Philosophy of solving a problem: Relevance to indoor air value delivery

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, December 2021, Volume 4, #125

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2021). Philosophy of solving a problem: Relevance to indoor air value delivery. Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, December 2021, Volume 4, #125.]


IAQ Management Private Limited was a leading indoor air quality (IAQ) services provider in a country called Westania. The company won many government IAQ services projects. However, a change in the criteria for assessing companies that could participate in tendering for the government’s project led IAQ Management Private Limited to be ineligible to participate in the tendering process. The ineligibility led IAQ Management Private Limited to experience serious financial problems that threatened its existence. The effort made by IAQ Management Private Limited to regain its tendering eligibility status for government IAQ services projects is the subject of this short fiction story.


The occurrence of a viral respiratory disease led to a keen interest in providing healthy indoor air around the world, including a country called Westania. The IAQ services provider companies in Westania gained popularity and saw their financial revenue increase tremendously. The rise in business revenue for companies in the industry led to several new IAQ services provider companies in Westania. The government’s IAQ services projects in Westania were highly financially attractive. Thus, many IAQ services provider companies competed vigorously to secure the government’s IAQ services projects.

The Ministry of Housing and Environment of Westania introduced a ranking system to reduce the volume of companies participating in the tendering process. According to the Ministry, only companies in the top 10 were eligible to tender for the government’s IAQ services projects. IAQ Management Private Limited, popularly called IMPL, was one of the leading companies within the top 10 ranked companies. IMPL was consistently in the top 2 ranking for twelve years. As a result, IMPL won several government IAQ services projects, and its business expanded with branches in several states in the country.

Meeting the increasing business demand was not a problem for IMPL because the company’s practice was to rush a solution to a defined poor indoor air quality problem instead of eliminating or reducing the problem’s root cause(s). IMPL consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of its solutions to clients by showing the improvement in measured indoor air pollutants concentrations or perceived IAQ before and after an intervention. IMPL gained an excellent reputation as the go-to company in the industry if the interest was a quick fix solution to IAQ problems for immediate respite.

Many times, the reduced indoor air pollutants concentrations increased and poor perceived IAQ occurred again. Clients had to call back IMPL staff several times to re-intervene to fix the IAQ problems, amidst they were not happy with the re-occurring problems and the need to call IMPL back for the same problems. The higher capacity to serve clients and respond whenever clients called gave IMPL a competitive edge in the industry and tendering for the government’s IAQ services projects.

An IAQ services provider company, called Healthy Air Pte Ltd, that was new to the industry and not in the top 10 ranked companies once raised concern about the practices of many of the top 10 ranked companies, including IMPL. Healthy Air Pte Ltd believed that the top 10 ranked companies usually rushed solutions to IAQ problems instead of investing resources to eliminate or significantly reduce the causes of the problems. The concern was published in a leading national newspaper. The top 10 ranked companies quickly dismissed the concern as jealousy. Health Air Pte Ltd was disregarded as a small company trying to find its feet in the industry.

IMPL went a step further, threatened to sue Health Air Pte Ltd if the published concern was not retracted. Health Air Pte Ltd retracted the published concern and apologised to avoid being sued by IMPL, a well-known and powerful company in the industry. IMPL continued the business, as usual, providing solutions to problems with little or no interest in changing their business operating system to facilitate developing or designing solutions to eliminate the causes of defined problems.

Five years later, there was a strong push for value-oriented productivity delivery from the federal government to maintain the economic competitiveness in the region and worldwide after global financial crises that lasted for three years. After the financial crisis, the World Bank adopted the advice and research findings from top economists and scientists worldwide that suggested that countries strive for value-oriented productivity to improve their country’s economy.

An extract from the federal government’s report to all ministries reads, “The productivity level of sectors contributing to a country’s revenue will affect the country’s economic growth. Any government that ignores the sectors’ productivity levels is bound to experience a continuous economic downturn. Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the quantity of quality of functions of delivered products and services and safety involved in the process per everyone in the population. More revenue can be generated if more goods and services and process safety are generated with prudent use of invested resources. More revenue means additional resources available to be invested to generate more of the goods and services to benefit people in the population. Thus, anything that could harm and cause low or no value-oriented productivity and vulnerabilities to it should be assessed, managed, and avoided, wherever possible, to reduce the risk and wastes in the process.

Based on findings from the experts, the federal government believed that productivity, as popularly defined as the ratio of outputs to inputs, is not enough. The outputs delivered with prudent inputs, i.e., invested resources, must provide suitable and reliable usefulness to consumers of delivered goods and services at any point in the value chain. With this belief, all the ministries were instructed to evaluate all new projects under their care. As a result, the Ministry of Health and Environment changed its criteria for ranking IAQ services companies for their new projects.

The new ranking system led IMPL to drop out of the top 10 IAQ services providers in Westania to number 23. As a result, IMPL lost the privilege to tender for government IAQ services projects. IMPL went through a period of denial and refused to change its mode of operations, even for non-government projects they could only work on at that time. The denial and refusal emanated from IMPL senior management’s understanding of inherent problems in the system they were using for running the IAQ services business.

The senior management knew that investing resources to understand the root causes of indoor air quality problems to determine the appropriate solution and creatively apply them for value delivery with the system they had was not good for business. It was only two years into the ineligibility when the financial burden was becoming evident that IMPL decided they had to make changes to their mode of operations to fit into the request of the Ministry of Health and Environment and avoid bankruptcy.

To make the changes, the senior management of IMPL knew they had to overcome the underlying causes of the flawed system that forced them to rush solutions to problems. IMPL recruited a third-party company, Problem Buster Pte Ltd, to help improve their flawed system. Problem Buster Pte Ltd was a company in the business of assisting companies to enhance their business value-oriented productivity delivery.

Business Problem Buster Pte Ltd’s investigation confirmed IMPL’s flawed system for IAQ services. The investigation report also revealed that the rushing of solutions to IAQ problems by IMPL was also a symptom of IMPL’s poor determinants of productivity. The company was more interested in covering more projects, using the solutions they were selling, and earning high revenue with little consideration on whether clients’ IAQ problems were solved completely or the frequency of the IAQ problems was significantly reduced. IMPL also had a poor ability to frame IAQ problems and identify their causes quickly, safely, appropriately, and accurately. The identified causes of rushing solutions to problems were revealed to be inhibitors of value delivery, i.e., the enhanced ratio of IAQ solution’s usefulness experienced by the clients to the resources invested by IMPL.

Business Problem Buster Pte Ltd advised IMPL to focus more on their need than their want. IMPL’s want is to be eligible again for tendering for government IAQ services projects. IMPL’s need is to learn how to eradicate or minimise the identified inhibitors of the value delivery. The first lesson for IMPL’s agents of change, the senior management and selected staff, was how to build IMPL’s reputation as a company that solves clients’ IAQ problem completely or at least significantly reduce the frequency of its re-occurrence.

IMPL learnt how to build an appraisal system that rewards staff that could leave up to the required reputation for IMPL. The reward, which was planned to occur every 6 months, would increase with an increase in reliability of healthy air provided to clients. The provision of rewards to motivate staff to deliver reliable, healthy indoor air to clients will be expensive and not business friendly in IMPL’s flawed system. IMPL’s agents of change learnt this from the training.

One of the key messages emphasised during the training was that to enhance value delivery, IMPL must review its IAQ services delivery process to remove inhibitors to quick, safe, appropriate, and accurate definition or framing of IAQ problems and identification of their causes, and solutions applied to solve the problems. The training company believed that the inhibitors would move the IAQ services business towards the waste end of the waste-value delivery spectrum, shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure1: Waste-value delivery spectrum with value delivery equation

IMPL’s agents of change were trained on how to reduce the risk level of moving IMPL’s IAQ services business towards the waste end of the waste-value delivery spectrum. They were trained to identify the hazard, i.e., anything that can cause harm. They were taught that, in this context, harm means moving the IAQ services business towards the waste end of the waste-value delivery spectrum.

Hazard was coded as the subject causing harm to the object. The object in this context was IMPL’s IAQ services business. Thus, the purpose was to reduce the probability, i.e., risk level, of the subject moving the object towards the waste end of the waste-value delivery spectrum.

They were taught to reduce the extent to which the hazard can cause harm. The hazard is the system created by IMPL for running the IAQ services business. The system becomes a hazard when it encourages the existence of harmful elements such as defects, overproduction, waiting, non-usage of talents, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra-processing.

They learnt that if the causes of these harmful elements were not identified and eliminated, or at least reduced, the hazardous system’s ability to move IMPL’s IAQ services business towards the waste end of the waste-value delivery spectrum would be higher. The use of digital solutions for quick, safe, appropriate, and accurate identification of the harmful elements and identification and elimination, or at least reduced their causes, were emphasised. The training company also emphasised that the prevention, identification, and elimination or reduction of the causes of the harmful elements should be a continuous effort. An article published in Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, titled misconceptions about the purpose of indoor air quality audits in the industry, was used to provide guidance on how IAQ services should be run.

They were taught to look out for stages in the IAQ services process where the effect of the harmful elements could manifest. These stages are (i) all activities leading to and involved in diagnosing IAQ problems and their causes and (ii) all activities involved in applying a solution to eliminate or reduce the causes of defined problems. IMPL’s agents of change were advised to prevent the system containing the harmful elements from harming the IAQ services business at the two stages. The following are some of the lesson points that IMPL’s agents of change were taught about how the harmful elements can cause harm. The harmful elements cause harm, i.e., waste, because they increase the amount of invested resources more than is necessary to achieve the required usefulness.

(i) “Defect” harmful element: A system that encourages the high occurrence or re-occurrence of defects in IAQ services is harmful to the IAQ services business. Defects mean errors leading to non-provision of suitable or reliable healthy indoor air to a client. The system would cause the consumption of more resources that could have been avoided to deliver the required healthy indoor air and the usefulness it gives to clients and the IMPL (improve branding).

(ii) “Overproduction” harmful element: A system becomes harmful to the IAQ services business when it encourages overproduction, which is the unnecessary consumption of resources to deliver IAQ services outcomes more than clients need for healthy living.

(iii) “Waiting” harmful element: A system that creates many bottlenecks in the two broad stages of IAQ services will lead to so much waiting in the process required for delivering reliable, healthy indoor air. The waiting will inhibit the delivery of usefulness to clients when needed. The inhibition will also compromise IMPL’s brand as a company that provides high satisfaction to clients.

(iv) “Non-usage of talents” harmful element: A system that does not facilitate the deployment of the right talents when needed for all activities leading to and involved in the diagnosis and application of the right solution may lead to the consumption of resources to correct defects or inadequacies in the IAQ services created by staff that lacks the required talents. The practice will harm the business.

(v) “Transportation” harmful element: A system that creates a situation in which resources are consumed unnecessarily moving instruments, equipment, and materials before activities for diagnosing and applying the right solution can be done will harm business.

(vi) “Inventory” harmful element: A system that promotes acquittance of instruments, equipment, and materials when they are not required or is not time to process them will lead to high consumption of resources. The value delivery of IAQ services project in such a system will be compromised.

(vii) “Motion” harmful element: A system that causes resources to be consumed unnecessarily to support unnecessary movements of IMPL staff working on an IAQ services project will compromise the value delivery of any IAQ services project in it.

(viii) “Extra processing” harmful element: A system with so many unnecessary layers built into it for unnecessary processing of activities involved in ensuring quality will unnecessarily consume resources to deliver a high quality of IAQ services more than clients require or need will put undue strain on the business.

It was shared during the training that an increase in a risk level does not depend on the hazardous system alone. Risk level assessment should consider the vulnerability of an IAQ services project in the system. Vulnerability, in this context, is the condition or situation of an IAQ services project that determines how fast and the extent to which the harm experienced turns to damage. It was shared that the scale of a project is an example of a contributing factor to the vulnerability level.

A large-scale project requiring specialised expertise will be more vulnerable than a small-scale project. The trainers used examples of how government projects that are typically large in scale and require multidisciplinary teams made them more vulnerable in experiencing harm in a harmful system like that of the IMPL system. The training was concluded with the following points on philosophy guiding problem solving: (i) Be clear on the purpose and its determinants of success, (ii) Be clear on the reasons for the purpose, (iii) Be clear on the method to use to achieve the purpose and how the reasons for the purpose inform the chosen method, and (iv) Be clear of the probability, i.e., risk level, that the achievement of the purpose, with the chosen method, could be compromised. The take-home message Business Problem Buster Pte Ltd gave to IMPL’s agents of change was, “do not provide a solution to solve a problem you do not understand.

After the training, it was time to implement the lessons learnt. The IMPL’s agents of change experienced huge resistance from many staff in the company. The resistance delayed achieving the benefits of the investment made by IMPL senior management to achieve value delivery for the company and clients. A little success here and there later changed the mind of many staff for them to buy into the mission of the senior management. A change in organisational culture that increased the staff trust in the senior management also contributed to the buy-in.

IMPL developed a performance-based, instead of prescriptive-based, protocol on eradicating or minimising the inhibitors to value delivery. Digital solutions developed or purchased by IMPL to enhance the value delivery helped like magic because they were applied where and how they were needed. IMPL ranking improved significantly a few years later and moved back into the top 10. IMPL won many government IAQ services projects, and their financial revenue returned to a very healthy state. The success story of IMPL informed the development of a best-seller textbook used in the top business schools around the world. The End!

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