~ By Duncan Haughey
For project managers and business analysts like you, effective problem-solving remains an ever-important soft skill that requires you to combine creative thinking and strong analytical skills. The simple six-step process outlined below will help you master effective problem-solving — a skill that will provide you with the ability to bring a new perspective to problems, helping you to design, and implement, effective solutions.
First, make sure you're dealing with the real problem, not just its symptoms. In information technology, we use root cause analysis to trace back to the origin of a problem. Take the time needed to do this tracing and discover the real reason for a problem by looking at it from different angles. Here are a few tools that can help:
Ultimately, all problems fall into three basic cause types:
Once you understand the problem, it's time to think about possible solutions. If your problem is simple, the solution will often be clear straightaway. But more complex problems may require a formal approach to finding solutions. Here are some potential techniques you could employ:
Once you have your list of solutions, evaluate each one by asking a few questions:
Weigh the solutions against a good outcome versus risk. Here are a few questions you should be asking to help guide this process:
Once you've identified the best solution, write it down. This action helps you think through the solution thoroughly and identify any implications of implementing the solution. This step is especially useful when solutions are complex, when they require organising, to ensure a specific process order is followed or when you don't want to rely solely on your memory.
Circumstances may (and often do!) change, so create a plan of what you will do for any foreseeable futures. Don't be caught unprepared when and if things change.
Here are three scenarios you may encounter as a project manager. Faced with these situations, what would you do? Click the down arrow to see answer.
You have been asked by your director to plan an urgent project. However, you cannot start the project because a colleague with vital information and expertise is away on an extended holiday, and both are essential for project success.
How would you approach this situation?
Answer: Assess the situation to see whether there are any parts of the project you can work on until your colleague returns. If not, you should try to contact someone on the colleague's team who can help.
Answer: Regardless of the level of your customer's displeasure, it is your responsibility to ensure they're treated with dignity and respect. You can do this by showing genuine concern for their problem. You're responsible for turning a negative situation into a positive one. In the event you're unable to turn this situation around, you may need to escalate to your line manager and to another level within the customer's organisation.
Answer: Stop work immediately, and evaluate the mistake. Is it small enough to resolve without taking too much time away from the other project work? If so, resolve the mistake and move forward. If there's no other option but to use extra time, which could mean you miss the deadline, then advise your line manager. You may need to reschedule your team and ask them to work overtime to meet the deadline.
As is usually the case, there's no single right answer to each problem, and the answers provided in the example scenarios are just one possibility. Other solutions exist and may, in some cases, even provide a better outcome.
How would you tackle the problems outlined in these scenarios? We'd love to hear about your solutions — tell us about them in the comments!