Problem with Problems 2

First a recap of the previous post: A strategy approach is a method of planning thats useful when you don't know where to start. Basically it is an approach based on rules. These rules don't necessarily give you the answer but provide stepping stones on which your solution or the journey to your solution will rest on. You have to determine how you will address the problem (or pieces of it) before solving them. One key question to answer is "Do you solve it all together or do you pick away at each problem one by one?"
To answer this question, you need to take a good hard look at the problem or problems. If you can, break a problem into smaller pieces. Do this regardless of whether you want to solve it as a whole or piecemeal. Identify dependencies between each piece or problems. A dependency is when one problem can only be solved if another problem is also solved. Another way to look at this is that one problem's solution helps to solve another. A dependency usually has a 'direction', from problem A, whose solution helps solve problem B. If a problem is complex enough, there will be quite a a number of them. Knowing the dependencies will help you figure out whether you want to continue a divide and conquer approach or whether you want to solve it as one problem or in one go. This determination depends on many factors, mainly the amount of resources available to you, the time available to solve the problem and the level of your skill required to solve the problem.
If you choose to solve a problem piece by piece, focus on the dependencies at the beginning or in the planning stage. Prioritize the dependencies according to a criteria you set. If you are leading a group of people solving the problem, communicate the criteria to your team. So, when the situation changes and new dependencies are introduced, your team can quickly re-prioritize and re-focus. The more complex a problem, the longer the solution will be. Even where is the 'stroke of genius' solution, a solution that solves the problem much more quickly than anticipated, spend the extra time gained going over the dependencies to ensure they are addressed or solved. Overlooked dependencies could cause future problems or change the solution into another problem.

There are generally 2 types of problems with dependencies: a hole and a pyramid. Understanding which one your entire problem resembles will help you come out with more strategic approaches. This creates more guides towards your goal. A problem is like a hole when there are obstacles in your way and need to be addressed. When you are stuck caught in a hole, there is only one goal: get out. There is also only likely strategy: find a way to go up. These types of problems have simple dependencies between their pieces or sub-problems. Each piece can be solved in no particular order. The problem is solved when all or most pieces are solved.
A problem resembles a pyramid when you need to build your solution to piece by piece to reach the goal of solving your problem. Each piece builds on each other. In this case, each problem has to be carefully solved. Knowing how each dependency affects each piece of the problem is like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. It is important to know how each piece fits so that solving one piece doesn't negatively affect others. In a pyramid-type problem, the order of solving the various pieces of a problem is also important. Some pieces cannot be solved until other pieces that it is dependent on is solved. In other pieces, it doesn't matter. Knowing which is which will reduce stress and allow focus to remain on moving towards solving the entire problem.
Coming back to the original example, there a few strategies you can adopt when you are selling your car.

  • Strategy 1 : Solve the problems one by one
  • Strategy 2: Prioritize the problems to give a higher priority to fixes that will either 
    • raise the value of the car
    • something that will make the potential buyer want to buy the car more - from browsing to buying
    • Strategy 2a: choose which one of the above is more important than the other or add another rule: when to two priorities are competing (raising the value of the car vs. the factor that make the car sell), the cheapest one to do wins.
  • Strategy 3: Find a less discerning buyer
Notice how the strategies themselves do not deal with the problem itself (selling the car) but deal with solving the problem (how to get the car sold). This subtle difference allows for a different perspective to also be applied, for example Strategy 3. It does not deal with the car per se but the focus is on solving the problem. Using a strategy approach will always give you start even though you don't exactly how you will reach you goal. Which in itself solves one big problem, starting you on your journey to the solution.