Problem-Solving Tools Series: Drill Down

By , January 31, 2008 4:01 pm

Drill Down

Category: Decomposition

How to use

Write the problem. Next, write the next level detail on the problem. Recursively break down each item into details.


A restaurant quality problem can be broken down:

Drill down of a problem


This tool helps you break down a complex problem into workable pieces.

Previous volumes of the series

  1. Introduction
  2. Reversal
  3. Appreciation

Problem-Solving Tools Series: Appreciation

By , January 31, 2008 3:48 pm


Category: Creativity

How to use

Staring with a fact, ask the question “So what?”. Keep on asking until all possible inferences have been drawn.


Fact: the scope expands and we are lacking a resource for the newly discovered functionalities.

  • So what? We might need overtime to meet deadline.
  • So what? We will be tired.
  • So what? Moral will be affected.
  • So what? More mistakes may be caused.
  • So what? Product quality will be affected.
  • So what? Less return from customer.
  • So what? Moral even deeply sinks.
  • So what? Attrition.
  • So what? Chaos
  • So what? To control this, shadow resources and resource backup must be planned.


This tool helps extract maximum information from original facts. More information can be used to solve the problem.

Previous volumes of the series

  1. Introduction
  2. Reversal

Managing a Limitation of a system

By , January 31, 2008 3:33 pm

A limitation is not a defect

A defect is defined as non-conformance to requirements.

A limitation of a system is something a system does not accomplish, either due to technology not being supported, time constraint budget limit, or nature of business model.

Ideally, limitations should not exist in a system. However, in engineering discipline, certain limitations are accepted. This article seeks to explore ways to manage a limitation.

Scenario: a simplified example of a Customer Relationship Management System

Business domain level

Simplified Customer Relationship Management System

An Opportunity is created from a Contact when Sales representative has approached and make a proposal to that Contact. If an Opportunity encounters difficulty, it is converted to a Lead and requires more attention. If the Opportunity is done successfully, it becomes a Contract and Price is calculated. A Lead, if done successfully, can become an Opportunity when meeting certain criteria or become a Contract. If a Lead fails, it is dismissed.

System level

The object is a Transaction. A Transaction has 3 statuses: Opportunity, Lead, or Contract.

System allows changing status of Transactions.

An issue is raised: Does the system allow changing from Contract to Opportunity? Does the system allow changing from Contract to Lead?

The impact could be huge. The system must handle Price and Invoices. This concern is accurate.

Back to Business domain level

However, back to Business level, the situation may not affect the operation at all. In reality, when a Contract is signed, it does not have to be switched back to Opportunity or Lead. The customer may not even care for this scenario.

What do we (the project development team) do to address this gap?

Widely accepted principles of system development and project management

To address the issue, let’s get back to principles of project management

  • The system should be able to satisfy customer requirements.
  • The system should be able to handle exceptional cases.
  • The system should be within budget and time frame with given resources.
  • 80/20 rule applies. In certain cases, 80% efforts are spent for functions that users use only 20% the time.

How different roles view a limitation

A natural engineering approach of this gap is to restrict changing status of a Transaction from Contract to Opportunity.

However, when the proposal is put on the table, the chance maybe that it is not accepted. Firstly, the client doesn’t want a restriction in the system. Next, the client doesn’t want the development team to spend much efforts and time on a functionality that will not be used frequently.

This leaves a limitation in the system: it still allows converting Transaction status from Contract to Opportunity or Lead, but it won’t fix the Price and Invoice. This limitation leaves it to the hand of user to manage data themselves.

Manage a limitation from different perspectives

  • System Analyst: this limitation is put in Supplementary Information section in a document.
  • Technical Writer: this limitation is noted in User Manual.
  • Business Consultant: communicate with client on this issue.
  • If any issue arises, it is to be escalated to the Project Manager.

Inside-out Effectiveness from an English lesson

By , January 31, 2008 2:22 am

The Word form English lesson

English is not my native language, so I learn it my whole life.

From the lesson of word form, I learned that

  • Verb is the most effective form
  • Noun and noun phrase come next
  • Adjective is less direct

For example:

  • “The Beatles influenced many subsequent rock bands.” is more effective than
  • “The Beatles was an influence on many subsequent rock bands.” which in turn is more effective than
  • “The Beatles was influential on many subsequent rock bands.”

In a grammar test, the using of word form should be considered for effectiveness of the options given. Noun form, though commonly used, must give way to its verb counterpart in these test of standard.

How Verb is stronger

Maybe more than once you have heard a complaint about life. “My life has not been good lately…” and such. The fact is, these people may forget that they Live their Lives: they do their jobs, perform their roles, fulfill their missions. Their Lives are shaped by these actions. Reactive people accept the conditions placed upon them. Proactive ones, on the other hand, seize opportunities from challenges, and set things right.

The root is Live (verb). Life (the noun) is the product of the Action.

So if one takes the responsibility to Do and focuses more on Verb side, s/he is getting stronger toward achieving effectiveness.

Mapping to individuals

character, personality, interpersonal

From the core inside, it’s what we Do (Verb) that shape our character. We commit, we response, we empathize, we love.

Character is reflected on the surface as personality by Nouns. We have commitment, responsibility, empathy, love.

Outermost is the interpersonal level, where we are usually described by others as committed, responsible, empathetic, lovable.

In conclusion, the root of all is what we take the responsibility to act upon.

Problem-Solving Tools Series: Reversal

By , January 29, 2008 1:47 pm


Reversal Questions

Category: Improve, Creativity

How to use

As the opposite of the question we want to ask.


You want to improve the readership of your blog.

You would ask: “What drives readers away from your blog?”

Possible answers may include:

  • Use language that is hard to read
  • Less SEO
  • Hard navigation
  • Confusing headlines
  • etc.

After asking and answering such question, you have an action plan to fix and prevent failures.

Previous volumes of the series

  1. Introduction

Problem-Solving Tools Series: Introduction

By , January 29, 2008 12:30 pm


In this series I will introduce different tools that can be used in problem solving situations.

They belong to different categories such as: creativity, understanding complex situations, decision making, planning and self-management.

I also plan to discuss how sufficient these tools are in managing tasks (products) and people (organization).

36 Reasons why people Word-of-Mouth

By , January 26, 2008 11:26 am

GUI Design for Enterprise Systems

By , January 23, 2008 8:04 pm

The Dilemma

When designing screens for enterprise systems, I frequently face an issue. There are too many fields to present for a user to complete an action (i.e. manage an order transaction). In terms of cohesion, since these fields serve one purpose, they should be put in one screen. But again, too many!

Too many of them clustering in one screen makes it look like a mess with texts, numbers and boxes. Not nice at all!

New design trends pushes this even further

The new design standard introduces alternating colored grids, text boxes with strong borders. All of these increase to size of elements, thus will make the screen narrower.

So we face a dilemma: should we put all relating fields in one screen, or break an action into multiple screens?

All in one screen or break down to multiple screens?

Put all in one screen
Break the information into multiple screens?

What’s your Focus?

There are a couple of things you can do:

  • Review GUI Design Guidelines
  • Review a high level document (i.e. Vision) to determine what the system is for and what it should look like in general
  • Create different prototypes and propose them to the customers

The most important factors

Some factors to look into when composing your own solutions:

Number of clicks

Because user’s interaction with system is done chiefly through mouse motions, number of clicks is considered one of the most important factor of GUI design.

Most of the cases, my experience is that with a little twist in design, number of clicks can be reduced from 3 to 2. Not so frequently it can be cut down dramatically. 1 click seems trivial. However, a user may perform that action a thousand times per day, thus makes it worth the effort.

Efforts users have to spend to learn how to use the system

If a screen has too many fields, it would be confusing for first-time users to know how to locate information.

If it takes quite some screens to accomplish a task, it would be confusing for first-time users.

In the long run, the first solution would prove to be better when user has memorized the location of information sections.

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