In my February blog post, I noted that a key factor in identifying step-change solutions is to bring external thinking and fresh perspectives to your business challenge. Tapping expertise and services from outside the enterprise to help solve complex problems or manage functional deliverables can lead to breakthrough innovation, consistent collaboration, and accelerate implementation. In today’s free-agent workforce, access to expertise has never been greater. But to get the most, and the best, from these engagements, I’ve found the following best practices are essential:
First Identify the Problem, Then Identify the Experts
- What’s keeping you up at night? Start with an inventory of your most pressing business problems. You may find that many of these challenges have been around for some time and debated repeatedly within the organization. Fresh eyes might provide a breakthrough and catalyze workable solutions.
- Pick one problem. Write it down. Gain Alignment. A sharply defined, pinpointed statement that details the challenge to be solved is essential to securing alignment and identifying the right resources to engage. Don't try to combine all your problems into one big project; it will only dilute the process. The discipline of writing down the problem, sharing it within your organization, and revising it until all of your internal stakeholders are in agreement is critical. There needs to be shared understanding of the issue and the commitment from your team to find a workable solution BEFORE you start the process of finding experts.
- Use the problem statement to define the expertise you need. Write down the areas of expertise you believe are needed to tackle the problem. Complex issues almost always are multifaceted, requiring participants from multiple disciplines and functional areas in order to create workable solutions. It is unlikely that a single individual will have all the knowledge, skills, and insight you’ll need. Translate your expertise requirements into search criteria that can be used to find the right mix of talented individuals.
- Work as a team and hire a good coach. The best solutions come from highly interactive teams composed of both internal stakeholders and external experts. A disciplined process should be utilized to conduct this interaction. A one or two day "workshop" led by a trained, independent facilitator to keep everyone engaged, energized and on-point is recommended. Inclusion of internal team members who will be responsible for implementation will ensure understanding and buy-in to the recommended action plans that emerge. This integration will promote collaboration and improve overall impact.
- Assign homework. Assemble a detailed pre-reading booklet to ensure that both the external and internal company participants arrive up-to-speed and ready to start problem solving. Include the problem statement, relevant literature, patents, what your team has already tried, and any other pertinent information, as well as overall workshop logistics and agenda. This will prevent wasting valuable time and energy sharing background and history during the workshop.
- Cast the net wide, then reel it back in. The workshop agenda should begin with divergent exercises but must move to convergence onto agreed action plans and next steps. Start by getting new ideas and solutions/concepts out on the table and discussed. Once a broad landscape of ideas is in place, converge onto those that your team believes are workable at your company and build them out into action plans. Envision the initial steps to move the action plans forward - a simple proof of concept or analysis providing a "right to succeed" - and have one of your team members own execution after the meeting. Agree to the first milestones and timing for the plans.
Hold the Team Accountable
- Document the outcomes and agreed action steps. You may also want to have the external experts provide more detailed feedback - short individual reports or phone consultations in the week after the workshop - to capture more granular details around the recommended approaches.
- Follow up. Consistently. Bring your team together again at the timing of key milestones to check progress and make adjustments. You may want to bring back one or more of the experts for these reconnects as well. After reconnecting, find new ways to improve best practices and continually leave an impact on the team. Consistent collaboration will help prevent and solve future issues.
By incorporating these eight practices when you engage with external resources, you’ll amplify the output of your problem solving initiatives. Make sure to check out the webinar below, showcasing how to successfully achieve margin improvement.
About Marc Dahlgren, Ph.D.: Dr. Dahlgren spent 31 years in R&D at Procter & Gamble and is now a leading YourEncore expert in technical problem solving, product development, and margin management. Equal parts technologist and facilitator, Marc is the process owner for innFusion℠, YourEncore’s proprietary facilitated problem-solving methodology that Food, Consumer and Life Science companies have now utilized over 50 times to successfully tackle difficult business challenges, quickly.