Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Solve a Complex Problem

(Content updated) 

There are different takes on the following fictitious story. Read and enjoy. 

Golden Rocket Science Inc was famous for building high quality, bargain basement rockets. Their current rocket project was a hybrid of many different rocket designs.  Using a non-scaleable Agile approach, their engineers built the rocket and discovered that it was inoperable. Regardless of their lack of a Big Tangible Picture, they has to solve this problem.  The engineers walked through the design for many days and were not able to determine the root cause of the problem.

The CEO pressed the chief engineer on why the rocket must be fixed in the next 36 hrs. 

For a moment, the chief engineer panicked and was lost on what was going to be his next move.    Suddenly a light bulb went on in his mind,  he dashed to his Rolodex, found the business card of
Mr. Marshal, the "The Ace of all Rocket Consultants" and contacted him for immediate help.

Mr. Marshal instantaneously replied by telling him that he will be there later today. His note included a request on how he wanted the project documentation to be organized. 

One hour before sunset, Mr. Marshal arrived at the front door of Golden Rocket Science and was greeted by the chief engineer. The chief engineer briefed him on the urgency of the situation and took him immediately to  the rocket testing room. The consultant went to the drawing table and viewed many pages of blue prints. Then he went to the "alpha" workstation and quickly read  through the many e-documents.   

Marshal then spent the next many hours, slowly encircling around the opened rocket, analyzing the system and the devices inside the rocket, while sipping a bottle of apple juice.  

He retrieved an audio recorder from his right jacket pocket and started to record his observations.

His energy began to wane at 2100 hours. Marshal took 10 to 12 minutes to brew a pitcher of hot Dragon Well green tea

Before the assessment began, he started to attached single or multiple paged documents on a wall-sized white board for the purpose of seeing the entire "Compass View" of the rocket.

Side note
The Compass View is an idealistic schema of understanding  how everything connects in terms of the order, the cycles and the sequences.

At midnight, Marshal looked at the white board again and the entire schematic of the rocket was displayed in front of him and began a mental walk-through from the base of the rocket to the ignition portion of the rocket and then to the various trigger points while attentively focusing on understanding the grand connectivity of the principal system components by pinpointing its individual cycles, its individual coverages and the various conditions. The understanding of the grand configuration behind the rocket began to seeped into his mind. 

It was 3:33 am, he started to sip another cup of tea and  began to reflect on the grand connectivity behind the Big Tangible Picture of the rocket.

Marshal began to tinker with the rocket's hardware by using his unique "assess, test, divide and re-assess" approach. After a long session of trial and err, he methodically isolated the problem to a few points.

At high noon, the "consultant of the consultants"  withdrew a red sharpie pen from his left shirt pocket and made several "cross-hairs" markings on the vertical section of the rocket base and a few more cross- hair markings on a specific blueprint.   He then wrote a few long paragraphs that described the exact location of the problem and the reasoning behind it. 

At 1230 hr, Marshal e-mailed a message to the chief engineer that the problem was solved. The chief engineer entered into the test room at 13:00 hr, immediately noticed that the consultant was gone, and 
immediately saw the red markings on the rocket and the marked blueprint that was taped on top of the first red markings.

He immediately contacted his engineers. They dashed to the test room, read the note, and made the proper adjustments to the problematic rocket. At the end of that working day, the rocket was operable.

The next day, Mr. Marshal e-mailed an invoice of $80,000 to the chief engineer while sitting in his fishing boat.  The chief engineer immediately responded with a question about the price of $80,000. Mr. Marshal answered with the following specifics: $12,000 for the markings and $68,000 for his experience of making the right cross-hair markings in less than 21 hrs.

The chief engineer understood the value of Mr. Marshal and sent him his desired payment. There was now peace in the rocket company and that everyone was now happy.

--- The End ---

Comments From The Compass Desk
Mr. Marshal started by studying the rocket in terms of these four phases: the objective, the approach, the executable means and the modes that supported the means. Then he applied those four phases to the following stages: the design stage, the construction stage, the testing stage and the reviewing stage.

During the assessment process, he slowly understood the connective results (the configuration, the cycle and the coverage) from subsystem to subsystem while be mindful of the macro tangible picture of how the grand system works. 

That is one approach to viewing a complex system.

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