Desember 15, 2011

More on Problem Definition

Apparently my If Matrix turns out to be a bit more controversial than I originally expected. These are some questions I received from readers and colleagues:

"Did you just put bureaucracy on such a simple problem definition?"
"Wouldn't you end up with the same thing if you focus on such an obvious thing as IT integration from the beginning?"
"Should we really create this matrix and put it in our problem definition report?"

The answer to all of the questions are: No, no, and no. Bureaucracy is the last thing in my mind when I conceptualized the simple matrix. If you look closer at the matrix, it is simply a quick tool to check whether we might jump too quickly on a path that might lead us to a wrong destination. So, this is not a requirement, and this is definitely not something that has to be in a report (unless you feel it is necessary to lay out all assumptions on paper).

And the purpose of this matrix is exactly to avoid thinking that something is obvious. Even if the solution is something obvious like integrating an IT system, framing the problem properly will lead us into developing a set of critical parameters on what the desired outcome of the project will be, and understanding where we should focus on. It will also allow us to have some flexibility on how we get to where we want. Just like when we want to go from City A to City B, if we insist that we should take Road X without understanding that the actual desire is City B, we will fail to see that there is another route via Road Y, which has less traffic than Road X, that can get us faster and safer to City B.

Have fun!

November 25, 2011

Test Your Assumption with If Matrix

Recently I had an interesting discussion with an executive in charge of Sales and Distribution. It goes like this:

Me: So, what is your biggest problem right now?
Exec: We need to find out a way on how we can integrate our IT system
Me: Why would you want to integrate your IT system?
Exec: We need to get a more real time sales data, on demand.
Me: So, are you actually looking for a way to integrate your IT system, or are you looking for a more real time sales data?
Exec: Well... Both...
Me: Assume you find out a way to integrate your IT system, but it does not give you real time, on demand sales data. Are you satisfied?
Exec: Of course not, but the only way to get on demand, real time data is by integrating IT system.

At this point, he suddenly had a revelation that he had made a big assumption.

Me: Assume you find a way to get real time sales data, on demand, do you still worry about IT integration?
Exec: No - So I guess what I need is not IT integration, I need on demand, real time sales data!

It is an interesting exercise to test your understanding of your problems by going back and forth what I called the If Matrix.

If you walk through the steps, you will find out your true headache that you need to address and get rid of your assumptions.

Good luck!

November 07, 2011

Problem Solving Series 6 - Improve the Situation

Here we are, almost done.

The next step after getting a good understanding of the source and reason of our problems, we then have to move forward to finding way(s) to improve the situation. I intentionally did not use 'solve the problem' here, because in many cases, a problem can not necessarily be solved immediately, but the situation can always be improved.

Oktober 13, 2011

Problem Solving Series 5b - Analyze the Problem

This is part 2 of Analyze

We have talked about a nifty tool where we can compare two continuous factors and find out if there is any relationship between them.

Now what about we are faced with two sets of data from two categories, such as male and female? This is when we can use the next tool.

b. Box plots: Here are a sample of Box Plots - comparison of MRI count (an indicator of brain size) between male and female
As you can see, it is easy to note that Male has higher MRI count than female. To find out more about how to create Boxplots, click here.

Now that we have all these tools, what next? The next steps is to have an open mind. Train your mind to think creatively through getting rid of any prejudgment and objectively look at the facts separately from the language (e.g. an animal with long ears is not necessarily a rabbit, so if it eats meat, don't think it's a rabid rabbit), and separately from the past (e.g. a wireless communication device is sci-fi material in the 60s, but it does not mean it is not possible now). In conjunction to this, we need look for more potential influencing factors than what we normally pick. For example, if we want to improve our financial health, make sure we look beyond getting a pay raise or cutting back Starbucks coffee. There are plenty of other factors we need to look into.

Finally, as in almost anything in life, getting many flying hours is the key to getting a good grip of problem analysis. So, the only advice I have is, do it, practice, repeat.

Good luck.

Oktober 06, 2011


October 2011 is an interesting month of my life. In the opening of the month, my distant in-law relative passed away abruptly due to a stomach aneurysm. Then my mentor's relative, who has been ill for quite some times, passed away two days ago. Almost at the same time, Steve Jobs passed away.

All these events reminded me about one thing that I have thought and desired long time ago. It is possibly the only thing that I desired most in life - the only important thing in my limited time here: Leaving a legacy.

Have you ever thought that there must be some cosmic reason for our existence? Have you ever thought that there is no way we 'just happen' to be around? Have you ever wonder that maybe the purpose of life is more than just wake up, go to work, go home, and go to sleep? If it isn't so, have you ever wondered why do we spend arguably more than 70% of our lives doing that? Does it bother you that you have not understood it after living 30 plus years? It bothered me. A lot.

For me, the day-in, day-out way of life is no longer attractive. These past events are a strong reminder to me that the most important thing in life is not the corner office, the big account, or the titles we hold. The most important thing in life is what we leave when we are no longer here. What we will be remembered as, how our kids will live their lives, and what we have done to our community. Everything else is just a shiny object distraction.

Are you working on your Legacy?

September 10, 2011


After getting several feedback (yes, I do Voice of the Customers, LOL) and after looking at the current layout of this Blog, I believe now is a good 'rest point' and summarize what posts we have so far.

So here we go, I am going to list several popular entries, good to start from, based on several subjects:

Problem Solving:

Problemo Solved!
Simple Problem Solving
Creative Problem Solving
IDOAIM Problem Solving Series
Riddle Me This


The Luck Factor
Things You Cannot See
Important Quote
Stuck in the Past
Test Your Brain Response
Too Powerful to Worry


History of Jell-O
A Note from an Entrepreneur

As you see... Turns out that I am quite heavy on the Mindset subject. This is not intentional, but it shows my belief that solving problems creatively requires a fully checked mindsets. If you find yourself stuck: at work, at relationship, at business, or at anything, perhaps the answer is with the man in the mirror.


September 06, 2011

3,500 Visitors Milestone!

Allrighty... Moving forward.

Let's keep this going, shall we?

Problem Solving Series #5a - Analyze the Problem

Allright, now we have arrived at the most fun part of the IDOAIM problem solving steps: Analysis.

There are literally hundreds of ways to analyze your problem, but essentially here are key important features that you need to answer:

First of all, everything, I mean everything, has causes and effects. Your data collection, your site visits, and your analysis should discover what causes which effects. There are several simple tools to analyze numerical data and answer whether a particular variable affects a particular output:

a. Scatter plot: If you have a numeric variable that is continuous, i.e. you can have any real numbers that spans a particular range, preferably a very wide range, and if you have an output in question that is also continuous and spans wide, you may want to plot these pairs into a simple scatter plot and see if small value of the input has a small value of output. Here is an example:

Courtesy of Jessica Hannah's Map Catalog -

In that scatter plot, whatever SAT is, it surely affects Beta Test score, whatever that is. So you don't really need to know what they are to know they are related. Nifty, right?

Don't go too fast!

It is still a good idea to understand the logic behind the relationship, because sometimes there is this thing called autocorrelation, which we shouldn't dwell too much here. (If you insist on an explanation, check this out, a simple illustration).

to be continued...

September 04, 2011

Selamat Hari Raya Lebaran

I am back!

For now, at least.

It has been quite a hectic several months at my end, and it proves several things, related to Change Management:
  1. Creation of a new habit and new routine requires good time management: I started this blog with a serious intent to regularly keep it updated and pour (almost) everything I know about problem solving. Then I got into a strong headwind: Life and everything about it. First of all, I am currently involved in what I would like to call Project Utopia - a long term business transformation through the process of inductive evolution (are you hearing a tune from Tom Cruise's series Mission Impossible? Well, we'll see. This project is going to be a good series to write). Simply put, it is taking a huge amount of my time. Then there are other small pesky things such as Internet connection issue, writer's block, and health issue. My poor time management has put me behind on developing new blogging routine.
  2. Creation of a new habit and new routine requires a massive amount of willpower and discipline: Some of you might already think about this as you read point number 1 - All those reasons of being behind in my blog, they look like excuses. Surely you can get around them and write, Dax? Sure I can. I guess I have to admit it. My main issue is not enough will power to move a finger and type, and keep to my daily blogging schedule. Surely it only takes about 15-30 minutes to write a simple blog such as this one, and surely I can always squeeze in that time during the day. We daydream longer than that in a day. Test it out yourself - run a time journal for a week and be surprised at how much hours we waste.
  3. Creation of a new habit and new routine requires VISION and REASON - It needs a strong DESIRE: All right. I am not sure if I am 100% correct here. But when I look back and think of why I cannot get the willpower and the discipline I need to create this blog, probably it is because I lost my vision of purpose - perhaps I have become less willing to leave a scratch in the sea of information, and perhaps my head has too much cross talks to focus on why I am writing in the first place.
I am sure there are other reasons (excuses?) for a successful creation of a new habit in your work place (new process, new structure, new job description, new... anything), which is the essential result of any Change Management program. But I am sticking to these three main points: Making sure you spend time to adapt to change, making sure you WANT to change and stay on course of change, and making sure you know WHY you want to change.

Until next time.

Mei 29, 2011

Problem Solving Series #4 Observe the Situation

Once we know why we are solving a problem and what specifically we want to improve, we can move forward with observing the current condition of the problem. I am sure you have had numerous ways and tools to observe, from process mapping to Kano to SIPOCs. So I am not going to dwell on the tools. Instead, I am going to give away several points to consider during the observation stages:

Mei 14, 2011

A Note from an Entrepreneur

 Greetings everyone,

My last several posts apparently had intrigued a friend of mine, who owns a book distribution business, to share what he thinks are the 'key' to his early success: