To achieve Step 15, individuals will show that they can implement strategic plans, track progress, and draw out learning to refine those plans over time.
In the previous steps, the focus was on how to develop strategic plans to solve complex problems and then to assess whether those plans have been successful. This final step of Problem Solving looks at how we can learn through our strategic plans, to make us better at solving that complex problem.
The building blocks of this step are learning:
Every strategic plan needs to think about how progress towards the goals will be checked to keep it on track, and how you can ensure that resources are being used effectively as you go.
There are four dimensions that are worth considering as you monitor and seek to learn from your strategic plan:
Sometimes there are operational challenges as you implement a plan. Perhaps you were unable to secure the resources that you need, or tasks were completed incorrectly, or external factors have undermined your efforts.
It is important to recognise these challenges so that you can adapt your plans accordingly – securing additional resources, moving timelines and milestones, or changing some of the tasks you had planned. Reviewing progress regularly against milestones will help you to spot operational challenges early and make changes.
At other times, you might experience a challenge around the impact of what you are doing. Perhaps you are delivering the operational plan, but it is not leading to the outcomes that you were expecting. For example, you might be delivering a marketing strategy perfectly but it is not leading to the uptick in sales that you had predicted in your logic model. Alternatively, maybe you were running an employability workshop that had good attendance, and that covered all the materials but still led to fewer new offers of employment for participants than you had predicted.
At this point, it is worth taking learning from the situation. What was it in the original model that you produced that was wrong? What were the logical assumptions that did not hold up? Are there hypotheses that were disproved unexpectedly?
If we are open to this sort of learning, then we can revisit some of our assumptions, improve them with what we see in reality, and then adjust our strategic plan accordingly to get back on track for our goals.
Complex problems are, by nature, those where there is not a simple best answer. Instead, there are complexities and interdependencies between parts of a problem that mean that sometimes solving one part of the problem generates different problems elsewhere. These are known as secondary effects, and while they should have been considered earlier in the planning process and through the analysis, they are not always predictable.
As such, it’s important to keep scanning for unanticipated secondary effects which could undermine the effectiveness of what you are trying to achieve. This might include talking to those individuals you are working with or looking at broader social and environmental effects of the work that you’re doing.
Finally, as your strategic plan progresses, you should have the opportunity to test different hypotheses that you developed around the complex problem that you are grappling with.
To make this learning as valuable as possible, you should be looking for early opportunities to test hypotheses on a small scale through carefully controlled tests, like A/B testing. This learning will ensure that as your plan develops, it is doing so on a strong foundation of evidence.
If you can do this, you will have mastered problem solving, and be able to grapple with complex problems effectively.
As you work on a complex problem, following your strategic plan, you may find extra challenges present themselves which you could not have predicted. For example you may be studying hard to get good grades in final exams and due to being unwell, miss a number of lessons and the introduction of some new learning or important information. In such a situation, it is important to not panic but rather calmly amend your plans to tackle the new problem of missed learning. That way you can still reach your end goal. If the extra challenges are not tackled and plans are not changed you are less likely to be successful in reaching your end goal. This would be frustrating and disappointing. You may, for example need to ask the teacher or lecturer to provide some extra support by way of a catch up lesson, or to share some online materials to support you to access the missed lessons content or for you to attend an extra tutor group for revision. By taking action early on and refining your plans you are more likely to succeed.
There may be times at work when a plan needs to change as you focus on a particular project or work stream. A business may not have been able to get all of the resources that they needed for a particular product, or perhaps a delay in receiving a particular component or even a piece of information has slowed work. This can be frustrating. By reviewing progress regularly against milestones will help issues, be they operational or impact challenges, be identified early on. Changes can then be made and learning taken from the situation. This could potentially save the business time and money, and ensure the business is still on target to meet their end goal.
Complex problems do not have a simple ‘best’ answer. Sometimes as you solve one part of the problem, it causes a problem elsewhere. These secondary effects are often unpredictable and appear as out of nowhere. By checking in regularly and reviewing how a plan is going you may be able to spot potential secondary effects and deal with them before they become too big a problem. You may also be able to test different hypotheses as your strategic plan progresses and take learnings from these to develop it further.
To best practise this step of Problem Solving, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!
To teach this step:
This step is best reinforced through reflection on an on-going project. Similarly, during wider subject learning, the teacher can flag when they have gained valuable insights.
This step is best assessed by asking learners to reflect, either in written form or through conversation with the teacher. The reflection should address the operational challenges, impact challenges, identifying unexpected secondary effects, and testing hypotheses.
This step is relevant to individuals who create and implement strategic plans to solve complex problems at work. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:
This is an advanced skill step, which will take time to master. The individual can develop this skill step through:
For those already employed, this step is best assessed through a reflective conversation with the individual:
During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:
We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.
We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:
We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.
At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including: