Very early in my career, I was given a project by the owners of the staffing company I worked for. Using the company database, I was to track where our applicants came from and where our clients were located. After looking at hundreds of data points and carefully putting a small round sticker (blue for applicants and green for clients, of course) on the source address, I had the map fully populated. Actually, it was comically overpopulated with dots upon dots covering large sections of the map and obscuring the details of the streets and intersections.

But, now I was ready for my company-wide presentation. A colleague and I hoisted the ginormous map and pinned it to the wall. A brief introduction and overview of the project were given, and I was unleashed to announce the conclusion of my meticulous research:

“It appears that most of our applicants come from residential areas and most of our clients are located in commercial ones.”

I then sat down and awaited the roaring applause.

But there was none.

Chagrined, I pondered the reason for my flop. Was it the presentation? The data? The color of the dots? Or was it that the results were just hilariously obvious? It must have been the latter because I earned the office moniker of Mr. Obvious, and my tenure there was fairly successful but relatively short-lived.

I did, despite my miserable failure, learn an invaluable lesson that has benefited me for my entire career: Don’t underestimate the power of the obvious…or that Mr. or Ms. Obvious might be in your midst. He or she might be able to see the proverbial forest despite the trees and realize the solution is much simpler than those prone to overanalyzing might suggest. Listen to your people, don’t think you have all the answers, and look for simplicity in searching for solutions.

Here is an unpretentious roadmap to finding obvious, simple solutions to organizational improvement opportunities (i.e. problems):

WHO is being affected? Once the impacted are identified, listen to them. With open ears and minds, absorb all they say about the situation and its ramifications – the good, the bad and the ugly. “It may hurt, but it’s the truth” is not a bad context for these types of, sometimes hard, discussions. But, the goal here is not to be politically correct; it’s to get the facts on the table in all their naked power. Remember, facts are our friends.

WHAT is the root cause? Try to drill down to the least common denominator. Don’t try to boil the ocean or fix every issue in the organization. Laser focusing on the root of the specific problem is essential – everything else is just noise. You probably don’t need to do a Pareto Analysis. Just keep asking the question “Why?” in the relentless search for the seminal problem(s). Always remember the question “Why?” should always be associated with the question “What?”

HOW can we improve this or fix it? Again, listen to everyone who touches the problem process or practice. Solicit their constructive complaining – and their ideas for the solution. No input is without its intrinsic value. Then, put all solicited ideas in the blender of brainstorming in search of the simplest possible solution. Panaceas are unlikely, but improvement is attainable.

WHEN should we act? Immediately, if not sooner. By design, this process is meant to be quick, and action should follow as soon as possible. A solution doesn’t have to solve every issue or explain every detail. When a clear-cut improvement is found, implement it. Do it now. Act. The problem with over-analysis is that it tends to focus all of its energy on the problem with little emphasis on an improvement or a rapid implementation. The longer you tarry, the more likely paralysis (and demoralization) sets in.

Try it. Find something that’s broken in your processes or workflows. Be brave. Ask questions. Obsess over simple solutions. And keep an eye, and ear, out for Mr. and Ms. Obvious. More than likely, they are already in your midst.