Why do we problem-solve?
Problem solving is about bringing together a set of bright minds, laser focused on understanding a problem, developing a precise solution and defining a way forward.
We problem-solve because:
- When it comes to human minds, the sum of a group is orders of magnitude better than its parts. Minds bounce off each other and snowball. We build better ideas from one another's nuggets, prompts and feedback loops.
- We focus best when prompted and guided by other people, all focusing on the same goal.
- Communicating with other engaged minds forces us to structure, to visualize and to ensure rigor in our thinking
- Dedicated time for several bright minds to crack a problem is time very well spent. This is where we find breakthrough moments that take a solution to the next ten levels.
What is the difference between problem-solving and team updates?
- Problem-solving is solution development for a given focused problem statement.
- It is NOT an ‘update on work’ - that is a process update meeting, also important but different.
- It is NOT just a presentation of data, It must have analysis, implications, and next steps for the business.
- It is not unidirectional. Everyone is participating in and contributing to the discussion. Every thinking brain must be fully immersed.
What is the Bright Method for successful problem solving:
- “Small is beautiful”. We restrict problem-solving to a minimum of 2, maximum of 5 people. Often 3-4 is the right number.
- Take no observers! Everyone present must be an active participant. Otherwise, there’s no point in their presence - if they are not participating, they are not thinking. They must ask questions (good or bad), share ideas, push for better clarity. Everyone is present to speak up and contribute.
- Success is in the definition. Every problem solving must have a clear definition of success upfront. A clear outcome for when the discussion is done and wraps up. The Problem-solving lead must set this up, beforehand or at the beginning of the session.
- Time is irrelevant, but efficient. Problem-solving takes as long as it needs. Sometimes we are done in 10 mins - close and move on. Sometimes we need a solid 1.5 hours. The bottom line: there is never a meeting for the sake of a meeting. It has an outcome. It hunts for that outcome. Once it hits, the meeting wraps up.
- There is a ‘Chair’ or ‘Project Manager’ who must manage the meeting process to success. The PM also has a role to make sure everyone is heard and every thoughtful contribution is pursued to its maximum understanding. They need to ensure there are adequate pauses so every team member gets their thoughts out.
- There is a Lead who is the presenter. They bring material (draft design, draft PRD, data, or metrics).
- The Lead should also ideally be “the pen-taker.” The one who is prepared to start to structure and craft solutions in the course of the discussion. If the Lead is inexperienced, a more experienced problem solver would step-up and drive this.
- Then, there is everyone else: the interrogators. Those who will apply their brain, scrutinize, critique, help develop answers and ideas and ask good questions. They are critical thinkers, always thinking and analyzing. Always pushing for rigor and perfection. Always searching for ideas, implications, and thinking ahead.
4 traits of powerful problem solving
- Every meeting is exceptionally well structured. The meeting is structured upfront with different components or sub-questions that have to be addressed, at least in part. Sometimes it is structured as we go, but it’s always well structured.
- Users visualizations get everyone on the same page: Diagrams, sketches, syntheses of key points in words
- Participants push for maximum intelligence and thoughtfulness: squeezing brainy contributions and ideas, from every participant
- Seeking out the implications of a solution and surfacing them constantly are motivating forces for action. Problem solving is energizing and will always summarize actions, next steps and owners.
Examples of problem-solving at Bright
- Product key decisions, on priorities and product design decisions.
- Analysis and learnings from Product performance data.
- Customer analysis - developing personas and archetypes.
- Product design reviews.
Examples of problem areas in tech problem solving
- Tech architecture / Design review
- Project planning review
- Metric performance review
- Tech implementation reviews and de-bottlenecking
- QA review
- Tech priorities, post new impact data and learnings
- Never a code review!
Examples of problem areas in strategic problem solving
- Investment decisions
- Fundraising timing strategy
- Product strategy
- Team organization and hiring
Above all, great problem-solving skills - whether project manager, lead, pen-taker, or interrogator - are perfected with practice in the right environment. It is a learned skill.
New team members at Bright learn these skills at sprint pace. Within 3 months they will have participated in 40+ problem-solving sessions, typically 4 per week.