“How do you eat an elephant?” the joke goes. Well don’t start in the rear, that’s for sure!
All of us have had to deal with what seemed a complex business problem, and have most likely learned more valuable lessons from falling down than from succeeding.
Some time back, I recall struggling with how to break down what seemed to be an extremely complex business process for our sales and contracts teams in order to overlay their process in my company’s EDM and workflow solution. Luckily, the team leaders within the departments had fairly well fine-tuned their process, given leasing company regulations, but it was the different entry points a “sales packet” could enter that was really throwing me for a loop.
A sale could be a ‘dollar out’ or ‘fair market value’ lease, cash purchase or even a rental. The deal may or may not have any number of documents with it, and depending upon the deal, it could vary widely. I was sitting at my desk, attempting to visualize the workflow by scribbling on a notepad, when a colleague walked in. He inquired what I was doing, and I went on to inform him I was trying to figure out how to eat an elephant. He quipped off a pithy remark, “Don’t start in the rear, that’s for sure!”
After seeing me laugh, he sat down and listened a little while to my evident frustration with the process. He sat there in silence for a little bit, and then asked, “Why don’t you treat each entry point into the process as it’s own process? He went on to suggest simply overlaying all of the processes on top of one another to compare and contrast them.
I think chagrin is the correct work to describe what I felt. It was such a simple answer, why didn’t I think of that? For whatever reasons, I couldn’t see the trees because of the forest (yes, reversed). In other words, I got where we were going, but I couldn’t see my way clear of the obstacles. He cleared a path with that simple comment.
When dealing with an elephant you must eat, here are a few helpful hints:
- Know your objectives: Once you have a clear understanding of what is to be delivered you can begin to operationalize the details.
- Take it apart to fix it: While this seems opposite of common sense, sometimes it’s easier to deconstruct a problem than it is to unravel it piece by piece (think rope or electronic chords).
- Don’t get too serious: Remember that misery loves company, and don’t forget to laugh to relieve tension.
- Remember the list: While I’m not a list-kind-of-person, I’ve learned that an actionable items list helps you stay focused. It doesn’t have to be high-tech to work, a notepad will do just fine.
- Don’t place yourself at the wrong end of the problem: While it is easy to find yourself at the wrong end of a problem, don’t let yourself get caught, because that elephant might just sit on you!
Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, he comes from and works directly with channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation.