Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Watchamawiggler"

Consider the following scenario, you are sitting at your desk late in the afternoon trying to catch up on the problems brought to you yesterday and in walks Mrs. Smith announcing "we" have a big problem! Before you have a chance to respond, she continues "we need to get a Watchamawiggler to solve this problem". You ask quite perplexed, "what's the problem again"? Mrs. Smith says, "I told you! We need a Watchamawiggler" and goes on to explain in great detail that if we just had this "Watchamawiggler" everything would be better.

If you haven't figured out, there is no such thing as a "Watchamawiggler" and I like Dr. Seuss way too much. A Watchamawiggler just sounds like a Dr. Seuss term - its not, but it should be. The underlining point that I am trying to highlight is far too often we are solving problems, or so we think, before we have even clearly defined them. This leads to a solution that does not address the root cause of the problem, so the problem itself continues and if we are lucky some ripple of the root cause is addressed. Mostly, we spend a great deal of time, energy, and money implementing the deployment of the "Watchamawiggler" only to be disappointed months later when Mrs. Smith points out "we still have that problem".

Here is an oversimplified example to highlight my point:

"A claim is made that we need a new student management software tool, specifically we need the "Solla Sollew System" - my Dr. Seuss obsession again - because it has all these cool features. If we just had this tool, I am certain our reports would all get done on time for once."

Utilizing something I have coined, "Evolution Leadership" we would engage in a root cause analysis and problem solving process to determine the root cause of why our reports are not getting completed on time. Perhaps there is not a clear process for managing student information, perhaps it is a lack of training for the people responsible for submitting the reports, perhaps it is a hundred other variables. Using a systems approach allows us to determine the root cause of any problem, we can then identify feasible solutions, and ultimately correct the root cause rather than masking it.

So, the next time Mrs. Smith states proudly "we have a problem..." pay close attention to the conversation that follows. As a leader, it is your responsibility to ask good questions to dig deep into the root cause instead of just accepting the first proposed solution to buy a "Watchamawiggler".