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Nested problems, nested solutions (5): operational problems

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process.

Once you’ve solved a practical problem, you might be done. You’ve taught the children in front of you to read; you and your neighbours are exercising regularly; you’ve helped a client to change their financial habits for the better; you’ve set up an automated system for irrigating your plants.

If so, great. Pat yourself on the back, maybe schedule some maintenance, and move on to the next problem.

But you might be interested in doing it again and for more people, in which case you’re looking for what Steve Blank calls repeatability and scalability. This stage, which I’m calling the operational problem, involves working with other people or with technology to enable you to serve more people. It’s when your project grows bigger than you are.

It might involve increasing your capacity by…

  • Finding a partner to share responsibility and work;
  • Hiring an administrator to book events or payments;
  • Finding (or training) someone to make products or deliver key services to your clients;
  • Getting an accountant to run your books;
  • Setting up systems and workflows so that your services become truly repeatable, rather than doing a custom job (also known as reinventing the wheel) for each client;
  • Investing in communication – perhaps even advertising – to reach the larger group of people you want to serve.

The operational problem – “How can I grow what I’m doing so that I can serve more people without killing myself?” – is really a network of interconnected practical problems.

So the cycle of experiment (practice) and learning (descent into theory to find answers to these new problems) continues until you develop a system that (more or less) works.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...