Why solutions have long tails?

Triangulation can help sustaining solutions and strengthening analysis.

When your organization faces a problem, sooner or later, there will be an action plan in place to abet its elimination. The inconvenient truth about solutions is that they have long tails. Very, very few solutions actually stick. Most of them seem to be gone in months, sometimes even weeks and the problem bounces back. Yes, I’m talking about lack of permanence to the actions taken to improve performance.

There are several theories and in-depth research but, from my experience, I can say that things haven’t changed much in the last 2 decades. Whether it’s automation, change management, top-down push, leadership sponsorship, incentives, rewards, recognition or culture fix, all of them are marked by only a certain success rate.

My other post, On recurring problems, 3L 5W & what’s wrong with it… explains a method to identify system level root causes. Triangulation can be used for validation of root cause and to evaluate the effectiveness of any solution.

Validation through Triangulation

Triangulation is a method that involves combining multiple sources or methods to validate an analysis or its outcomes. We are used to taking a second opinion from another medical professional before committing to an incisional treatment. That is an everyday example of triangulation. The origin of triangulation dates back to Greek civilization. In the last 2 centuries, it is very commonly used in maritime navigation, civil engineering and surveying, where it relies on sound trigonometry. In fact our GPS uses this very same principle to establish the lat-long of a location. Triangulation is also a very popular research method to validate results, findings and even for monitoring the sustenance of interventions, such as social welfare initiatives. 

In business while validating root causes, triangulation comes very handy. If we can validate the root cause by more than one means, it strengthens our analysis and confidence in our actions. Financially too, it makes sense, as ROI is higher.

I consider Triangulation as it can also generate new and credible findings about a situation or phenomenon and can create new ways of looking at a situation or phenomenon. 

Interestingly, it helps to overcome human behavioral bias, which is the biggest spoiler when it comes to organizational deployment. It helps to explore and explain complex human behavior using a variety of methods and observers to offer a more balanced explanation for a phenomenon.

Customer Attrition Example for Triangulation:

Let’s say, your organization faces unusual customer attrition. In general, you will collect and analyze data of customer activity by segments, such as customer journey, cart abandonment, milestones or events, complaints, etc to identify the reasons for customer attrition. Using triangulation, you can consider parallel methods such as customer interviews and front line employee interviews. You will independently gain insights from these 3 different methods viz., data, customer interviews & employee interviews to validate the outcomes. The results can either converge, complement or diverge from each other.

Interpretation of Triangulation Results

When all the three sources conclude that customer attrition is because of poor product support, we call this Convergence. That is, the results of the different methods lead to the same conclusion. 

When all the three sources conclude that the customer attrition is because of poor product support, but in the customer interviews, we learn that customers prefer self-service which is a weak link of your product line, then triangulation has led to Complementarity.

When the three sources provide different outcomes, one pointing towards product support, another towards pricing and third towards customer behavior, then we are in a stalemate or Divergence. This is a concerning situation as it either highlights issues with the methods or with the very problem itself. 

Triangulation Options

Depending on the objectives, triangulation can be done at different levels:

  • Data Triangulation – Using different data sources to validate. Ex: Customer activity database vs Customer Satisfaction database
  • Method Triangulation – Using different methods to validate. Ex: Data Analysis Vs Customer Interviews
  • Investigator Triangulation – Using different individuals to validate there by eliminating appraiser bias

While triangulation offers many benefits, you have to be careful in selecting the right methods and planning the analysis. In general, it can consume more time that quick action mode, but will reduce failures, increase sustenance and success rates.

You can also consider triangulation for verifying sustenance of initiatives, selection of vendors or new employees

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