Friday, 19 May 2017

Is problem solving a problem?


I have recently been reflecting on the differences between the approach we generally use in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) and the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

AI has been used as an approach for change for many years, Cooperrider and Srivastva developed this approach in 1987.  To summarise this in a few words it is based on the theory that:
·      In every system, something works
·      Our focus becomes our reality
AI uses questions and opportunities for people to create positive visions of the future to build on the present potential of a process or organisation.

The problem solving approach that we have in PIU takes a different tack. From the moment we start scoping a project we begin to agree a problem statement and use a number of approaches to identify what are the problems, which of the problems are critical, what is the root cause etc.? Although problem solving can be a very powerful approach and lead ultimately to positive results and support resilience as further problems surface, there is a risk that the teams we work with may find this quite negative and that we miss out on opportunities to reward people for the things that are going well.

Cooperrider and Whitney (2001) identified the distinguishing features of the two approaches:
Problem Solving
Appreciative inquiry
1. "Felt Need," identification of Problem
1. Appreciating & Valuing the Best of "What Is"
2. Analysis of Causes
2. Envisioning "What Might Be"
3. Analysis & Possible Solutions
3. Dialoguing "What Should Be"
4. Action Planning (Treatment)

Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Problem to be Solved
Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Mystery to be Embraced

My main concern about just using AI is that sometimes there are process steps that need to be removed because they create the problem e.g. excessive approval steps, duplicating data, unnecessary handovers. How would an AI approach deal with over processing, is there a risk that it would encourage this?

As a lean practitioner ‘Respect for People’ is at the heart of my professional practice and to me this includes the concept of sincere conversation (being very clear about what is going well and what could be improved). However, the more I read about AI this also offers the opportunity for a direct conversation, but perhaps with a more positive angle.

Deming said, “A bad system will be beat a good person every time”. In PIU we are responsible for ensuring that the improvement process is robust and helpful I’m going to experiment with AI and explore how this can be used alongside problem solving; I have a feeling that the two concepts are not necessarily unconnected. I suspect there will be a follow up to this blog (possibly a Venn diagram showing the commonalities) if my instinct is correct about the two approached not necessarily being mutually exclusive.

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