Work on the Right Problem

Whenever I am working on something time critical, or involves tons of detail, or spans several hours of working time, periodically I will stop and ask myself: “am I working on the right problem?”

A few years back, we had a service provider working on an issue with one of our routers. We had banked several hours per month (around 40) with the vendor, that we earmarked for technical support. On this particular issue, the tech had spent nearly thirty hours out of the total forty, being no closer to a solution.

Now, in terms of billable time, thirty hours was about the amount of money that a new router would have cost us. But, because we weren’t paying close enough attention to what the engineer was doing, he had plowed ahead, wasting hours of support time.

Once we realized our error, we stopped the ongoing work, and simply replaced the router.

Problem solved.

We could have solved the problem much sooner, if we had simply questioned whether we were working on the right problem to begin with.

We too often conflate the appearance of working hard, with actually solving the problem at hand.

And too often, missing the solution entirely.

In order for us to be the most effective managers and stewards of scarce resources that we can be, we must guarantee that every minute counts, every dollar counts, and every person counts.

And it starts with: “am I working on the right problem?”

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