Why you need creative system for any project

Ahmed Bousuwa
9 min readMar 22, 2024

solving-problem system

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Non-linear is the new linear — Ahmed.A

Creative system is a system you design based on the project nature, enviroment and scenario. Backed with skills and knowledge. To solve, ideate, improve, strategize and build- product, service, process, idea, business.

Many projects fail or end up with a laundry list of problems post-delivery, mainly due to the approach of following linear thinking and planning.

First, your life is a big non-linear project. It involves many sub projects, some are long-term and others are short-terms. Some connect with others in some way down the road.

You start a project for a reason. The decision to start a project is often tied to:

  • Strategic goals,
  • Business needs, and opportunities for improvement
  • Or build a new idea or business.

The old meaning of a project is still used today as it is

The use of projects within companies has a long history, and the concept has evolved overtime.

The concept of projects has evolved with the progression of societies — from ancient to agricultural, from agricultural to industrial, and from industrial to information technology.

The concept of managing projects became more sophisticated with each evolution.

So running a project is not a fashion show.

The association of projects with planning and organizing is deeply rooted in our DNA. Project planning initially began in constructing buildings, aiming to coordinate and plan structures since the start of civilization.

And that concept of planning has been adopted as a way to solve challenges, which is the reason why many projects and strategies fail.

Today’s and tomorrow’s challenges differ from the past. Conducting business in the past was simpler. What worked in the past won’t work now.

Change impacted people and business

The change in technology has influenced consumer behaviors, skills, and markets.

These are moving parts at the macro level, interconnected and impacting one another. Therefore, solving challenges requires understanding from the macro to the micro level.

Increased competition requires a new way of thinking. You can’t approach challenges with a ‘buy 2, get the second one 30% off’ mentality. It’s an easy idea to come up with.

Many companies, amid this change, are lagging behind, and the failure of their projects is due to:

  • The way they run their business
  • And approach challenges

Everyone is preaching the notion of listening to your customers, but it is not enough. It requires unpacking pain points, connecting things, and surfacing insights. You must practice understanding as an exercise. I have written about understanding (The power of mastering understanding in business).

The way to run a business has changed. Now, you need tools and software to better reach customers, collect data, and analyze it.

The way to sell and market your products and services has changed. Now, you need to think about how to generate traffic, whether online or physically.

The way to develop and innovate has changed. It now requires different expertise and a mindset to guide you through the process.

What to look for in your approach

Transformation, product development, improvement, strategy, or innovation are approached with non-linear thinking and effort.

If a company doesn’t understand how to operate things in the background, it is likely to lose a chunk of market share and customers.

Unfortunately, many believe that acquiring new tools and technologies is the solution to their problems

But there is a high chance of getting the wrong one. There is more to a problem than tool functionality. Failure is often due to a lack of understanding the problem from multiple lenses.

Knowing what is the project about and plan how to tackle it is not solving, its assuming what is the alternative.

Ahmed B.

The global rush in building new technologies and disrupting markets forces us to think holistically. You need to design your thinking around the following areas:

  • Markets, company goals, people, systems, process, and technology.

Any impact in one or a couple of the mentioned areas will likely affect the other areas it interacts with, both directly and indirectly. This is where the neglect of using different lenses occurs.

Focusing solely on the actual injury and ignoring the other impacts it caused is what prolongs the injury.

Any problem that arises in a company occurs within a living organism. A company is composed of many organisms, where each organism represents an interaction of people, systems, processes, and technology.

These organisms interact with each other within the company.

This is what differentiates between a surface work of understanding the problem and in-depth work.

Deep work involves breaking down the problem to a granular level, wearing different lenses to understand interactions between all components within an organism, and assessing how the issue in one organism affects another, as well as understanding its impact on others.

Projects that either fail or encounter an array of issues often result from the lack of precise work during the discovery phase.

Even prominent consulting firms often face challenges due to one reason: their teams work on many projects simultaneously, impacting the crucial discovery phase where precise attention is required.

As a result, the understanding step is highly likely to be at a surface level.

I anticipate the unbundling of services in the consulting world into two categories: discovery services and delivery services.

Let’s go step by step on how to approach any project

There are various methodologies or models you can use in your approach.

The key is to have a great knowledge of all of them. Use these methods as a foundation, and then develop your own based on the project scenario and environment.

That’s why creative problem-solving is a non-linear domain. You grasp the fundamentals and then infuse creativity into your project.

Here are some areas of design discipline you can learn and use:

  • Design thinking
  • User experience design & Gestalt principles
  • Business and strategy design
  • Human-centered system thinking

Understanding

Understanding is an exercise. You need to question, discover, research, investigate, analyze, and surface insights.

This is where you spend most of your time, rather than figuring out a solution.

If you nail this phase, you pave the way toward the right direction for the solution (desired future state).

Initiate your understanding by firing questions, much like rockets at your enemy. Build comprehension before delving deep. Ask the project owners/sponsors questions such as:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who are the impacted audience?
  • What are they trying to achieve?
  • Where are the impacts of this challenge?
  • Have you tried to solve it before? If yes, how?

Now that you have a general idea about what the problem is, start building your own visual map of the collected information.

Make connections, reflect, and you will come up with other good questions. Ask again, get answers, and form a general comprehension of the challenge.

Engage with impacted audience with empathy

You have to put yourself in their shoes to truly gain a holistic view; otherwise, you won’t be able to address the needs in the solution accurately.

What often happens is that consultants or problem solvers engage with directors, VPs, or managers. Given their responsibilities, these individuals may not be able to provide in-depth information.

You need to engage with those who are in the field, on the ground — the audience dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis.

They know the ins and outs, and it’s crucial to understand their struggles, experiences, and feelings.

When it’s a customer-facing problem, you need to engage with the customers and those in the background supporting them on the background.

A problem could be a front-stage or a back-stage. Or both.

Here is how you engage with the impacted audience if it’s a front-stage problem

There are three methods to choose from, and usually, the circumstances dictate which one is best:

  • Interview with many customers
  • Focus group
  • Surveys

Use both qualitative and quantitative data in researching the problem. If the problem you are investigating doesn’t have any quantitative data, you can quantify the qualitative data you captured from the audience.

If the challenge is a back-stage, here is how you engage and capture information:

You will engage with the business unit or department. In this case, you use enterprise design-thinking to capture and collect information by facilitating a discovery workshop.

In any case, you have to capture information, pain points, desired outcomes, and barriers.

Its your job to make sense of what you captured and collected. This is the stage where you take the challenge from uncertainty to clarity.

Its a critical stage. because everything ahead is dependent on the outcome you derive from data captured. The outcome of your work will address needs in the solution.

Tools you can use, based on the need and the challenge for better understanding, include:

  • User journey map
  • Service blueprint
  • User flow
  • Affinity diagraming
  • Diverge and converge model

You can be creative. and develop your own approach through visualizations besides ti these tools. Again, solving problem is a creative and a non-linear path.

The building blocks of the solution

Now that you know what is holding your impacted audience back, you should determine how to move forward.

You identify the capabilities or features needed in the solution, consider the risks and barriers to avoid, and determine the outcomes the audience desires.

Since no one can boil the ocean, including you, you must rank priorities of what must be solved now and leave the rest for later.

This is where you and project owners build a roadmap to determine what to consider for now, later, and in the future.

You don’t decide what gets prioritized; you work with the audience first, understanding which pain points surface to the top.

Then, finalize priorities with leadership since they have a wider view of the company’s vision and strategy.

You have to document all your work in a summary report that will serve as the guide to the future state. And create source of truth.

Ideation and validation

Once you come out of discovery, you start ideating on what the solution should be like, as you have identified opportunities, findings, and know what the priorities are.

The idea you generate is not a solution; you would need to test it with the affected audience. Based on the nature of the project, if it allows for prototyping, you start designing a prototype for your idea.

Prototypes come in different shapes:

  • Working physical prototype
  • Wireframe prototype
  • Drawings
  • Flow diagram

The point of the prototype is to have visuals containing the prioritized capabilities you identified in your discovery, addressing the needs of the audience and meeting business goals that are validated with the impacted audience.

Validated prototypes and visualizations align everyone on how the solution should be, helping in avoiding any barriers and risks from occurring in the sought solution.

Once feedback is received and the prototype is iterated, you and stakeholders can work towards building the solution.

Solution building scenarios

There are a few scenarios you can consider based on the company’s vision and the nature of the project related to the solution.

Some companies don’t build in-house solutions; instead, they source third-party vendors.

In some cases, the challenge is niche to the company, so they either build it or hire a vendor to build it for them.

In either case, the prototype with the summary report will serve as a guide, pointing to the right direction of the solution they need. If the summary report says you need x, y, z, the solution you are sourcing or building must have x, y, z.

The outcome of your work is documented in a report summary, a holistic work based on a human-centric and system-centric approach, with the goal of addressing the needs of the audience and meeting business goals.

This is the approach to adopt to solve, improve, develop, innovate, and build new things — the key to reaching the desired goal with the right delivery, avoiding wasting resources, costs, and time, and bidding on the future with confidence.

Recognizing a creative pattern to solve problems, is a skill that will top the chart in the near future as companies and businesses increase the adoption of AI, robots, and automation.

There will be so much value creation these companies will need, achieved through creative problem-solving to help them stay ahead in a globally competitive world.

The acceleration of technology is a global desire that can put a company behind in less than 10 years (A company can become irrelevant in less than 10 years).

Thanks for reading!

Ahmed Bousuwa

PS two things I can help you with:

1. Run a discovery process

finding opportunities and designing the blocks of the solution. within any area: transformation, improvement, innovation, strategy, or product.

2. Guiding and advising you

on a project you are working on, need help to set direction to reach desired outcomes

--

--

Ahmed Bousuwa

Design Strategist. Help companies & ventures with complex challenges. Setting direction for strategic initiatives & desired goals. neostrateje.com