Resolving complex problems – setting a scope

One of the main challenges with complex problems is the sheer amount of interlinks between different elements that taking part in the problem domain. In the business world, it will be the interlinks between people, groups, management artifacts (policies, structure, roles & responsibilities, processes, incentives, etc).

Those interlinks create many connections between people, teams, groups, departments, and divisions in an organization. Those connections tied all the elements in an organization in a way that although there is an organization structure, it’s hard to draw a line between them when trying to set up a scope for resolving a problem.

Setting a scope for resolving a problem has a big impact on the ability to resolve the problem and the quality of the solution. The scope has a direct impact on which data will be available to the team that tasks to resolve the problem. The available data is the main limitation of a team resolving a problem.

More data ensure that most of the needed data will be available. On the other hand, involving too many groups creates a big effort that will consume more time and resources. Less data and the conclusion the team reached are erroneous.

Therefore one of the first and most important decisions of a team task to resolve a problem is what is the scope of their work.

Here are some recommendations based on lessons learned from success & failures:

1) The scope needs to be dynamic. Start with a defined scope, but if you find out that more data needed from other groups or the root cause is in a completely different direction, change the scope. When changing scope add groups, but don’t forget to remove groups that are not part of the problem/solution.

2) Start with groups that directly related to the problems (they reported the problem or reported as part of the problem). Use Systems Thinking Causal diagrams and map all variables around the variables that depict the problem based on interviewing the direct groups. Position the variable in cycles around the variable depicting the problem. Every cycle is another hop between variables. Select the variables in the two cycles around the core variable. Identify which roles or groups are responsible for managing those variables. This is your starting scope.

3) Get an understanding of relevant business events in the past 3 years that are relevant to the problem in focus. Realize who are all the external parties that were involved in those events and add them as the basic scope.

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