Selecting the Right Technology Solutions
14 Mar, 2003 By: Kevin Craine imageSourceSelecting the Right Technology Solutions
With
so many technological toys available, how do you know what solution is right for
your customer? There are few things as useless  if not as dangerous  as the
right answer to the wrong question. The key to finding the best technological
solution is to ask the right questions. This means considering as many potential
solutions to your customer’s problem as you can possibly generate and asking
questions like: What are the costs associated with each solution? What
facilities, people and equipment are needed? How much time is required for
implementation? What will be the effect on workers, managers and the company?
What results are expected? What are the barriers to implementation?
Identifying
viable solutions and alternatives for your customer requires a maximum level of
informed creativity. When faced with a difficult problem, however, many people
naturally dwell on all the constraints, rules and pitfalls that might narrow
down the possible options for solving their problems. People's experience, their
expectations about what will be acceptable to management, and their memories of
what has worked before often restrict creativity and sales when it comes down to
the nittygritty of problemsolving. But often the most creative and unexpected
approach brings the best results. Being creative means combining the information
you have collected with all the possible ideas on the table, even if those ideas
may seem farfetched at first.
Below
is a threestep process that will aid in selecting the best possible solutions
to aid in solving your customer’s problems. In the first step, your aim is to
collect from your client a large quantity of solution ideas. Work to compile a
wideranging list of creative ideas. In the second step, you must aid in
narrowing down your list by selecting the best four to six possible solutions.
In step three, the customer must select a final solution and one or two
alternatives.
Generating
an allembracing list of possible solutions will offer customers a big advantage
over the usual approach, which is to simply come up with one or two alternatives
from which to choose. If you allow your customer to limit himself to only a few
alternatives, you both are much more likely to overlook the best solution. The
two or three ideas that come quickly to mind may not actually be the best
choices. A better way is to start with a much longer list of possibilities. That
way, you improve your chances of exploring more innovative and unusual solutions
that would not be considered otherwise.
Generate
a List of Possible Solutions
Brainstorming with other people is a good way of generating a comprehensive list
of creative ideas from a broad perspective. It is important note, however, that
one of the difficulties with brainstorming is the natural instinct to prejudge
ideas before thoroughly evaluating them. As a result, most people have a natural
fear of proposing a "silly" idea or looking foolish. Ironically, silly
ideas can actually form the basis for a creative and useful solution. You must
strive to defer judgment and guide others in this perspective. One of the key
tenets of brainstorming is that no criticism is permitted no matter how wild and
crazy suggestions seem. Encourage your customers to generate a large number of
ideas through the combination and enhancement of existing ideas. Encourage
people to key off of ideas from someone else.
One
example of a successful idea that at first seemed farfetched was experienced at
Kodak, where an employee approached management with the idea of making a camera
so cheap and lightweight that people would throw it away after one use. The
FunSaver is one of Kodak's most popular products. The idea sounded crazy at
first, but the results speak for itself.
When
generating a list of possible solutions, don't stop too quickly. The first few
ideas, or the most obvious ones, are not always the best. Ask your customers:
· Did you avoid passing judgment or making comments on the
possible solutions as they were raised?
· Did you think outside your own experience and expertise?
· Do you fully understand each possible solution?
· Did you go for quantity  at least 20 possible solutions?
Determine
the Best Solutions
Now a decision has to be made between the many solutions gathered. Which
solutions should be included on a "short list?" Out of all the ideas
to consider, it is likely that they are not all equally capable of producing the
desired results or equally plausible to put into place. Keep in mind the
company’s goals for improvement, the expectations set and the key results
needed. Also keep in mind what resources are available. If your client does not
have the funds available for additional staff, hiring people might not be the
way to go. Likewise, if time is limited, implementing a solution that requires
many hours to put into place may not be the best option.
The
following steps will help you reduce your client’s list to a few of the best
options, given their objectives and available resources:
Step
1.
Develop a criteria for selections and assign weights to each.
Step 2. Apply the criteria.
Step 3. Choose the best four
to six solutions.
To
determine the criteria to use for selecting the solutions for a short list, make
sure to define each deciding factor clearly. If you are working with a team, be
sure everyone involved has the same definitions in mind. For example, they must
decide whether cost is the most important criterion, or whether ease of
implementation should head the list, and so on. The criteria must also be rated
in terms of importance. Assign a weighting percentage to each criterion so that
they total 100 percent. For example:
Ease
of implementation 20%
How easy will it be to implement this solution?
Likelihood
of success
20% How
likely is it that the solution itself can be successfully implemented?
Effectiveness
of Solution 50%
How effective will the solution be in addressing the causes of the
problem?
Cost
10%
How
much will the solution cost compared to available funding?
Total
weighing
100%
Rate
each possible solution against your criteria. Do this by giving each one a score
on a scale of one to ten. After a score has been assigned to each factor,
multiply the score by the weighting, and add up the scores for each solution.
Weighting
the criteria helps your customer to choose the best solutions to use for the
final decision process. This is a very effective tool because it compares all
potential solutions objectively and guarantees equal consideration for
alternative solutions. It also helps make certain someone's favorite solution
does not override others. With this kind of wellthought rationale for your
decisions, there should be less trouble convincing management that the
recommendations are the right course for your client’s document strategy.
Questions
to consider:
· Which criteria do they need to consider?
· Are these criteria equally important?
· Does everyone involved have the same understanding of what
each one means?
· Do the total weighted scores for each solution seem logical
when they are compared with each other?
· Did the company choose the solutions with the highest score?
If not, why?
· Will they be able to persuade others that this is the right
choice? If not, it's probably not the right choice.
Select
A Final Solution
Now that a list of potential solutions has been developed, it’s time to trim
down the choices, preferably to the best four to six solutions. Do this by using
a PairedChoice Matrix similar to the one below. A PairedChoice Matrix gives
customers a method to choose the best solution from a number of alternatives and
is an objective way to make sure each potential solution gets fair and equal
consideration. One way to think of this process is like the NFL playoffs. A
series of games are played between teams to determine an ultimate champion,
matching one pair of teams at a time.
List
solutions on the top, as well as the left side of a matrix. In this example, six
solutions have been selected (represented as A through F). Begin with the first
row (Solution A) and proceed horizontally across the chart, comparing solution A
to every solution along the top, one pair at a time. "X's" mark where
no choice can be made (e.g., between solution A and solution A). Indicate the
preferred solution by placing the corresponding letter in the corresponding
column. Repeat this process until each possible pair is evaluated.
A  B  C  D  E  F  Total  
A  X  B  C  D  A  F  1 
B  X  X  B  D  B  B  3 
C  X  X  X  C  C  F  2 
D  X  X  X  X  D  F  1 
E  X  X  X  X  X  E  1 
F  X  X  X  X  X  X  0 
Total    1  1  2  0  3  x 

A B
C D
E F
Total
A
x B
C D
A F
1
B
x x
B D
B B
3
C
x x
x C
C F
2
D
x x
x x
D F 1
E
x x
x x
x E
1
F
x x
x x
x x
0
Total
 1
1 2
0 3
x
PairedChoice Matrix
In
this example, you would start with solution A and follow the top of the matrix.
Choose between A and B. (In this case solution B was selected.) Continue across
the row, making a choice between A and C, A and D, and so on. Repeat the process
for each row until you have compared each possible pair  compare B and A, B and
C, B and D, and so on. For each row, tally the number of times that solution
prevailed. Record those numbers on the right side of your matrix. Tally the
scores for each column as well, and record those numbers at the bottom of the
matrix. Add the numbers in the right of your matrix with the numbers at the
bottom. Whichever solution has the greatest number should be your
"best" solution.
In
this case, the results are as follows:
Solution
A  1 + 0 = 1
Solution B  3 + 1 = 4
Solution C  2 + 1 = 3
Solution D  1 + 2 = 3
Solution E  1 + 0 = 1
Solution F  0 + 3 = 3
With a
total of four, solution B prevails. Solutions C, D and F are viable
alternatives. What happens if you have a tie? If there are three or more options
with the same score repeat the process with a smaller matrix that includes only
the options that have tied. If you have only two options in a tie, encourage
customers to look for other factors that have not previously been considered.
Step outside of the main focus to see if potential
solutions provide additional benefits elsewhere. Ask your customers questions
such as:
· Did you hold back from evaluating all proposed solutions?
· Did you make a point of thinking outside of your own
expertise and experience?
· Did you involve others in the process  especially those who
have an interest in getting the problem solved?
· Did you narrow the list to the best four to six possible
solutions?
· Do you fully understand each of them?
· Do any of them need to be combined?
· What is the likelihood that your solution will be successful?
The
problems that are identified and the solutions selected define the course of a
company’s document strategy. Use the tools presented here to strengthen the
understanding of the document processes. From there you can help customers to
determine the problems that plague the process. With problems defined, you can
help your customer to select the best technological solutions and plan the best
route for their document strategy.
Kevin
Craine is the author of Designing a Document Strategy.
He is currently the manager of Document Services for Regence BlueCross
Blue Shield of Oregon and Regence BlueShield in Washington.
He is also the editor of Document Processing Technology magazine.
Mr. Craine received his BA in organizational communications and his MBA
in the management of science and technology.
He is respected speaker and instructor, and an authority on document
strategies, process improvement and business communication technology.
To contact Kevin or to order the book, visit www.documentstrategy.com.
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