Somehow, the topic of personal websites came to mind recently and I decided to take a look at my blog. Little did I realize that nearly 5 years have passed since I last posted a blog. For context, my last entry on here was 2 days after proposed to Rachel, who I married in 2018. Today we have a little girl that is almost two years old!
Anyway, that isn’t why I’m here. I have a lot of ideas I’d like to share and I wanted to start writing again. For fair warning, I don’t have a story about travel to a place you haven’t been or a secret recipe. This blog will be mostly focused around some of what I’ve been thinking about lately.
HP Kittyhawk vs Doug Dietz’s Magic at GE
It has been at least 5 years since I read the Harvard Business Review Case about it, but the Case on HP’s Kittyhawk Project will likely never leave my memory. It is one of those business school cases that has just stuck with me and actually led me to read David Packard’s book “The HP Way”. Here is a really simple summary, but if you care to read the case, Harvard Business Review sells it for a small fee or you can read a portion of it in Clayton Christensen’s book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma“.
HP is trying to keep up with the Joneses of the Hard Drive market and think they see space in the market for a slightly smaller traditional hard drive with some cool new features like data loss prevention if the drive was dropped. Unfortunately, HP didn’t understand the market and their costs were too high with their innovative drive, so they priced themselves out of the market. They also faced new competition from flash memory.
So what do I like about this case? It shows the importance of understanding your customers and the size of the market you plan to enter. When I think of this case, I tend to juxtapose it with the story of how Doug Dietz re-designed the experience of getting an MRI for children without spending almost any money. I don’t know Doug, but I find myself trying to think like him and I’d challenge you to do the same. With no budget, Doug and his team used Design Thinking to transform what was a scary experience for children that was costing precious resources (anesthesia) in to one that made children excited and feel like they were on an adventure.
I recognize that not every problem will present an opportunity like this, but a few things that I try to keep in mind when I’m trying to appropriately define the problem I’m trying to solve:
- What’s the problem you are actually trying to solve? Not what is the problem someone brought you to solve, but at its deepest level, what are you trying to solve. I’m a fan of tools like Abstraction Laddering (a tool from the LUMA Institute) or Five Whys (a tool I learned while I earned my Six Sigma Greenbelt).
- Keep your problem statement broad. Think about Netflix. They seemed to understand that the things customers wanted to do is watch a Movie or TV Show at their home. Customers weren’t looking to get into their car, drive to the store, deal with a line, late fees, or even worse, getting to Blockbuster to find out the movie you wanted to rent wasn’t available.
- Don’t jump to solutions. It is SO easy to start trying to solve the problem before you’ve clearly defined it. I’d argue this is one of the hardest things on the list to do, but truly foundational.
- When you start to work towards solutions, develop ideas iteratively and get constant feedback from your customers. What your customers see doesn’t need to be high fidelity and in fact, if you are looking for real feedback, it is better if it isn’t.
- If you feel like your solutioning isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to go back and look at the way you framed the problem you are trying to solve and iterate.
- Take a baseline of what your “world” looks like with the problem you are trying to solve. I know this isn’t always easy, so it might require coming up with some proxy measure of the problem and that is okay. In the real world, the kind of data you probably studied just doesn’t exist and you make do with close enough.
- Be aware, especially based on having a crisp definition of the problem you are solving what good looks like. Whatever that might be, that belief needs to be shared amongst stakeholders. A lot of the time, that needs to be formalized into a document like a charter. A program or project without a good charter can be a recipe for disaster to roughly quote project management guru Carl Pritchard.
- Don’t be afraid to get a little bit silly. I know, I know, we are all trying to solve serious problems, but being serious doesn’t always open your mind to the realm of possibility. Jokingly thinking about training birds or buying drones to deliver paper passwords for new employees as part of an onboarding process made me realize that old fashioned USPS could do the same thing with a lot less bird seed and silicon.
There is a lot more to how I approach things, but I thought this was a good start. How do you think about framing problems? What are your favorite tools? What’s your favorite problem you’ve solved, whether it is at work, in a volunteer capacity, or maybe in your every day life? I’d love to hear about it.