards this in small chunks that the organisation can handle without becoming dysfunctional.

The Evolutionary Plot shows known elements of how a product naturally evolves where the white spaces are. An effective tool to identify opportunities. 

G Rummery, ResMed

Through Design Led Innovation, they now address the emotional issues as to what is in the patient’s interest and what we are really trying to address emotionally. They use a 4 quadrant diagram to visualise their projects to management:

  1. Starting with observations to obtain insights that allow them to do it themselves (rather than have an external provider undertake the focus groups) to ask the why of the why etc.
  2. Using Post-it notes on walls to group these insights into patterns or frameworks.  Then looking at the imperatives, i.e. what are critical patient considerations, and where are the contradictions and why?
  3. Get into what they are good at, i.e. developing solutions that address these imperatives.
  4. Finally, they use modified Agile Software to deliver the solution that breaks the project into small increments/sprints. At the end of each sprint, they reassess their direction and have enough flexibility to modify if things are not working out/progressing as they should.
J Maclay, Hargraves

Gave an overview of two tools from the Systematic Innovation toolbox:

Problem definition: You start with the Original Problem, go broader to answer why it is you want to solve this problem and then narrower to address what is stopping you from solving this problem, utilising Perception Mapping (next) to clarify these issues.

How do organisations counter the risk aversion that exists in their organisation? How do they balance innovation and risk-taking against typical risk-averse management structures? What are some of the practical tips in achieving step-change management and pitfall avoidance?

The key thing in addressing risk is to remember that people make decisions/approve and not the company/business. Typically they have everything to lose in doing something different, so the focus has to be on “what’s in it for me.”

A Bilstrom, Suncorp

Within their sector, failure is always financially adverse. The degree of risk aversion is dependent on the top level of the organisation. It becomes a balance with the positives based on leveraging those activities that reach out to the customer. They find change agents (generally a vociferous group) and leverage these. They have a group working on a changed business model for the future that has Leadership support. Introducing small experiments that influence the cultural side as business support systems are not readily changeable. Substantial change is either driven from the top or is permitted by the top.

P Cebon, Melbourne University

There is a need to recognise that risk is fundamental to innovation, and those risk-averse and successful organisations evaluate things very carefully and manage these risks. Typically, organisations are scared of doing something new.

a) managers often talk about how it is safe to fail. But often, those who talk this way can’t manage the risk. As a consequence, step-changes tend to be avoided as there is no crisis forcing them to consider this step-change. Risk management needs to be managed through innovation governance by those strategically responsible for delivering corporate objectives and not by those who do it/execute it.

b) the focus needs to be on having a conversation on the outcome of not innovating and what this means to any objectives/plans that the company might have. The simplest way of doing this is:

  • project the business forward based on whatever growth criteria are agreed to without any innovation over the next period (3-5 yrs or 5-10 yrs). This is the BASELINE.
  • look at whatever strategies are in the plan and the expected growth rate from these. This becomes the ASPIRATIONAL LINE.
  • the GAP is the risk of NOT INNOVATING.
  • adjust whatever projects exist for risk, and be realistic as to when and what they will deliver, and there will be a GAP to the ASPIRATIONAL.
  • this GAP shows the effect if the organisation doesn’t do something fundamentally different and take some step-changes/change business models etc. 

The conversation then focuses on the level of risk of managing the future by the old rules rather than the risks of innovating, with those held responsible for delivering the company’s objectives/strategies being accountable for the innovation outcomes.

To learn more about how we help leading organisations embed innovation, contact us.

We thank these leaders for sharing their experiences with our community.

Written for Hargraves by John Maclay.

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