Solve the problem with a person or a process

Business & Strategy

In life and business, there is no shortage of problems. As a matter of fact, much of running a business comes down to how well you solve problems. 

Technicians get paid for output. Thinkers — problem-solvers — get paid for input, and that level of contribution is often worth more. 

In my own business, I recently uncovered a problem. There were numerous ways to solve it. Let me share a bit of the process with you: 

In short, I uncovered a problem with overdue tasks. Basecamp (the project management software I use and LOVE), has no great way to mark a task as “waiting.” 

Sometimes we fail to make due dates, perhaps because a client is late delivering content, we uncovered an issue that is taking time to fix, etc. But all the project managers see is an overdue task. 

And when you are looking at the scope of a project, facing deadlines, and you don’t get visibility beyond “that task is overdue,” it’s hard to know what to do. 

There were three routes I could go to solve this problem: 

  1. Implement hill charts. Basecamp has a fantastic feature that allows you to apply “emotional intelligence” to the process of a todo list. You can see more about that here.
  2. Implement another automatic check in. This is another Basecamp feature we often use to keep projects on track. It would have worked as well. 
  3. Have someone followup on overdue tasks. This seems like it requires the most manual labor, but does it? 

Ultimately, I decided upon number 3. Here’s the logic: 

Hill charts were created to solve this problem (with minor differences, given their original context is not client work, which is what we do). 

I thought I would go this route…but doing so would have required a lot of user education for my team. This is a problem I am facing now and was hoping for a solution that required less education. 

My team is already using automatic checkins. This feature “asks” people, at scheduled times, various questions. For example, we have one client that requires a daily update. At the end of the workday, my team is asked what they did for this client.

The problem is that we are already collecting information about each task in writing…adding more things to write doesn’t seem like the most appropriate solution at this time. 

Ultimately, I settled on creating a repeating todo for my project manager, Brian, to check on overdue tasks every Friday. This has at least the following benefits: 

  1. Me, the client, and my team members will have the accountability of a person checking in at least once a week. 
  2. Outstanding items are less likely to “drag on” when a person, not a system, is waiting on them. 
  3. Overdue tasks need to be completed anyway to keep projects on time. 
  4. There is less need for me (the biz owner) to worry or wonder about the status of a project if I see todos that are being completed.

With this solution, I can be sure that things are not falling through the cracks. Brian will have to perform this followup and then mark the task as complete, which provides accountability to me.

Time will tell, but I am hopeful that this one small change will solve the problem of tasks falling behind and clients getting info to me when it is needed. 

Have a problem? Put a person, a process, or both in place of the problem. 

Persons + Processes > Problems

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About Me

 
Hey, I’m Steve Schramm. I write about marketing, design, business strategy, and productivity. This blog is my personal “cookbook” to help you design a healthier business through self-directed learning.

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