Solving the problem of problem-solving
Problem-solving and innovation are on the same spectrum. Businesses that outsource the development of their digital products can expect to be able to identify opportunities for improvements – or innovations - as part of the outcome.
But how do you encourage the behaviours that will generate valuable ideas and drive innovation? It can be especially challenging in an outsourcing partnership where contracts focus on specific deliverables and service level agreements, allowing little or no room for creative or proactive input from partners.
What needs to happen so that problem solving is automatic and natural, creating an environment of continuous improvement that delivers incremental value to the business. How can problem-solving become a “way of life” for technology teams?
What is problem-solving?
In a technology context, problem-solving is about identifying ways to do things better/faster/more efficiently developing a solution that meets the organisation’s objectives – be they increased sustainability, higher revenue or more customer loyalty. When done well, problem-solving becomes an ongoing way of working, more of a mindset than a one-off activity.
When the conditions are right, there can be a constant stream of ideas for consideration and prioritisation by the business. As ideas are socialised, they often combine with others to create elegant and value-added solutions, which directly affect the bottom line.
Blockers to problem-solving
While it may seem like a common-sense approach, in an outsourced partnership, there are a number of factors that can hinder effective problem-solving.
1. Outsourced contracts are frequently focused on specific deliverables, with tight controls over resource utilisation and penalties for under-performance. In these conditions, there is little space or incentive for either party to think creatively and propose solutions to problems that are noticed on the way to delivering contractual outcomes.
2. Partnership relationships are all too often expressed as ‘them and us’ rather than ‘we’. This distinction discourages open communication of ideas. When ideas are expressed, they can be interpreted as criticism, rather than constructive input. A blame culture stifles initiative and willingness to speak out when problems are identified. When the level of trust is high, communication becomes easy and ‘no risk’, leading to a rich exchange of ideas.
3. Lack of shared ownership of the business objectives reduces the likelihood of quickly identifying opportunities for improvement as both parties will be working to their own objectives, rather than towards a common goal. When both parties own the business objectives, thinking is tuned to these outcomes, and it is more likely new ideas are generated and opportunities for improvement spotted.
Building a problem-solving mindset
Effective problem solving can become a natural behaviour for a joint team if the right foundations are in place. With these values and ways of working, every activity becomes fertile ground for innovation and improvement, constantly adding value to a business.
The first building block is the creation of truly joint teams, with common objectives owned by each team member. Individuals do not identify as being ‘outsourced’ or ‘working for the client’. Rather they are equal members of a team working towards the goals of the client organisation. Language is important. Using ‘we’ is better than talking about ‘them’ or ‘us’.
This kind of relationship needs trust to work effectively. Clients need to share information openly with the outsourced partner organisation so that the business goals and drivers are understood and jointly owned. As trust builds, communication becomes easier, and people feel they can speak out without fear of being knocked back.
At Xoomworks, our client contracts are based on behaviours, rather than minutely defined deliverables. This helps to encourage creative thinking and ideas that may be considered ‘outside the box’. Similarly, agreements on resolution methodologies, rather than penalties, also widen the boundaries of thinking and encourage innovation. Failure is inherent in innovation and should be accommodated!
As problem-solving behaviour increases, it becomes second nature for teams to examine current code or processes for potential improvements. You start seeing new solutions are proposed and shared with colleagues with the understanding that not all ideas can be taken forward to implementation. Nevertheless, joint teams can invest time and effort in analysing potential solutions, assessing what resources may be needed to deliver them and what the real benefits will be to the business.
As some ideas become more feasible and the returns clearer, they may enter a process of developing a proof of concept, building a minimum viable product, testing and feedback, leading to implementation, or putting the solution on ice until a pocket of opportunity arises. It is a mature process that ensures ideas with the best business case are pursued.
Openness, trust and shared objectives
The Xoomworks OneTeam Approach™, which is based on the principles of openness, trust and shared objectives, naturally encourages proactive behaviours such as problem-solving. Individuals feel able to speak up when they spot opportunities for improvement. Team members are always asking questions such as “How can I contribute to the success of the business?”, “Is there any low-hanging fruit to pick?” and “How could things be done better/faster/more efficiently?”. It becomes a mindset that lies at the heart of all our relationships.
By having joint ownership of the client’s business goals, we raise the level of commitment; our teams care deeply about what they can contribute to these objectives. A deeper understanding of the business and its drivers for change means that solutions are better aligned to the business needs and designed to bring maximum benefit. We know that the OneTeam approach is working when it isn’t possible to tell which organisation an individual works for, it is just a single team working to shared goals.
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