Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Solutions in search of problems

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History repeats itself;  first as tragedy, then as farce – Karl Marx.

Although Mr. Marx didn’t say anything about repetitions beyond the second, one can safely assume he would have considered them beyond farcical. Yet, in the world of corporate IT, we’re continually faced with the following repeat offender:  the solution in search of a problem (or SSP).  I should define the term before I go on – a SSP is a project that has been sanctioned without any regard to  the actual value or utility of the deliverables. This post is aimed at assisting project managers in identifying a SSP, so that they can take appropriate action when confronted with one. This basically amounts to of the following: sidestep it (i.e. duck it somehow), step down (i.e. resign) or suffer (i.e. accept the responsibility of managing the project and, well, suffer).

So, here we go then, seven deadly signs of SSPs:

  1. No one knows what the project is about. Everyone talks about it, but no one seems to know why it is being done.
  2. It’s all about technology or standards (SOA anyone?), not the business. The justifications on offer for the project are seasoned with phrases like “best practice” or “state of the art technology”; terms that  have more to do with technology than business need.
  3. There’s a committee responsible for implementation (often with a global reach). You’ve got to love global committees with their 10,000 metre view of ground level realities. Most recommendations that emerge from these are either so general as to be unusable,  or worse –  patently incorrect. 
  4. Since no one knows what it’s about, the project is more about the means than the end. Put another way, project management processes or process improvement methodologies in their full bureaucratic glory will reign supreme. Be sure that you’ve filled in all the right forms and have all the right signatures, else all hell will break loose.  
  5. No one is aware of a successful implementation: The global committee has little to show for their three years of the project, barring the pilot they did two years and nine months ago,  involving 1.5  users. 
  6. The project will replace a perfectly good existing solution: You have a good system in place? Don’t worry, the SSP will replace your tried and tested solution with  one that will give your staff many  hours of debugging fun, and the gray hairs to prove it. 
  7. And finally: these projects often originate in the upper reaches of the corporate hierarchy, where the connection with  ground level reality is somewhat tenuous. Corporate mandated projects have a fair chance of being SSPs.

So, it isn’t hard to spot an SSP. What do you do if confronted with one? Well, that’s up to you. As mentioned earlier, you have three options: sidestep, step down or suffer. The choice is yours.

Written by K

March 17, 2008 at 12:50 am

One Response

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  1. […] isn’t necessarily one) and that the favoured technology is the only way out of it. See my post on solutions in search problems for a light-hearted look at warning signs that this strategy is in […]


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