Solving Wicked Problems Parts 1 - 3

Note: This blog entry was originally published in 3 parts at TCEA TechNotes blog at http://www.tcea.org/blog. I've combined all into one blog entry here. The term "wicked problem" was introduced to me by previous work colleague...it is defined as a problem that endures in spite of effort brought to bear to solve it. Having solved my share of wicked problems in the technology field, I thought I'd share how I got it done.
“Our kiddoes are stuck in a portable building with no internet,” challenged a kindly, experienced principal, smiling her demand, “and I’m not sure why. Can you help me, please?” In any environment, there are various ways of accomplishing goals and objectives and of receiving funding for needed projects. 
In some locations, a conversation that moves participants towards action suffices, while in others, the value is placed on a formal presentation or proposal. In the next few blog entries, I explore several ways that most supervisors will ask for plans of action. Having successfully introduced and implemented several types of technology projects, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time.

Approach #1 – Conversations that Result in Action (and Funding)

“The network conduit pipe needs to be installed to a ‘pull box,’ capped when not being used, with a pull string, and the pipe needs to be buried, not laid in an open trench.” I had just come from seeing the work a small district maintenance team had done and snapped  a few pictures. The response was to the question “Why can’t the district maintenance department do the job at less cost?” Of course, they had stated they knew how to do the job of putting a network conduit pipe in place, but had done so poorly, a fact evidenced by several photographs. Obviously, not doing these things resulted in several problems. When it rained, the network conduit pipe was filled with water, and the networking contractor could not run the cable without a pull string. This resulted in a delay of several months to the project during the school year. The goal was to outsource the job to networking professionals who knew the proper way to install a conduit pipe. But how to get district leadership to understand the necessary cost, and that saving money really was just wasting time?
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When working with others who approve budgets for a project, it is absolutely critical to introduce expensive ideas in informal conversations that focus on the need of the organization. Your responsibility, as the person proposing the information, is to clearly articulate the need(s) of the organization. It’s not YOU that wants to spend money, Rather, you are compelled by the need you have encountered. Make sure to have these conversations with all stakeholders prior to having a formal meeting. These kinds of conversations will carry the day for the needs you have expressed and the people you serve. When possible, obtain pictures or photos. Following this approach enables leadership to not be overwhelmed with technical information and to clearly see the problem.
It’s clear that while talk is cheap, conversations can result in much-needed action.
A Problem for You to Solve
Let’s explore an additional scenario which features a wicked problem, a problem that has endured for years, and see how you would handle it. Leave your approaches in the comments.
“When the power poles in the computer labs were put in, the maintenance department failed to connect the power.”
“Wait,” the technology director asked surprised, “Are you saying that all these power poles do not have power in them? Are you just daisy chaining the power from one outlet?”
“Yes,” replied the media specialist. “That is exactly what we have had to do. As you can guess, we can’t put as many computers in this room as we would like. And I’m worried about overloading power. Isn’t this unsafe or something? I’ve told my principal, but she doesn’t have the money to get it done and it should have been done when they built the school several years ago.”
In the next blog entry, we will explore another approach to getting projects funded out of existing budgets: the Executive Summary.
In the previous blog entry in this series, I shared that solving wicked problems involves different approaches, each of which will be received differently by your supervisor or those with the power to pay for an expensive project. This is part 2 in the series.
Speak to an administrator at the cabinet level, and they all have one expectation: “Keep it to  one page.” A one-page document can make all the difference, and I can honestly say that I have had hundreds of thousands of dollars funded through a well-written executive summary submitted to superintendent level staff.
Scenario #1 – Insufficient Power
“When the power poles in the computer labs were put in, the maintenance department failed to connect the power.”
“Wait!” the technology director asked surprised. “Are you saying that all these power poles do not have power in them? Are you just daisy chaining the power from one outlet?”
“Yes,” replied the media specialist. “That is exactly what we have had to do. As you can guess, we can’t put as many computers in this room as we would like. And I’m worried about overloading power. Isn’t that unsafe or something? I’ve told my principal, but she doesn’t have the money to get it done and it should have been done when they built the school several years ago.”
In this scenario, there are several issues, right? The first is that the maintenance department failed to connect the power. The second is that no one followed up for years to address the issue when it was fresh. Add to that the fact that the temporary/permanent solution may be unsafe or result in greater damage to the campus’ infrastructure. The fourth and most important consequence is that the lab cannot be used at full capacity, preventing students from taking advantage of the computers that are there. In fact, some of those computers have been moved out of the lab because there is insufficient power. Something needs to happen. The answer to this scenario involves an executive summary focused on getting things done.
Note the brevity, as well as the key elements, of the Executive Summary below:
Executive Summary for Ardent ISD High School Campus Electrical Needs
Overview
The Ardent ISD High School campus currently has several computer labs. However, each lacks critical electrical connections. The lack of electrical connections prevent full utilization of the computer labs, impacting their use for high stakes assessments:
Room #
Description
Network Drops Needed and 48-Port Switch
Electrical
321
Standalone Lab (30)
Window 10 OS
4 drops
Has electrical poles installed, but no electrical outlets. Electrical outlets are in the floor, which presents problems for consistent use.
221
Standalone Lab (30)
Window 10 OS
5 drops
Same electrical challenges as Room 321
Staff Impact
Staff who employ the computer labs adjoining library.
Student Impact
All students at the campus would be affected.
Budget Available
Campus has not identified funding for infrastructure needs.
Professional Learning
Not applicable
Products
Improved network support and responsiveness, upgraded lab.
Stakeholders
Campus; Maintenance Department; Technology Department
Why is this necessary?
High School campus labs lack electrical connections needed to “complete” the labs. Inadequately wired rooms have consequences on performance of equipment and reliability.
What happens if we don’t implement?
High school campus labs will continue to face electrical issues caused by poles that were never wired for electrical. Furthermore, new equipment will sit unused in the labs.
Potential summary of costs are as follows (estimated since quotes are not yet available):
  • Electrical in Labs: $1,000 (estimate)
How will we measure success?
All labs will be at 100% utilization and have functional network and electrical connections.
When will this happen?
This is scheduled for the 2016-2017 budget year.

In the next blog entry, we will explore another approach to getting projects funded out of existing budgets: the Standard Proposal.
In the previous blog entry in this series, I shared two approaches to obtaining funding and resources to solve wicked problems, 1) The Conversation that Results in Action and 2) Executive Summary. In this final installment, we will explore the long proposal format.
When details matter, and there are many stakeholders who will need to review a project prior to implementation, you will want to take advantage of the standard proposal format. The brief version of the proposal format includes certain elements of the longer form:
  1. Proposal
  2. Research
  3. Cost
  4. Registration Process, and
  5. Give Back.
Proposal
This proposal recommends that Ardent ISD fund attendance at the TCEA 2017 Convention & Exposition taking place February 2017 in Austin, Texas for 200 principals and/or ESSA instructional specialists. Administrators play a pivotal role in determining how well technology is used in our schools. Enabling administrators to attend the conference enables Ardent ISD to define what administrators need to know and be able to do in order to discharge their responsibility as leaders in the effective use of technology in our schools.
[inspirational quote that summarizes the importance of professional learning for campus instructional leaders]
Research
School leaders, especially at the campus level, need access to professional learning opportunities that help them to better understand the best uses of technology in educational settings. Some research regarding the role of the campus principal and leadership…[include bulleted list of research points]. Based on this research, as well as others not cited here, it is clear that the role of the principal in affecting use of technology in classrooms is incredibly important.
CostThe cost of sending approximately 200 staff is based on a cost of $285 for every 10 staff members. For 200 participants, the cost is $22,800.
Registration Process
To register campus leaders for the TCEA 2017 Convention & Exposition, the Office of Instructional Technology Services will take the following steps…
Give BackParticipants at the convention will be expected to facilitate presentations at the Ardent ISD Tech Unconference to be held in June 2017.
For the longer proposal format, the headings appear below. As you might imagine, it can be quite tedious to fill out and plan all the implementation details. That aside, I have never had a “long form” proposal declined because it is overwhelmingly powerful. I often think of this as the dreadnought battleship approach to getting things done.
  1. Goal
  2. Vision of What Successful Implementation Looks Like
  3. Background Information
  4. Content Area Focus
  5. Professional Learning
  6. Implementation Phases
  7. Key Areas to Implementation Success
  8. Implementation Timeline (which includes a table with action step, office/staff responsible, and a completion date)
  9. Appendix (with information such as):
    • Readiness Checklist
    • Hardware/Network Assessment
Solving wicked problems can seem impossible. But often, it requires the strategic application of one or more approaches outlined in the “Solving Wicked Problems” series. Make the effort and you will see the results.



Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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