The Solution

The notion that there is a single solution to any problem is a fallacy. There may be a solution to an equation, but every problem has more than one possible solution.

We learned in math that there is one right answer for every arithmetic "problem". But in fact even that is fallacious, because we can represent that answer correctly in many forms. 1/2 = 2/4 = 0.5 = 50%, etc… We also learned in math that the teacher expected us to show our work. Because the exercise was not to get the answer (that was in the back of the textbook) but to learn the method.

In the real world, when we have a problem, it is more likely to be a "word" problem, and if there is math behind it (rather than boolean logic) we need to represent the answer, or solution, in a form that fits whatever we are going to do with it. We don't get credit for doing the right method, or showing our work (unless you are building a repeatable process, that others will follow) – we get the answer and move on.

In the real world, there are always multiple paths to solution, and if the problem has any degree of complexity, it is the fastest, least cost, least effort, optimized path that is valued. In the real world, sometimes a quick approximation is more valueable than a 100% certainty. In the real world, the need changes faster than we can solve problems, so sometimes a quick fix is more valuable than a perfect solution.

In the real world, knowing what the likely points of failure are within the solution, and what the probability of experiencing those failures, or what external events would trigger those failures is as important as knowing how to construct the solution itself.

In the real world, understanding the problem, the impact of the problem, and the timeline for realizing that impact is as important to the solution as the solution itself.

In the real world, there are almost always solution options. Sometimes the right answer is to solve the problem multiple times.

1) A quick fix to manage the risk – in hours to days (you may call this a workaround, a band-aid, or a hack)

This is like applying a tourniquet. Good to stop the bleeding, but for a short perriod of time, otherwise we will lose a limb. This solution incurs technical debt, as this fix will need to be unwound, and soon.

2) A more thorough solution to provide more of whatever attribute needs to be increased – in days to weeks (this might be a well structured hardening or bullet-proofing exercise, or a non-behavioral system change, or a behavioral change to accomodate new real world conditions)

This can be a long term fix, but usually adds complexity at the expense of continual maintenance. Every new project that has to change this thing will need to contemplate this complexity. Enough of these in our system and change becomes difficult, beyond a certain point it is better to start over than to fix. This solution will last for a long time, but may make us despise our own handiwork after a while. The benefit here is that we keep the change inside the bounds of our own control.

3) A correction at the root cause of the problem – in months to years, and may require agreement/negotiation with multiple stakeholders, change to work process, legal documents, and other elements outside of the direct control of those who are impacted by the problem ( this is what we always want to do, but may require changes to human behavior, customer expectations, etc. that require a much greater planning effort to realize)

This change requires organizational management attention. If the root cause is outside the bounds of our control, or if the consequences of the change exert influence beyond the bounds of our control, we need to negotiate, and exert influence to get others (systems, teams, business units, customers) to accept the net impact of this change.

How many times do we stop after the first, or especially the second solution, and how much complexity is inserted and maintained because we do not go the distance to solve the root cause. How many times have we moaned that "There is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over…"

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