Why Agile and Problem Solving are a Perfect Match

Fail fast, recover quickly and learn from the experience. For companies pursuing agile ambitions, these words are more than a philosophy, they are a mantra drilled into the mindset of every employee. Problem-solving methodologies can be powerful tools to convert these words from a mantra into an operational reality by providing an organization with the means to be agile.

Agile doesn’t refer to being perfect but accepting failures and issues as opportunities to learn and improve performance. You should still strive for perfection, but it isn’t a necessity, especially initially. Perfection is a journey and a worthy goal, but it is never attained in an agile organization. Agile companies understand perfection isn’t required to create value and, often, operating imperfect processes and systems results in greater overall value than doing nothing and waiting for perfection.

Using problem-solving to manage imperfection

Problem management provides a consistent process to capture, analyze, assess and prioritize problems, so leaders can make informed decisions about where to apply the organization’s limited resources. Not all problems have the same impact or require the same level of resources to resolve – there is a wide spectrum of Return on Investment (ROI) across a problem portfolio. Company resources can be used to solve more than just problems. When these are combined, you’ll understand one of the most insightful statements in the problem-management discipline – “Not all problems should be solved.” The challenge is determining what is most important and where resources should be focused.

This is the same challenge agile teams face – delivering value early, managing failures, prioritizing issues and determining the most urgent and important areas to apply resources. Returning to the agile mantra – fail fast, recover quickly. Recovering quickly requires an effective and efficient process to capture, analyze, assess and prioritize problems, so decisions can be made about where to apply limited resources – or, problem management in the context of agile efforts.

Applying problem management at different layers in an organization

Agile teams apply problem-management techniques within the context of their projects. Programs apply the same techniques across multiple projects. Service Management teams apply problem management across a set of systems and/or services. Executives also apply problem-management techniques (whether they know it or not) across processes, business functions, market segments and geographies.

Problem management is one of the most important components of the connective tissue that enables organizations to function, to improve continuously and to adapt to the opportunities and threats of the business environment. Problem management enables strategic direction to be cascaded throughout an organization – guiding individual programs and agile teams to make decisions aligned to an organization’s best interests. It also enables the observations and analysis of individual teams to inform higher-level decision-making.

It’s the maximizing of value

Companies that want to be agile, responsive to market forces and maximize the value from project-level investments will always strive for perfection, but never really expect to achieve it. In an agile organization, the goal isn’t perfection, instead, it is to maximize the value provided today and increase the value provided tomorrow. Problem-solving techniques and problem-management methodologies are powerful tools to help companies assess opportunities and threats, and to allocate resources in ways that will help them achieve their agile goals.

Kepner Tregoe is the industry leader in problem-solving techniques, training, tools and consulting. For more than 60 years, the experts at KT have helped companies big and small respond to opportunities, threats, and issues with structured problem-solving methods that drive both value and agility.