Monday, September 16, 2013

DesignGov's public sector problem solving primer

DesignGov has just released the first iteration of their problem solving primer, a tool designed to share insights from the expertise and experience of decision makers and practitioners on what makes good problem solving.

Released on their blog as A problem solving primer, it's a great approach to start aggregating the combined wisdom of people who have to solve complex problems on a regular basis - particularly (but not exclusively) in the public sector.

DesignGov are seeking more viewpoints, so please consider making a contribution - your experience and insights may be valuable to others in ways you do not expect!

The entire work may be turned into a ePub (which I reckon would be a great idea and broaden its reach).


I was asked to contribute, and managed to write a piece that was far too long, so it has been shortened (with my approval) in the primer - however I thought I would include my full piece below.

It was in response to the question, 'What one thing would you recommend when dealing with limited resources and competing priorities?' and my answer was:

In every workplace it is necessary to manage situations where there’s limited resources and competing priorities.

While each situation may be different – a restrictive budget, changing environment or demanding boss – there’s an approach that has helped me work through many versions of this challenge.

I call it the Venn approach. It involves identifying synergies and similarities between priorities and designing solutions by reusing and repurposing work to meet different priorities.

The Venn approach involves the following steps:

  1. Take a breath to understand the boundaries
    The first step is to put aside some time to understand the resourcing limits and priorities.

    Often we can get so caught up on delivering what we think clients and bosses require, we forget to confirm what they really need. We can also have a false understanding of the resource limits, thinking we have less resourcing than we can actually call on, not grasping the range of skills at our disposal, or mistakenly believing we have more resourcing than has been allocated.

    By taking some time upfront to truly understand what we have and what we need to deliver when it is often possible to identify opportunities to reduce priority conflicts, maximise how resources can be used and reduce the risk of being caught short on money or time before a priority is met.

  2. Identify synergies and similarities
    While the priorities you have may be different, often there are opportunities to reuse some of your work to meet varied objectives.

    Whether it is reusing templates, processes, systems or outputs, there can be hidden synergies which allow you to more efficiently manage your resourcing to meet priorities with less strain and more cost-effectively.

    Whenever I have priorities which will recur, or have similarities with other duties, I look to create systems and processes that can be used to minimise the ongoing work to deliver outcomes – even where this involves slightly more resourcing upfront. This type of approach helps reduce future priority conflicts and frees more resourcing for new goals as they emerge.

  3. Share the value
    Often others in your organisation would also benefit from systems, processes, tools and the outcomes you’re required to deliver. It is always worth networking within your organisation, identifying other areas who have similar needs and challenges to you and approaching them around resource sharing and support.

    Having worked in online teams across both government and the private sector, I’ve become used to having a range of teams from across organisations needing similar outcomes which, if they attempted to meet them individually, would not be cost-effective for any specific group. However by aggregating these needs and their resourcing a great deal more can be achieved and more organisational needs met.

  4. Negotiate the timeframe and outputs
    It may be hard to believe, but sometimes managers instruct teams to work to unnecessary deadlines, or define the outputs they want when different (and easier to deliver) outputs may actually better match the outcomes needed.

    It is often worth checking with the person who issued the deadline whether it is really a fixed point in time, and under what conditions it could be shifted.

    It is also worth confirming the outcomes they need from a project, rather than simply delivering the outcomes instructed. Managers may not be aware of the range of ways an outcome may be met and you may find there’s an easier, cheaper, faster and even better way to meet their needs.

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