A Half Day Facilitated Group Discussion Engineered for Business Problem Solving
Often companies are confronted with complex business problems—problems that are noisy, hard to describe, overlapping, and seemingly intractable. Yet, these are the very problems that MUST be solved, as their solutions unlock great value to the firm. To address problems like these, we employ a method called a Discovery Session, sometimes referred to as a Whiteboard Session. In this half day facilitated group discussion, we move through the following steps:
Part 1. The art of the possible—how have other companies solved highly complex problems?
In this phase we introduce case studies of companies across a wide variety of industries, in which the management teams were faced with highly complex problems in supply chains, pricing, optimizing process flow, mergers, you name it. Doing so breaks the parochial mindset, allowing the participants to think more broadly and abstractly about business problems.
Part 2. What do we know to be true?
The Scientific Method has been with us for 24 centuries. It is a durable, time-tested technique for tackling the most serious scientific investigations from the function of the brain to the origins of the universe. The cornerstone of the Scientific Method is also the starting point for any research: The Hypothesis. Good science begins with a clear, concise restatement of the problem itself and the facts surrounding it, while carefully avoiding any initial suggestion of a solution. We put a laser focus on the problem or problems at hand by generating a Hypothesis for each one. Often a Hypothesis is graphical in nature with a summary statement such as “The merger with ACME will create $500MM additional free cash flow in 3 years.” The summary statement will be proven either true or false by the analysis that follows the Discovery Session, but more importantly it provides a clear blueprint for the analysis itself.
Part 3. What are our levers of control over the problem and how could they be used?
In this phase we craft the landscape surrounding the problem. Is it a process that has bottlenecks in it? Build a process depiction. Is it a pricing problem? Make a diagram of all forces and consequences of a particular price. Is it an information problem? Draw the information flows around the company and isolate the regions where the problem exists. Whatever the problem is, it always has a particular context, and it is useful to quite literally draw that context on paper, carefully labeling all of the actors and objects in the scene. We call this the Qualitative Model, and as that name suggests, we are not using numbers at this stage but rather the cause-‐and-‐effect dimensions of the problem.
The end result of a Discovery Session is a crisp blueprint of the problem. A good analytics team can readily use the result to develop the analysis or models needed to get to a solution quickly. Just as important the output will place guardrails on the analysis to prevent the teams from solving the wrong problem, or even the right problem at the wrong level of granularity.
We love solving problems so much that we offer a complimentary Discovery Session to anyone with a business problem to solve. If this interests you then call or email us using the contact info in the blue bar at the top of the page.
Why do a Discovery Session?
Why can’t I just assemble my team, have a meeting, and get on with solving the problem?
You can, but you will likely not get the results you were expecting. In our 30+ years of having a front row seat on some of the world’s most difficult business problems, we have seen many cases of success and failure. Those who “go it alone” often suffer the “curse of the expert”—that is, Subject Matter Experts inside the company with great knowledge and experience about the problem diving right in to get to a solution as quickly as possible.
Subject Matter Experts are a vital ingredient in problem solving, but because of their inherent knowledge they often bypass the naive questions that an intelligent outsider might ask. Therefore Subject Matter Experts are more likely to come up with breakthrough solutions ONLY when prodded by an outside influence to question every aspect of the problem space. It should not be just any outside influence, but rather someone who is well trained in systems thinking, who can take a batch of knowledge and “redraw” a representation of that knowledge on paper for all to see (and critique). This is the aspect that we provide.
Who should be invited to the Discovery Session?
Several points of view should be represented. In addition to Subject Matter Experts we need the problem’s “owner” (or victim), and an executive sponsor. Generally Discovery Sessions are most effective when they are limited to 6 to 8 individuals, not counting the facilitation team.
Do I need to have a well-defined problem?
No. In fact the Discovery Sessions are often conducted for the purpose of putting more definition to a problem. It’s also common to find that there are multiple problems going on at the same time that interlock in various ways, seen and unseen. The only real prerequisite for a Discovery Session is a point of pain for the organization.
What happens after it’s over?
We have seen many cases where the very definition of the problem through the exhibits generated in the Discovery Session are sufficient for the company to proceed to the solution internally. In other cases, firms conduct more rigorous simulation modeling-based analysis to arrive at a solution.