Issue Resolution: Understanding the Problem

For a Solution Architect, creating the blueprint for a quality product is often only half the job: After all, the greatest design in the world isn’t worth much unless it is accurately implemented. While the architect won’t be asked to lay the bricks or apply the mortar, they will often be responsible to lead the transition from design to implementation. Understanding the techniques for providing effective technical leadership is critical to realizing the vision for the solution that was communicated during design.

The most challenging tasks undertaken by a Technical Lead will never show up on a project plan. They arrive, without notice, in the form of urgent emails and frantic phone calls. The sky is falling…and it’s your job to lift it back up.

How you react can mean the difference between a successful, on-time, on-budget, quality delivery and… well… a mess. By following a few guidelines and maintaining laser-focus on the critical path to issue resolution, even the most arduous issues can be positively resolved.

  1. Take a deep breath. A common mistake when confronted with an urgent issue is to panic. Tech leads often reflexively light up the phone lines or fire off a series of emails in an attempt to find an immediate solution or escalate to a project manager. The problem with this approach is that, more often than not, neither the actual issue nor its true urgency is yet understood. This can result in unnecessary escalation or miscommunication, which can undermine your ability to resolve current and future dilemmas.
  2. Avoid focusing on how and why things went wrong. When the Titanic started taking on water, the role of the iceberg became more or less irrelevant. While it is tempting to try to immediately assign (or avoid) blame, it is much more productive to focus on resolution. Avoiding finger-pointing will also help keep all stakeholders engaged and pushing in the same direction, regardless of the mistakes they may have made.
  3. Understand the Impact. Now that you’ve calmed things down, it’s time to roll up your sleeves. The initial goal is not to dissect every minute detail of the problem at hand. Rather, the focus should be on gaining enough of an understanding to accurately answer some basic questions. What teams are affected? What are the potential impacts to the plan and budget? Notice that we are still not attempting to identify potential solutions. This phase of the process is primarily about gathering information. This information will make up the foundation upon which a resolution will ultimately be built, and the quality (not quantity!) of the data will be the key ingredient to a successful solution.
  4. Engage the stakeholders. Once the affected project teams have been identified, SMEs from each group need to be engaged, to analyze the problem and suggest their roles in possible solutions. This is another step where a technical lead needs to lean heavily on the various project teams. Remember why you’re engaging these stakeholders; they are the experts in their areas and have the contacts that you’ll need to leverage if escalation is required to get the job done.

With the problem identified, information gathered and stakeholders engaged, you are ready to proceed to the next step in the issue resolution process. It’s time to identify the solutions that could save the day! Stay tuned…

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is a solution architect and technical lead at Systems Flow, Inc. His past experience includes a range of positions at small startup and large software companies. From requirements, design and development through relationship management, training and implementation, Bill has led all phases of the project lifecycle. This experience has spanned multiple verticals, including financial services, life sciences, integrated justice and manufacturing. Bill holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Brown University. For more information, see Bill's LinkedIn profile.


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