PM Guest Article July 2020

Divide and Conquer in Problem Solving

Jayaraj Narayana  

Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd.

Jayaraj is currently working as Technical Program Manager with Intel Technology India Pvt.Ltd. He has more than two decades of experience in VLSI / ASIC domain in both technical and management roles. Jayaraj is passionate about learning and applying behavioral strengths and habits of people towards project management success without deviating from any involved processes. 

 

Introduction

We used to see complexities cease or retard the progress of any task and it is a challenge to advance in such scenarios. We can often observe that many times the assigned resources tend to procrastinate or slow down or de-prioritize in midst of problems instead of looking for solutions proactively. This article attempts to address how one can divide and conquer a complex problem and arrive quickly at solutions.

How many instances in our day-to-day life, as a Program / Project Manager (PM), do we see no progress or delay in achieving critical milestones causing urgent management attention? Here’s how to solve complexities which can occur at the beginning, middle or end of project execution.

  1. Avoiding delays at start: Procrastination

 

Mr. Steven Pressfield, an author, novelist, and screenwriter in his famous book for writers “The War of Art” (a must-read for any writer), states that “The difficult part about being a writer is not writing; It’s sitting down to write”. This reminds me of Procrastination, which is nothing but the inability to begin any task as planned. The following list briefly covers a few, commonly seen in our professional life.

  • Fear of failure – One reason why a resource / team procrastinates or stalls activities is mainly due to FEAR. Though it may appear to others as laziness or a lack of interest or just taking things casually.
  • Lack of motivation or any reason for demotivation – Is this task the reason for the resource to get up in the morning (In Japanese, it is called Ikigai). Can this task provide such an inspiration?
  • Lack of Push or direction from upper management for a deadline or closure. Anything that isn’t a high priority or urgent – simply has to wait. That is another reason for delays that lead to procrastination.
  • Low Self-confidence – Is it possible to boost the team confidence by referring to past trends either in the same organizations or in present market scenarios?
  • Mundane Tasks – If the resources due to legacy do so called mundane jobs which can no longer add any value, periodic job rotation among such tasks could make a slight difference.
  • Improvements – Any absence of a few parameters like technical training, availability of resources, skill set, specific equipments, etc. can stall the start of the tasks.

 

Even if we break the biggest task into several sub-tasks, which one do we pick first? Again, there are two schools of thought – Low Hanging Fruits First OR Eat the Big Frogs First. The simple solution to fix the above scenarios is to focus on the root cause and work with management teams by utilizing intelligent escalations as is appropriate.

  1. Avoiding delays in course of execution

 

Though started well, it is common to face problems on the way. The better the team is prepared, the faster they can come out of an issue. Let’s take an example of a typical project execution where a major task suffers from unexpected attrition. Dividing the issue into multiple pieces thereby isolating, re-hiring, and continuing execution can simplify the problem. This is also related to risk management and efficient mitigation planning for identified risks.

  1. Avoiding delays towards closure

 

Why do we see several issues along the way or at the fag end mainly during integration? This could be due to bad partitioning followed or due to challenges in integration. Managing Projects involves division of work into executable and manageable pieces of work to ensure completion with good quality as per schedule.

  1. My proposal – Best Practices

 

The following list gives a few best practices which helped me in regular program execution in the context of design and development of complex ASICs / IPs in VLSI domain.

  1. Focus on Technical Documentation in parallel to execution
  2. Focus on Review preparations / Review effectiveness throughout execution phase
  3. Diligent attention while preparing Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  4. Deliberately opt for more mock trials instead of assumptions
  5. Make meetings more effective and efficient
  6. Appropriate priority for Training as and when needed
  7. Disciplined Risk Management throughout the program phases

 

Conclusion

Divide & conquer is the mantra of many organizers for problem solving and for good reason, it works. This article explains the advantages and challenges while applying Divide and Conquer Rule as a technique in problem solving.  In addition, the need for more management control on task partitioning and integration is emphasized. This is applicable for all tasks during any stage of a program life cycle.

References

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efhfXwCc9-c

  • (“Quotes that Inspire” by Mr.Simerjeet Singh)