While every business faces unique challenges, common roadblocks that affect many organizations include:
Underpinning each of these challenges is a failure to proactively identify and solve business problems, leading to inefficient internal processes, sluggish product innovation and diminished employee engagement.
Creating a bottom-up system for finding and solving business problems — a process also known as discovery — is essential to tackling any roadblock that may arise.
To solve problems effectively, businesses must maintain a scalable and repeatable system to explore problems and implement high-impact solutions. A complete problem-solving system is comprised of your culture, processes and technology, which work together to empower employees to discover problems and drive solutions forward.
If you want innovative solutions that solve meaningful problems and tackle promising opportunities, you need a culture that promotes creativity and supports individuals in exploring problems and testing solutions. Your culture should empower everyone in the process of identifying, prioritizing and solving challenges, driving meaningful change and buy-in from the bottom up.
The processes that enable your problem-solving system are crucial. For example, standardized processes for exploring a problem set the groundwork for better, more consistent solutions, while processes for running experiments and gathering data will help you make faster, smarter and more confident decisions. Your problem-solving processes should be efficient, eliminating any unnecessary bottlenecks or redundancies to maintain momentum.
It goes without saying that any technology you use in your problem-solving system should make your job easier, not harder. The technology you use should support collaboration, communication and transparency, and it should allow for process-driven workflows and simple administration.
Building a problem-solving culture requires alignment, trust and long-term strategies that empower employees to engage in meaningful discovery. Here are four steps that will help you get started:
Step 1: Create missionaries
Before you can enable discovery, you must ensure your employees are bought into and understand the high-level objectives that underpin their problem-solving efforts. In other words, what is your organization trying to achieve? How can your employees help you move closer to those goals through discovery? Defining and communicating these guiding principles will motivate employees to solve high-value problems.
Step 2: Make discovery a priority
Once your discovery objectives have been defined, you'll need to make discovery a priority for employees. The key to making discovery a priority is a balance of discipline, permission and action:
Step 3: Balance structure and freedom
As you enable discovery, you'll want to strike a delicate balance between structure and freedom. Too many restrictions or excessive micromanagement will stifle creativity and consequently influence outcomes. On the other hand, too much freedom during the discovery process will lead to scattered efforts that don't align with your company mission and objectives.
Step 4: Reward curiosity
Employees that consistently identify problems worth solving and constructively help solve those problems are critical to your business' success. Organizations should reward curiosity, encouraging successful problem solvers — and others — to keep going.
While discovery is very much a problem-solving mindset, the tools you use along the way are equally important in helping you drive efficient and effective outcomes. During the problem-solving process, you'll want to employ tools that can:
These tools can help streamline collaboration, boost accountability and enable best practices — but remember, less is more. Too many tools can create unnecessary silos, inefficiencies and blind spots leading to missed opportunities and lost momentum. Ideally, you want a single source of truth that encompasses all of the functionality above and eliminates extra steps.
Without a dedicated problem-solving solution, you may struggle to coordinate your discovery efforts across a disjointed array of tools. For example, your team might communicate in a messaging platform, organize sprints in a project management tool and accept idea solutions via a form on your website. While this strategy isn't necessarily wrong, it's easy to see how using so many different tools in different locations can exacerbate silos, bottlenecks, redundancies and inefficiencies.
For example, if someone on your sales team recognizes an opportunity to improve the sales-to-service handoff process, they should be able to quickly and easily collaborate with teammates from the services, customer success and operations departments to explore the opportunity further. But without a dedicated problem-solving solution, how would they go about starting that conversation? Should they start a new email thread? Drop their idea into an existing group message full of other ideas? Route it through management and hope it lands in the right place? And what if someone from another department with valuable insights is left out of the thread?
As you can see, failure to use the right tools can stop a valuable idea in its tracks at any point in the discovery journey.
Any business problem solving solution should contain some key features that will empower your team to work effectively and efficiently. The first of which is open collaboration. This feature is essential because as organizations scale, it becomes harder to facilitate cross-functional problem solving. A platform that allows everyone — regardless of their department, role or experience — to provide and cross pollinate ideas and feedback will eliminate silos and help your team design better solutions.
Additionally, your solution should support ease of administration. With a steady stream of incoming ideas and multiple projects happening simultaneously, it's easy for projects to slip through the cracks, miss deadlines or be abandoned entirely. Your problem-solving solution should enable administrators to easily track and manage projects throughout the innovation lifecycle, ensuring ideas move efficiently from submission to implementation.
As you evaluate potential solutions, keep an eye out for the following attributes:
1. Open, visible communication
Imagine trying to solve a puzzle with a group of friends, but you can only communicate in silos and no one can see the entire puzzle. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when your problem solving solution does not support open, visible communication.
When evaluating team collaboration tools on the basis of communication, keep in mind:
2. Repeatable, process-driven workflows
The true value of a collaboration tool lies in its ability to support repeatable, process-driven workflows. Some key criteria to look out for include:
3. Simple, efficient management
Your team collaboration tools should also make it easy to administer collaboration projects. This includes the ability to:
These features save administrators countless hours on manual tasks and project management, allowing them to spend more time evaluating the success of their projects and workflows. Moreover, these features allow administrators to see which projects and contributors are out-performing the rest, helping them improve collaboration over time.
Output is a leading provider of business problem solving and engagement software. Our platform is scalable, agile and optimized for both end-users and administrators. While some solution providers function as little more than an idea submission box or project management platform, Output provides tools to support the full lifecycle of innovation — from communicating objectives and organizing ideas, to process-driven workflows that bring your best ideas over the finish line.
Output is designed to take your innovation to the next level by engaging employees across your entire organization in mission-driven discovery. Administrators can design Challenges that address high-value problems or opportunities, setting clear criteria for idea submissions with supporting tools such as images, videos, data sheets and more.
Output also ensures projects move forward efficiently by empowering administrators to manage end-user permissions, coordinate evaluations and set clear deadlines for each stage of the innovation process. Along the way, the platform enables administrators to view, organize and export idea submissions, manage engagement and improve their repeatable processes.
Perhaps most importantly, Output enables transparency and collaboration, allowing Challenge participants to work cross-functionally on submissions and gather clear feedback on why their ideas were selected to advance or not. Over time, Output helps your organization innovate smarter, providing the flexibility to improve your problem-solving workflows using historical data and analytics.
Output helps organizations of all types to drive better, more effective problem solving. Recently, we helped Entuitive, a leading engineering firm, transform their problem-solving process and uncover innovative solutions to business problems they may have otherwise missed.
In this case study, you'll learn how the platform helped Entuitive engage employees from across the organization in the problem-solving process, leading to data-backed, forward-thinking solutions.