The Usual Suspects: Solutions Beneath The Surface Of Organizational Chaos

“The Usual Suspects: Solutions Beneath The Surface Of Organizational Chaos” with Dr. Gary Katzenstein, Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley

By Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah

November 2014 Event

Dr. Gary Katzenstein from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley discussed his framework of The Usual Suspects by going over a case study about the United States Mint.  (For details of the case study, please see this written summary or this podcast.)

It is crucial to solve organizational problems simply and quickly.  Usually, organization leaders try to analyze processes in place, approve bigger budgets, and try to implement technology to solve issues.  However, these three approaches may not actually help solve the problems in the long run.

So, instead of analyzing an organizational problem in a typical fashion, Gary urged the audience to try to see it from seven different angles – the seven Usual Suspects:

  1. Awareness – Be aware of the environment including teams, people’s networks and politics.  Deeply understanding the problem is the first step in resolving it.
  2. Relationship – Always manage relationships with various teams.  After all, working with cross-functional teams is a day-to-day, strategic part of a PM’s job.
  3. Trust – Unless cross-functional teams trust PMs, PMs cannot have the authority to get the job done.  So back up your thoughts with information and proof.If you come across someone who is not trustworthy, be open about demanding commitments and results.
  4. Emotions – Many times “rational decisions” don’t make sense unless they take into account the emotions of the people involved.  If you are the leader in an organizational change situation, make sure you eliminate people’s fear about their work and change of environment, and their negative emotions in general, before dealing with other issues.
  5. Framing – Ambiguous framing causes issues, so always make sure the task/issue is framed accurately and consistently in everyone’s minds. Sometimes, reframing the company or product story helps bring people together to solve an issue.For example, when Gary was involved in an acquisition, the stories of the original start-up were told repeatedly to maintain integrity and alignment.
  6. Give to Get – People usually care about appreciation, visibility and challenging work more than promotions.  So, give them what matters to them, in order to influence.
  7. Process – Numbers don’t lie; however, question the process behind the numbers while solving the problem.  The specific process to get the numbers presented may have been flawed, even though the use of process in general was appropriate.

In summary, fixing issues at the level of person-to-person relationships, instead of the process level, is crucial in coming up with a long-term solution to a problem.  If you try to solve the problem by addressing only the non-human aspects, you will have to address the deeper issue again, soon.

Note that all these Suspects may not be relevant in every case: use them wisely and appropriately to gain faster and long lasting results.

Finally, Gary also mentioned that these seven Usual Suspects can be applied in various other ways, including analyzing a question at an interview or at your new job!

Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah is a Principal Product Manager at RSA.  With 14 years of PM and engineering experience, she has successfully launched several enterprise products in multiple industries/verticals.  Her interest is in big data enterprise market and security.  She can be contacted at:,

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