1% Solutions – Moving forward

Every so often while working on a problem, it is easy to find yourself stuck on a particular issue. It may seem insurmountable and nothing you try will get it fixed. I know I’ve been the victim of this, and it became more apparent when I managed a support team. Quite often I’d had staff come up asking for help on a problem, and that they were ‘stuck’.  I have a few methods for dealing with such problems and how to move forward.

Search the internet
One of the great things about the internet is if you receive some obscure error, this is a strong chance that someone else has had a similar problem. But what about if the problem is for a custom application, or a closed piece of technology?  This is something I have commented on before (Could we survive without Google?).  Hopefully anyone asking you how to help will already have done this as a first step, but this is not always the case.  Developing good search technique can also help.

What is the smallest, most atomic step I should do next?
This is my favourite question to pose to others (and ask myself).  When you are up against a brick wall, step back and work out what is the most smallest, most trivial step you can take next.  Essentially its part of breaking the problem into its components, and again, and again until you’re left with a series of steps to start with.  I find this works a lot of the time.

Take a break
There is nothing better than taking a break from a problem and coming back to it at later time, so long as the severity of the problem permits it.  Even if it is working on something else in the interim, it gives your brain a break and allow it to process it at a sub-conscious level.  Ideally, large problems can be solved with a good night’s rest, although business priority rarely permits that kind of luxury.

The 1% Solution: When stuck, look how to move forward. Work out what the absolute next thing you can do is, or at least take a break and refocus later.

Click here for my premise of %1 Solutions.

1% Solutions – Present solutions, not problems

In a perfect world, I’d like to walk onto a client’s premise, conduct a task and have it work first time.  This seldom happens,  and inevitably something goes wrong.    Software fails to install, there are network issues, code will not compile as expected – there seems to be a neverending list of such problems.  This is all part of the job, and IT professionals need to take it in their stride and work on delivering a solution.

I’ve seen many times first hand IT professionals who are in a circumstance that they have a problem, and then present said problem to the client.  They are going in without solutions or any way forward that is going to be of any benefit.  I’ve always been of the belief that so long as you can present one or more viable options, the client is appreciative that you’re working on achieving their goals. 

The 1% Solution: Clients like to hear solutions, not problems.  Find a way forward that will give a win/win scenario.

Click here for my premise of %1 Solutions.

1% Solutions

As part of my professional development, I’ve recently been reading Alan Weiss’s Million Dollar Consulting.  Weiss has a concept known as the “Tools for change, the one percent solution”, which is a premise that if you improve incrementally by 1% each day, in 70 days you will be twice as good as you previously work.  I see them as quick take-away messages that can be easily articulated, remembered, and practiced.

I decided that this would be a good line for some quick-fire blog posts, and build my own set of 1% solutions.  I also thought that I have the opportunity to focus on some technology sepecifc 1% solutions, as well as people and process based topics.

This is predominately a learning exercise for myself, so I look forward to any feedback or your own 1% solutions.

Back to Work

I’m back to work after four weeks of leave for the birth of my second child, a baby girl. It has been a wonderful four weeks, spending time with my family and generally relaxing. Although I wasn’t totally offline, I wasn’t working (nor updating my blog) and got to catch up with friends and family, as well as visit some great parks in Brisbane. I struggled a little bit this morning, and was only 10 minutes late into the office.

In the few days that preceeded my return, I was a little anxious about going back – how much work would there be? What was I doing before I left? What was my password to log in? Thankfully, I was able to log in, and the emails were processed by lunchtime, without too much new work for me to worry about. My brain was still a bit mushed from the information re-load, and I didn’t get to have my afternoon nap I had become accustomed to. While I’m still on the high of my holiday time, I hope to keep a relaxed mentality going, and focus on what I can achieve.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t totally disconnected on my break. I still had plenty of time to download & edit photos, get more social on facebook and play a few mindless flash games. And YouTube…great for keeping me awake at 3am while settling a child!

Now that I am back into the world, I plan to blog more regularly, streamline my activities online, and keep that quality time with the family going.

Could we survive without Google?

Unfortunately the phrase ‘Google it’ is too often heard where I work, and undoubtedly used throughout the world.  It seems that one can get by in an IT job just by being able to search the internet.  Even I catch myself trying to solve problems online when I really should have spent a bit more time trying to figure it out.  It is just too easy sometimes.

I’m not against using search technologies, and can appreciate the efficiencies from learning from past mistakes and preventing the reinvention of the proverbial wheel.  I’ll be the first person to admit when I to know something, I’ll ‘Google it’, and I usually demand that I find out immediately – the knowledge must be in the now.

Rewind 10+ years, I recall a support environment that I was in.  At the time it was pre-Google, and when the accessibility to the internet was limited to one terminal in our workplace of 300 staff.  How did I ever survive?  Fortunately learning on the job, learning from books, and learning from peers was common practice.  For the most part I learned how to troubleshoot and resolve problems.  I learned how to think.

Since then I have hired support staff and I can attest that analytical problem solving skills are lacking in a large number of candidates.  These people are typically ‘Gen-Y‘ and they don’t have the drive to just figure it out for themselves.  This may be fine for mainstream applications where documentation, forums and blog posts are abound and plentiful, but very problematic for bespoke applications or mainstream applications which have very closed documentation sources.

We live in an information rich age and accessibility is everywhere.  It has become our way of life.  However I do question if we will come to a situation where we could survive without Google, or other search technologies.  Probably not completely, but I challenge you to spend some time to get your thinking hat on before you start pounding the keys and ‘Google it’.