Tag Archives: problem solving

Mike Lehr @ ‘The Three Questions’

Since 2003, as President and Founder of Omega Z Advisors, LLC, Mike Lehr has worked as a change management specialist prepping and moving people through change. He accomplished this either as a contractor or as an organizer and leader of project teams. Mike has been
speaking publicly for over 40 years. He has trained Mike Lehrand coached for over 25 years.

Since 2007, Mike has had an intense focus on helping firms implement new IT infrastructures and applications as well as developing IT talent. Mike spends much time raising IT to the human level.

Mike has blogged since 2010, writing over 500 original posts of over 150,000 words. It is an extensive reference tool. Mike is also the author of The Feminine Influence in Business a comprehensive book about integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems. < Read more about Mike Lehr >

We thank Mike for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series. With Mike we will focus on  managing self and how do we become better professional. I am sure you will enjoy reading Mike.

Product Mantra: Mike you have been in the business for over 20 years now, what makes
you believe that ‘influencing’ and ‘problem solving’ are key to achieve change as desired.

Mike Lehr: Very simply Abhay, we cannot do anything without being able to influence or solve problems. Influencing comes into play from leadership to IT introductions. Problem solving comes into play from talent assessment to product roll-outs. Change is no different.

How do we achieve change? That is a problem. It needs a solution. That requires problem solving skills.

Yes, we might know the solution immediately. It might not seem like a problem. Yet, it is. The problem could be that we are just going through the motions. We are thinking inside the box. Experience is a side of that box. That’s why laypersons often have innovative ideas outside of their experience. The man who solved the measuring of longitude was a watch maker, not an astronomer as were all the other experts of that time.

How do we bring about change? We need to influence people. We need to influence ourselves. Both require motivation. Even if others are solving the problem for you, you must motivate them even if it’s simply by paying them. That’s influence. Money is influence.

I challenge anyone to find a way to achieve change without influencing and problem solving.

Product Mantra: Investing in self is really important, what would be your advice to mid-level executives in this regard. What kind of learning, certification or training will help them prepare better for later part of their career?

Mike Lehr: Abhay, I have run training that people have found very valuable even though they learned nothing new. That is because I presented the same material in a way that motivated them to use it.

I often claim that people could be successful without learning one new thing if, and this is a big if, they would just apply 10% of what they learned but had never implemented.

Trainers make big bucks teaching people the same things that they learned but never implemented. Some people collect knowledge like they do tools, kitchen utensils or exercise equipment. It’s simple. Use what you already know. That’s the lesson.

Beyond that learn to be confident. Learn to believe in what you do know and can do. Confidence influences people even when nothing else might be there. Confidence is a tool. It is not a state of being.

People like confident people. Studies show this is true even if people do not know where that person is going. Confidence triggers the emotional need for security in all of us.

Product Mantra: Tell us something about your work on integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems.

Mike Lehr: In general, Abhay, integrating more intuitive approaches is about tapping people’s emotions to influence and solve problems. It is about changing how they see things, not changing the things they see.

For example, consider customer service. The classic approach sees the problem objectively. That means to improve customer service we teach ways to improve service. The focus is on service. We change the thing. That thing is service.

Now, I trained people to improve customer service without teaching them one thing to improve that service. Initially, when I say that I stump many people. That is because we do not consider people’s emotions, thoughts or behaviors regarding that service. The focus is on things (service) not people.

Even if we provide good service, there is no guarantee that people will notice it. My training focused on showing people how to ensure that customers noticed it. I didn’t have them change the service. I just taught them ways to change how customers saw the service.

For instance, studies show that when customers see a busy staff their assessment of service goes up even though none of that activity is about them. Conversely, when they see staff hanging around talking to one another, their assessment of service goes down even if nothing changed about the service they received.

In some ways, this is very similar to the way a branding, marketing or advertising campaigns change people’s impressions of products and services. The difference is that we apply these principles on an interpersonal level.

This can save tons of money. We don’t have to change things. We just change how people see things. In problem solving, this means we don’t solve the problem. We just change how we think, feel and react to it. That might mean we find that the problem isn’t really a problem.

When we integrate the two, we change things and change how people see things. This is even more powerful than either approach alone.

Thanks Mike.

Mike Lehr on web:

  1. Follow Mike on twitter @ MikeLehrOZA
  2. Connect with Mike on Linkedin 
  3. Omega Z Advisors
  4. Mike Lehr’s blog

@mathurabhay

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Questions to Answer before you take on a Problem

Problems are solved to make something easier for the user and financially beneficial to the organization. While it is challenging to quantify and thus measure user benefits (easy to communicate with friends), financial benefits are relatively easily measured in terms of impact on top and/or bottom line.

But before we talk of measuring output let us exclusively talk about the problem. Before you decide to put in efforts and money in solving a problem, let us be sure that the problem has undergone set of quality analysis and is proven worth addressing beyond any doubts.

Am I the right person to solve the problem? (Introspection)

So you have a problem in hand or you are given a problem to solve. The first parameter in the quality analysis metrics of a problem is that “am I the guy who solves this problem?” let us put down an example here.

The technology head who designed an in-flight entertainment system was called to solve a problem of many passengers not viewing the movies while flying. More and more passengers are shutting down the movie in less than 20 minutes. A primary survey results show that flyers did not enjoy the movie.

Airline is worried that these passengers may jump on to competition for simple reason that they do not like our entertainment system and get bored in our flight. So this problem must be addressed before it starts impacting business in serious manner.

The problem here could be related to poor collection of movies, streaming challenges, user interface of entertainment system, sound clarity, related to display quality of the screen or may be something else. Here it is important to appreciate the business challenge but at the same time if you are not the right guy you better make a case and pass it on. For example, what if the poor collection is the cause of this problem? Or even for that matter display screen which might have to be sourced from a vendor. Those being the case, get the screens replaced with better quality screens. Now if there are issues related to poor audio experience, user experience or streaming than the head of technology has a job in hand.

A passionate problem solver often gets carried away in such situations, consequences of which will cause further damage to the business. Here it is important to be wise than good. Identify the root cause, let the problem go to the right person (this is not passing on the buck). You may also end up finding more than one root cause on why passengers do not like the in-flight entertainment system. In such scenarios you may have a part of problem to solve and part may fall elsewhere.

 Do we have the right set of skills? If not can we acquire them? (Feasibility)

If there is a problem that it must be solved. And we you are the one who is expected to do so than it is important that you assess the feasibility aspect as well. In above case of in-flight entertainment system, suppose the root cause identified is “poor collection of movies” and you as a product manager is expected to solve the issue. It is important to understand that the solution here is non-technical (better collection of movies). Answer simple set of questions,

  1. What is preferred set of movies?
  2. Who are my typical customers (professionals, family on vacation, religious people etc)
  3. What will motivate my customers to watch a movie to its full length?
  4. Do I need to have more language options?

And many more such questions need to be answered. Typically a Behavioral science professional may be a better person to solve this puzzle (of collection of movies). So you as a product manager may end up hiring an expert of behavioral science or outsource this puzzle to agency. This is your contribution in solving this problem. Remember every issue is not a technical issue but most issues will have a solution related to human aspect. It is recommended not to stretch your-self to unknown territories but get someone who is familiar with such situations.

 Potential of the problem (scalability and profitability)

So how about measuring the impact of not solving or impact if the problem gets solved? So what if I get some games instead sourcing movies, may be getting games might be easier and cost effective alternate? And even if I source good movies considering the variety in taste is this a viable solution to implement in all the routers. Also, if it is movies the solution may say that we need to regularly update our collection. Can we think of alternates? Will my flyer pay for premium entertainment services like in-flight internet? What entertainment services are offered by my competitors?

The scalability and profitability aspect of a problem will talk about;

  1. Competing and complimentary services
  2. Market size and target market sizing
  3. Pocket size of buyer and their ability and willingness to make payments that suits your pricing
  4. Economics, solving this problem will help me enhance my top-line and / or my bottom line

To judge quality of problem it is important to assess all the four aspects (mentioned in bullet points above) of problem potential. Assess scalability and profitability critically. Challenge every aspect of possible solution, identify impact on top-line and bottom-line and never ever ignore assessing alternate approaches.

 Life cycle, available window of ROI

Well all sounds good, we a have problem for which we have right skill set, is definitely scalable and profitable, but this not where it ends. How about life of the problem? To make healthy returns out of your investment it becomes important that the problem stays for a longer duration and your investment in solution fetches you returns for a longer duration.

In our case study of in-flight entertainment system, what if root cause is seasonal turbulence which might ease out in next 15 days or so. Passengers may not be enjoying movie when the flight experiences turbulence. Or it may be a season where most of the passengers are business travelers who may not want to watch a movie but instead focus on intellectual reading or discussions, could it be season where foreign tourist occupies most seats that are not so keen to watch a movie.

So the point is, if the life of a problem is short it may not be a good idea (on most occasions) to invest (time and money) on such problems. Instead figure out problems that here to stay for long and you have market for longer duration.

To add, here is one more example, a software company was struggling to upgrade their software in a particular geography due to poor connectivity in that region. Company invested heavily on engineering and research activity to solve the problem and figure out light weight upgrades that would work even in low bandwidth conditions. Company took its time solve this puzzle, however in a very short time telecom companies upgraded their infrastructure in the region and bandwidth was at par with other regions in the geography. Now here, if the software company had done some research or if they had got in touch with service providers in the region they would have learned that this problem of low bandwidth is short lived and it is not wise to put our engineering resources in solving a puzzle that would eventually be solved by someone else.

So ensure to have answer to following question

  1. Do I have enough time to recover my investment and make profit? Problem should not get outdated or obsolete in short time.

 Conclusion 

A good problem is the problems that will help my business fetch more money by keeping my customers happy. A happy customer is one who believes (is convinced) that he/ she is getting what is they are paying for or are getting more than what they are paying for. A happy business owner is one who believes (is convinced) that he is selling his product or services at a better profit margins than competitors. And a good problem solver is one who makes both (customer and business owner) convince that they have a reason to be happy.

Hence it is of paramount importance for a problem solver to put the problem through a comprehensive quality analysis before jumping onto solving the problem. So when it comes to solving a problem, this is probably the only way to make both business owner and customer happy.

@mathurabhay