The (not so obvious) path to a solution

In a business context, a solution[1] is basically a set of products or services designed to meet a particular need. So looking for a solution implies to:

  1. Realize that there is something to address, to resolve
  2. Understand the nature of this ‘thing’
  3. Clearly articulate the corresponding needs
  4. Determine the type of solution that could be helpful: product, service, process or methodology improvement, organizational restructuring, coaching … or a mix of all these !

Only then and if suitable:

  1. Identify existing solutions currently available on the market
  2. Select the most appropriate one
  3. Adapt and integrate it or
  4. Develop one’s own

Point 1. may seem straightforward but it isn’t. There are circumstances where it is not so obvious to realize that inside a company something requires attention. This is particularly true when the company is flourishing or in a situation of monopoly: everything is then going well and there is less will or pressure to remain vigilant or anticipate needs.

Sometimes also, enterprises may not have the onboard competencies or the necessary perspective to assess the full nature of the complex challenges they are facing or to clearly describe what is actually needed. Needs are often directly expressed in terms of solutions e.g. we need an ERP[2], a CRM[3], an ESB[4] or to use that architecture framework or technology. So what is described is what the company/customer think the solution should contain and the real needs are in fact not actually expressed. Consequently there is often an additional requirement engineering effort to produce to go back from these ‘stated’ requirements to the ‘real’ ones.

Experience also shows that solutions get sometimes selected before the internal needs and impact on the company are actually known. For example for commercial reasons, like the compliance to a trendy methodology or quality framework which will prove to be a good marketing advantage. A legitimate question would then be: how does this address the company internal needs ? But in this case it is difficult to provide a straightforward answer… And that is of course tricky because the implementation of these frameworks has an impact on the metabolism of the company, its functioning. This impact must be thoroughly assessed in order to prevent potential counterproductive side effects. That is rarely done.

Through these few non-exhaustive examples we see that the preliminary steps to the selection or design of an effective solution can be much more complex than it seems at first sight. In addition to that, solutions are always multidimensional i.e. they are a mix of architecture, technology, processes, organizational and human aspects that require an holistic approach as well as multidisciplinary skills and expertise.

When these are not all available in-house, external consultancy can be convenient. It can prove to be a good investment to assure a healthy start and later avoid a combinatory explosion of unwanted costly consequences.


[1] Business solution
[2] Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP), wikipedia
[3] Customer Relationship Management (CRM), wikipedia
[4] Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), wikipedia

Related articles:

The submerged part of the iceberg
Let’s improve ! … but, is a framework enough ?


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