I saw this question come up on a forum. Beyond the judging and mocking from several who said every job is about solving problems, this question triggered a thought process in my head about hiring.
You have the standard questions you can ask.
- Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.
- Tell me about a time when you came up with a new approach to a problem.
- Describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle to succeeding with an important work project or activity.
With I am sure 101 or more other versions.
I like to warm up with one or two of these and then work back to this specifically when hiring roles that will directly impact business optimization with this scenario.
At one of your previous roles, you are given unlimited funds for technology, education, people – employees and contractors, whatever you can spend money on, but only 90 days to solve what you believe would be a huge impacting business issue.
What would have been that business issue?
How would you have gone about creating a new solution?
I have gotten everything from downright confusion of what I wanted to boundless excitement about what they would do.
The one thing I noticed is this got some candidates who were not very verbose to open up as they sat back, looked up and you could see them envisioning what they are about to start explaining to you.
Yes, ever job has some problem solving part of it. But, in today’s IT roles they are ALL about problem solving. Not just the how to squeeze more disk space or performance out of legacy equipment. But how to deliver more value to the business whether that be through improving profit on process optimization or creating a new revenue generating service for your clients.
Let’s get right to it, this can be very annoying to that stressed out, business internal/external customer. I have seen by the 3rd why a quick outburst of ‘just do it!’.
However, this not the root cause analysis tools defined on 5 Whys Wikipedia. This is for managers to use with their teams. Normally you do not get yelled at by your team (unless you have Dcat or Rees working for you). So, don’t worry about that too much.
The concept of asking why 5 times is to broaden an individuals view of the problem and solution they are presenting. As a manager to ensure they fully understand the problem and are not solving a symptom. That is the tactical reason for asking why 5 times.
The cultural reason is to help –
For teams that have been firefighters (reacting instead of responding) in the pressure driven world of IT support, you as a manager need to utilize rule #4 to make the firefighting effective, not just efficient as demonstrated by tickets being closed. Effective by analyzing the problem in more detail and offer options, not just ‘a’ solution, but options with doing nothing the easiest one to offer up first or last.
Problems are costing money where solutions are saving or making money.
I am adding book reviews to the blog as I these particular books have one had a impact on my approach to problem solving and/or team building.
To be brief these reviews will cover three areas.
- A quick sentence or two about why I am reviewing this book
- The main points I picked up from the book
- How I use or used it
Author Gregg Fraley
This is one of my favorite ‘business’ books due to the fact that it, just like my other favorite ‘ The Deadline, by Tom DeMarco’ it is written in novel form. Dispensing their wisdom through the course of a not terrible, though clichéd, plot line.
– CPS (creative problem solving) Process on page xiii
- Not revolutionary, but always a good review a couple of times a year
– Quote “if you really understand a problem, solutions come easy; solutions tend to suggest themselves” on page 41
- I have used this often when struggling to develop a solution or my team has to refocus our energy and redefining the problem in more detail
– When listing risks, assumptions and concerns put them in phrase that starts with “In what ways might we” on page 91
- Often I would list a risk as
- Too few resources
- Priority conflicts with other projects and so on
- Instead of
- In what ways might we ensure that we have the right resources
- In what ways might we avoid or limit conflicts with our project
– CPS (yes again, it is worth it) Quick Reference on page 214
- Specifically the List Making and Choice Making columns
I have given this book to many people as I have with The Deadline (a review coming).