Breakthroughs by Challenging Assumptions

We use a process called Challenge to facilitate breakthroughs in thinking with teams, such as accelerating a schedule or finding a way to reduce costs in a system.

The process we use was derived from Edward de Bono's "Lateral Thinking" concepts. His bookis a must read on the subject of creative thinking. We have extended his idea and used it to get teams to step outside their paradigms and find alternative ways of approaching problems, such as how to pull six months out of a schedule that, on the surface, seems impossible.

It starts by listing assumptions, boundaries, dominant ideas, avoidance factors, polarizations, and essential factors about the project. We have a variety of techniques for facilitating this, depending on the team make-up.


Here is an example of how we used it to cut capital expenses by 20% in a client organization. And some other examples of current thinking after a brainstorming session with two teams.

Here is another example of some work we did with a semiconductor system-on-a-chip team that needed to cut 6 months out of their development schedule. We used the challenge process to identify five alternatives to accelerating their schedule which saved from 2 weeks to 20 weeks. We built a Decision Model in order to select the optimal alternative. The team decided on the 20 week solution which netted a 5 month acceleration in the schedule -- considered a major breakthrough.

One of the best examples of the effectiveness of the challenge process was when we were working with a client in Boston who was developing the next generation of their software product for the financial services industry. They were 4 months late and could not find any way to accelerate the schedule. They were locked in a certain mindset and a certain ways of doing something. The challenge process was seen as a way to "free" their minds from their current path.

Working with the core team, we first spent 2 hours (this was a huge, major program) getting them to identify teh current thinking about the program, i.e. listing the assumptions, boundary conditions, must haves, must nots, etc. They then picked five areas to challenge - areas that they thought would accelerate the program if they could be "fixed" as they were seen as obstacles to hitting the target date.

Over the next 2 hours, we challenged each of the five areas and for all except one, resulted in finding a better way of doing them. We then spent the next hour making changes to the schedule to reflect the new ideas.

The result? A 3 month pull-in...and the team ended up betting the product to market within a couple of weeks of the target date. Not a bad investment: 5 hours to pull-in the schedule 3 months.