Companies are doing their best to keep up with competitors and the ever-changing business landscape. But many of their efforts fail because they can’t even accurately define the problem they’re facing. An expert provides a roadmap for figuring out how to get everyone aligned on the problem so progress will be made.
When a program, strategy or project fails to achieve its goals, the reason can often be traced back to the very beginning when no one seemed to clearly define or agree on the problem.
That may sound a bit strange – how can any organization move forward with a solution unless they clearly understand the problem?
Yet, it happens more often than anyone would probably like to admit, which is why Satish P. Subramanian provides a clear framework for getting a better handle on defining a problem in his book, “Transforming Business with Program Management.”
“Some organizations have a tendency to jump the gun,” when moving toward a solution and can lead them to rush through defining the problem, he explains.
“This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process, and doesn’t require a lot of structure,” he explains. “But without a framing up of the issue, you won’t be able to meet your goals.”
In other words, a team that takes action without a clear agreement and definition of the problem is a waste of manpower, resources and time. “Whatever journey you’re on, you’re not going to be able to achieve the outcome you want,” he says.
For program managers, he says there are some ways that the problem can be better defined using techniques such as:
“This puts the emphasis on an ‘outside-in’ perspective by identifying and analyzing what’s going on inside the organization and also to look at the business drivers in the marketplace,” he explains. “An environment scan not only ensures the transformation initiative will tackle the right strategic problem, but also creates the burning platform for a business to transform.”
He stresses that it is important that there is a detailed description of the issues such as strengths and weaknesses and how each of these is analyzed and mapped.
In his book, Subramanian explains how this technique worked for a Fortune 50 high-tech software company with global operations.
The company had designed and put into play a volume licensing program for its top tier enterprise customers. The roll-out of a new family of software products by the company to these enterprise customers “led to increasing complexity of the licensing program” and a steep learning curve, he says.
The increasing number of customer questions and requests for help from the company and the company’s resellers were “not being handled effectively,” a real problem since these were large top-tier enterprise customers, he explains.
The company’s program team decided to launch a voice-of-customer study with these top customers on their volume licensing experience to identify and prioritize the customer needs and pain points. The program manager also did an environment scanning exercise to figure out the company’s software volume licensing practices against licensing trends in the software industry, he says.
Armed with the results from the environment scan and the voice-of-customer study, the program management team then developed and got the sign-off from customers, resellers and internal operations for necessary changes.
In addition, they implemented “quick wins” to improve the experience for those key customers. “An example of a quick win was the expansion of the monthly forum for customer education to introduce the newly development volume licensing educational modules that addressed specific customer support needs,” Subramanian says. “The volume licensing transformation program team reverse engineered an existing tool to incorporate the licensing quote functionality for all of the missing software products. “
Subramanian explains that because the software company made an “early and focused” effort to describe and validate the problem and customer pain points, they were able to deliver the desired business outcomes and benefits.
The program management team is critical, Subramanian stresses, in the early stages because they can perform due diligence and governance around the business problem definition and ensure an alignment of the stakeholders on the problem.
“A common understanding and agreement of the problem statement among the stakeholders creates an invaluable platform that the program management team can further build upon as they successfully drive the program forward,” he says.