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Digital Transformation is problem solving, whereby you aim to transform your business in order to reach an outcome that is not attainable by staying complacent. Your goal is the result, your problem is the barrier to getting there.

The concerning statistics as reported by Forbes Magazine is that 84% of Digital Transformation projects fail. But why? 

So many organisations, large corporates included are failing miserably at Digital Transformation and while we have multiple data points to say why, there is no definitive answer. But trying to answer this question is part of the problem. Assuming that all problems are the same is the problem.

How do we know if a Digital Transformation will fail?

Given that we can’t speak on behalf of all organisations about their failed Digital Transformation projects, we can provide insights drawn from previous work we’ve done for clients. We’ve summarised and categorised where things have gone really well, and where things haven’t turned out as intended to try and unlock some of the reasons that would contribute toward Digital Transformation failure.

Blirt, as an organisation put in place frameworks, action plans and contingencies for our clients that help mitigate and minimise any points that have detrimental effects for our clients. One key framework we use is one that helps us clearly define the problem. This is something that most organisations don’t do.

So how do we approach problem solving in the context of Digital Transformation? 

Every time we approach a Digital Transformation action whether it’s building an app, digitising a process or systemising a workflow  – we need to be solving a problem that is clear. A problem that has a clear problem statement. Quite literally, if we do XYZ action to fix XYZ problem the outcome will be XYZ – nothing more complicated that. 

However the key mistake that most businesses make is assuming that all problems are the same. They don’t break those problems down into bite size pieces, so that the relevant response can be executed.

Introducing Cynefin…

David Snowden - Cynefin Problem Solving

David Snowden – Creator of Cynefin

The Cynefin framework is a tool developed by Professor David Snowden, for the purpose of making sense of problem types, and their relevant responses.

This tool was developed because of the problems involved with problem solving. If we can best identify the type of problem, we can then effectively attribute what actions need to be done to successfully address that problem.

It’s about understanding how problems fit together and it gives us a guide for how we need to respond, based on the type of problem. Often times we see people try to handle a hard situation with a simple approach, or vice versa, where a person might try and solve a really easy problem in an over-complicated manner. Both of these types of people would benefit greatly from the Cynefin model.

So what is the Cynefin Framework?

The Cynefin framework is a tool designed specifically to help leaders make better decisions. It does this by helping leaders realise that not all problems are the same, and that  type of problem will decide what type of action is required. The Cynefin model categorises problems across 4 different domains:

  1. Simple Problems
  2. Complicated Problems
  3. Complex Problems
  4. Chaotic Problems

Cynefin Problem Solving digital transformation

For the purpose communicating how to use this model in a simple business setting, we’ll use a home builder as our test subject. Let’s call it ‘Sunny Homes‘.

Simple problem

A simple problem is an everyday, ordered problem. Something that is simple to solve via best practice that almost anyone can do. Best practices is often a route taken to solve this problem as there is a direct link between cause and effect and everyone mutually agrees on the solution. The action to this problem is to sense, categorise and respond.

Simple Problem Characteristics

  • Doesn’t require much expertise to solve
  • There is a clear, definitive answer
  • Solution is evident to the group
  • Fact-based information gathering will usually suffice

A Simple Problem at ‘Sunny Homes

An example of a simple problem at Sunny Homes would be when a customer is looking to visit a display home, but can’t quite find the address. Sometimes Google Maps doesn’t recognise the address due to the home and street being newly created; a common occurring problem. The customer calls the sales representative for directions and the sales person can help them find their destination.

Complicated Problem

The complicated problem category is where good practices can be found using some level of analysis and is usually solved with expert knowledge. There may be more than one correct answer for a complicated problem and requires a quantitative approach. The action for this problem is to sense, analyse then respond.

Complicated Problem Characteristics

  • Cause and effect relationship is not immediate but can be discovered in due course
  • Multiple correct solutions
  • Generally predictable
  • You know what you don’t yet know

A Complicated Problem at ‘Sunny Homes’ 

A complicated problem for Sunny Homes would be upon the build of a new house they start boring holes for the footings, when suddenly they hit an unexpected rock shelf. Unable to drill through it, the builder then needs to conduct a soil test to help him decide what they need to get through the rock, and how much this will increase to cost to the customer.

Complex Problem

The Complex problem category is where solutions are discovered through testing, hypothesis and experimentation. Often referred to as innovation, the complex problem is one that many business leaders overlook and dismiss. The only way to get an accurate representation of the most desired outcome is to conduct a series of experiments to base your decision. The action for a complex problem is to probe, sense and respond.

Complex Problem Characteristics 

  • Cause and effect relationship is not apparent
  • One problem may affect many others
  • Experimentation is required to figure out what questions need to be asked
  • Routine solutions do not apply
  • We don’t know what we don’t know

A Complex Problem at ‘Sunny Homes’ 

An example of a complex problem at Sunny Homes would be during the construction phase of a new home and the tiler has laid the wrong tiles. The tiler can’t come back to rip them up and re-lay the correct tiles for another 3 days. As a result, the painters, kitchen fitters, window fitters and plumbers have all be delayed which will push back the delivery of the completed house by 4 weeks. What’s worse is that the home owner who was set to move in now has nowhere to live for those 4 weeks as she has already terminated her lease at her current residence. 

Chaotic Problem

Chaotic problems require immediate, emergency and/or rapid responses. During crisis, there are actions to take to prevent further harm or damage. This type of problem does not require any investigations, no hypothesis testing and certainly not extended periods of time to find a potential solution.

Chaotic Problem Characteristics

  • First priority is to contain the chaos
  • Time is of the essence and no process is to be used
  • The aim is to bring under control, to only then figure out what problems fit into which categories
  • Look for immediate results

A Chaotic Problem at ‘Sunny Homes’ 

An example of a chaotic problem for Sunny Homes is upon finalising the construction of a new home, the builder starts pouring concrete for the driveway. The only problem is, the concrete truck driver has forgotten to put his handbrake on and the truck is now rolling toward the house threatening lives and extensive damage to the house.

How can Blirt help your Digital Transformation?

If your digital transformation has stalled, or you are not sure what problem you need to fix first and the implications of neglecting any other problems, contact us and we can show you how to effectively use the Cynefin framework in your business.

Alternatively, listen to this weeks podcast on The Digital Transformation Show, where we unpack this Cynefin problem solving framework and how you can use it inside your organisation.

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