Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Economy Problems

In 1973 H. J. Rittel and M. M. Webber came up with the idea of the 'Wicked Problem' as it related to social planning. The original definition of a wicked problem included 10 components, however Jeff Conklin later proposed 4 defining elements to wicked problems in 2003:

  1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
  2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
  3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.
  4. The problem is never solved.
Although the concept started with social planning, and now more and more applies to computer science problems, I think it is now expanding well into other part of business. As business becomes more complex, there are more wicked problems. As business and technology become more intertwined, there are more wicked problems. At Balihoo we are in the vertical search business. Search is a perfect example of a business-technology wicked problem.

How do these types of problems impact conventional thinking?

- Defining goals & expectations becomes a problem
- Defining tests or methods to validate results becomes a problem
- Decision by consensus becomes difficult
- Results are no longer correct or incorrect, but better or worse
- Project time-lines are difficult to define

In addition to driving your traditional project managers crazy, it generally disrupts the framework around how business's determine progress. However, it is something that everyone in the new economy will have to adjust to. What wicked problems do you have, and what is your approach to solving them?

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