Has anyone else noticed this?  There are some things that come up year after year in conferences and tech publications and blogs and … stuff.

You see it at conferences and webinars and meet and greets and … stuff.

There are folks who are bravely branching out from what they know and are attending their first conference or workshop or reading forums or… whatever.  They are total novices to the ideas presented.  Thus, the need for repeating the fundamentals time and time again.

These folks are looking for “new ideas” and “recent developments” and…. stuff.

People, speakers, writers, etc., calling out fundamental ideas and presenting stuff that seems, well, “not new” get tweeted and blogged about and press – and when others point out that “Its good stuff but not new” the result is blank stares or, sometimes, hostility.

Then there are the people pushing for what is hot now – so many folks seem to be looking for the “next big thing” or the “what comes after {blah}?”

There seems to always be a demand for the new, the cool, the next break though to make things happen.  The next solution to their problems that they can’t seem to solve.  They read stuff and go to workshops and conferences and talk with people and get the new hotness in place and… 

Somehow, the same companies/organizations/groups still have the same problems.  Year after year after year.

Why is this?

People who have been around the block more than once and are looking for answers for their recurring problems.  The hard part, for many, is to recognize that sometimes the “solution” lies in understanding how the “problem” we each are trying to solve came about.

Usually, it was by fixing some other problem – or at least attempting to fix some other problem.  We instituted changes hoping they would fix the problem.  The changes proved hard.

Really hard. Sometimes, really incredibly hard.

When it is really incredibly hard some will stop and ask “What are we doing wrong?

That question can be dangerous in some organizations.  Here is how I try and work through this.

We can look to see why we are doing what we currently do. This is my preferred starting point.  “How did we get here.”  Often times, unfortunately, eyes get glassy – sometimes because no one recalls.  Sometimes eyes get defensive – as if people have been accused of something.  Sometimes you get an answer that starts out “Once upon a time…”

We can look to see what the intent is behind the changes we are trying to make. This can be as hard to get a clear answer as the last question was.  Many times it seems like the intent is to fix something, but people are not clear on what needs to be fixed.  If the answer presented is “the system” then I usually consider that the frustration level has reached a point of no return.  That is, something needs to be changed, people are not sure what, but a change needs to be made so make it.

We can look at this and see if what we are doing will actually impact what we want to change.  Alas, this is related to the question above.  If people have a hard time answering that question, then this one is impossible to answer and becomes irrelevant.  The message is clearly “Change something NOW.

Blah, Blah, Change is Hard, Blah, Blah

When we get to that level of dysfunction, forget it.  Ask a different question.

Can we change how we are making the change?  We might recognize that we, as an organization, made mistakes in looking at the cause of our problems and are changing the wrong thing. This may lead us to reconsidering our approach or evaluating what we are hoping to achieve.

Broadly speaking, I’ve found people who look at problem solving as an incremental process, meaning looking at addressing one aspect at a time tend to have more “luck” than the folks wanting to fix ALL the problems RIGHT NOW!

When the boss or big boss or big-big boss demand that the fix be some form of {insert major-new coolness} to fix all their problems, it is time to get nervous.  Alas, I suspect that this boss, or some level of boss, if they ever had any technical chops have found them rusted from lack of use.  So some general idea of “all your problems will be fixed if you do…” gets some traction with them.

After all, its reasonable that if things are broken, then you can fix stuff that is wrong in one fell swoop.  And then there is the information they picked up at a conference on this – and how the speakers all talked about how the problems were fixed by doing that one thing.  And then there are the consultants who are experts in a given area who come in and consult or coach or do something.  And then there are the sales reps for the cool tools that will help maximize the synergistic effects for the enterprise by using this tool to make that change.

And these folks are often the disillusioned ones who come back time and again.  “That change did not work as expected.  What can we do instead?

And this happens when the change did not go as easily nor as well as the expert/consultant/conference speaker/sales guy said it would.  So their quest begins for a new fix to their problems.  The next big thing that will solve all their problems, including the ones left over from this “failed” change or improvement effort.  And the one before that.  And the one before that.  Yeah, you get the idea. 

This, from what I have seen, drives a great number of people to return to conferences looking for solutions to their problems.  They want to change things to make things better but they want it to work and not be hard and not miss  any project deadlines and maximize the synergies of partnership for the enterprise.


Let me share three general ideas I have come to think of as givens:

1. When the person with a vested interest tells you that implementing this change is easy – there is approximately a 99.999999999999999% chance they are not being completely open.

They may not be lying; they may be naive.  Either way it will cost you and you company money.

Lots of money.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes things work.  Sometimes people will proclaim the effort a success because to do otherwise will be to admit that a lot of money was spent on a project that failed to deliver its promised results.  (We can’t admit that because it might impact earning statements and that will impact share price and stockholders will be mad.)

2. Know when to cut your losses.

Maybe you have heard of throwing good money after bad?   “If we tweak this piece of the process and nudge that a little, I’m certain that your results will be much, much better.”

Of course, then you are back to needing to admit that the effort was not successful.  (We can’t admit that because it might impact earning statements and that will impact share price and stockholders will be mad.)

As with any project, someone needs to say “I think there’s a problem here.”  Why not the testers?  Probably their manager/supervisor/boss might be better for that – but if no one else is willing to step up, why not the testers?

3. Sometimes things work and sometimes things don’t.

Put another way, smile when something works.  If it doesn’t, don
‘t get angry and look for who is to blame.  Instead, look patiently and honestly at what contributed to it not working.

There may not be a single “root cause” to any failure. Why?  Because the one root cause that can be attributed honestly in environments where a single root cause is needed, is that human beings implemented and executed the work and human beings are fallible.

There may be many contributing factors that led to the problem.  If one or more of them was not present then the problem may not have developed.  Look for interactions to see “the cause.”

Finally – 

People who make things happen make things happen in spite of problems and obstacles.  Being honest about the obstacles is the first step in making things better.  The people working with you who are to implement the changes are only obstacles if you make them obstacles.

Help them understand.