An enormous part of any founder, executive, and even manager’s day is spent making decisions; from something as small as “who should work on that project?” to “I can only invest in one thing this quarter, what can I not live without?”
The reality is that there is no shortage of great ideas or new initiatives. If you were to take a straw poll, nearly everyone in every department would have something to pitch. Each of these hypothesized solutions present an overwhelming number of outcomes. That leaves you, the decision maker, with a problem—how do you efficiently evaluate and prioritize? Will it be a good or bad outcome? Will it truly solve an important business or customer problem that is related to the most important goals? If it is a good outcome, how will it be supported? What if it’s a bad outcome? What’s the opportunity cost?
It’s amazing how rare these questions are asked before a new project is launched. In my experience as an executive in Fortune 50 companies, a startup founder, and board member, I’ve seen well-intentioned programs come off the rails within the first week, meetings start with 20 distinct ideas and end with just one idea from the highest paid opinion or last person talking.
So, this begs the question: how do you keep things focused and proceed with only the best ideas? At Clearhead we developed an entire methodology to address this all-too-common issue: Problem Solution Mapping. But, for the day-to-day (i.e. where a workshop may be an impractical choice!) I’ve created a handy list of 10 questions, inspired by PSM, to guide a conversation with a colleague, employee, or even an open-minded boss, when you’re discussing a new idea.
Here are the 10 questions to ask whether an idea or project is on track to be successful…
1) What problem are you trying to solve?
Focusing an idea around a problem is the first step—even better if the problem is well-defined. Having trouble? Start by categorizing it as a customer or business problem.
2) What data validates the existence of this problem?
This is a follow up question to the one above, when the identified problem seems ‘squishy’ or like an opinion. Ask them to provide evidence that supports and gives scope to their problem. That will give you an idea of that problem’s significance versus other problems facing your business.
3) What goal does this idea help us achieve?
Ideally, high level corporate goals should trickle down to a set of goals that every department rolls into. If the identified idea doesn’t support a specific, measurable, time-bound goal that ties into the broader organization it is unlikely be high impact.
4) What data supports this idea will solve this problem?
First you define and size the problem. Then explore how you can build confidence that the proposed idea, technology or project would actually solve that problem.
5) What and who is required sustain this idea?
Everything that is put in place (technology, process, person, program) requires sustainment and incremental optimization. Make sure there’s a plan to ensure whatever works sticks, and continues to improve.
6) How does this align to your priorities?
If an individual is behind the idea, they have to be personally incentivized to push it through. Good ideas may not be in the objectives of a person. So the idea needs to either be connected to someone incentivized to see it through, or that person’s objectives need to change.
7) What will success look like?
This is another way of exploring the problem and likelihood of success, but it creates a conversation that explores the outcome from which you can reevaluate the proposal’s problems, goals and sustainment.
8) What else would you consider?
Since we know people tend to get stuck on ideas, once you’ve anchored on the problem ask if there were other ideas that could solve the same problem. There may be data to support this idea will work, but would another idea be even more likely to work or have a lower level of effort? The key is not to be emotionally tied to one idea, but instead to the best solution.
9) What would happen if we didn’t do this?
This is an opportunity cost question. If you did not invest in that idea, what’s the worst that will happen? There is always too much to do. Is this something we can say no to because we’re already working on the right things?
10) What would you (and others) drop to do this?
Assume everyone is working at 100%. This new idea has to be worth more than the lowest priority thing you or the team are working on. Consider about the loss of that thing and any potential fallout.
These questions are the starting point to a dialogue that is both productive and focused. The realities of business make it such that there is an ever-growing list of things demanding your attention. The best executives are able to cut through the noise and focus themselves and their employees on a set of achievable, validated objectives that align with broader business objectives.
Want to try it yourself? Download our 10 Questions Printout to map out your own “Big Hit” ideas.