Friday, March 8, 2013

Integrate perspectives to solve the entire problem

As a young boy, I remember reading a puzzle went something like this.

Q: There was a bus that only allowed 10x10x10 inch carry-on luggage.  A boy had a 15x1x1 inch stick and he wanted to get on the bus to get home before dinner time.  Somehow he was able to manage to bring the stick on the bus.  How did he do that? 
A: He put the stick in the 10x10x10 box diagonally and carried the box on board.  Because diagonal distance of 10x10x10 box was roughly 17.3 inches, 15-inch-long stick fit in the box.

When we get multiple descriptions of a problem from different perspectives, it is easy for us to think that the problem is not solvable.  But there could be ways to solve the problem while satisfying all or most of the constraints.  The trick is to think of the problem holistically without getting bogged down by any one of the constraints.

People have different ways of describing the same problem.  Depending on their perspective we describe the problem as we see them.  In order to solve the problem, we have to first integrate the different perspectives to gain the entire landscape of the problem.  Only then we can come up with a solution that is not limited by  individual constraints.

We often get problems like this.

  • Create the most flexible design that can be delivered fastest to the market.
  • Design a product that is easy to use out of the box yet allow flexible integration options.
  • Release a product from the day one that can be tested incrementally for new features.
  • Meet all tactical challenges while investing strategic initiatives.
Key to realize is that these are not directly competing constraints.  If we elevate our solution dimension, then they may not be necessarily at odds with each other.  For example,
  • Most flexible design and fastest time to market boils down to simpler design.
  • Ease of use out of the box and flexible integration options can be solved with layers of abstraction between UI and underlying APIs.
  • Release something often with incremental testing effort can be done with modular design implemented with agile development methodology.
  • Maintaining quarterly revenue target and moving towards strategic position can be done by selling visions to prospects and qualifying the deals earlier.
Before getting down to solving the problem, integrate the entire perspectives to define holistic view of what the problem is.  That will help you be free from one dimensional thinking.

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