When issues inevitably arise during a project, how project managers approach finding solutions can make or break whether the project stays on track. In this article, we will explore some of the key problem-solving best practices that project managers should employ to keep their projects running smoothly.
The Importance of Problem-Solving in Project Management
Project management inevitably involves dealing with unexpected problems and roadblocks. How project managers approach problem-solving can determine whether a project succeeds or fails. Effective problem-solving skills are therefore absolutely critical for anyone leading a project.
Issues will arise in any project, no matter how well it is planned. Project requirements can change, risks can develop into issues, and stakeholders may have conflicting needs. Without the ability to quickly analyse problems and implement effective solutions can rapidly derail your projects.
Projects can become delayed, over budget, or fail to meet the business objectives. Skilled project managers can utilise structured problem-solving techniques to navigate problems as they occur- and through doing so, leads to the likelihood of keeping projects on track.
Strong problem-solving skills allow project managers to turn potential crises into mere bumps in the road. Projects with adaptable leaders who can quickly solve problems are far more likely to come in on time and on budget. Cultivating excellent problem-solving abilities is therefore one of the most valuable things a project manager can do. It can mean the difference between a smooth-sailing project and a disastrous failure.
5 Steps to Identify Problems in Project Management
Here are a few steps you can take to ensure problems are correctly identified prior and during a project.
- Gather Data and Feedback
Actively collect quantitative data and qualitative feedback from all stakeholders involved in the project, including your team, clients, end users, vendors, etc. Useful techniques can include surveys, interviews, focus groups, user testing, and analysing project documents or performance metrics. The goal is to gather diverse perspectives on what’s currently working well and what pain points or issues exist from different stakeholders. Look for common themes and trends.
- Look for Patterns
Once you have compiled all the stakeholder data and feedback, analyse it for patterns and recurring themes that point to major issues or opportunities. A problem or need reported by a wide range of stakeholders likely requires priority focus over an isolated complaint. Look at both the frequency of feedback mentions as well as the severity reported. Highlight patterns across stages of the project lifecycle as well. Spotting these themes will guide you toward the biggest problems to tackle.
- Define the Problem
With key problems identified through your pattern analysis, develop focused problem statements to frame these issues. Effective problem statements explain the current shortcoming, who it affects, how severe it is, contributing factors, and impacts to objectives. Having a well-defined statement keeps everyone aligned on the true nature of the problems you aim to solve before jumping to solutions.
- Visualise the Current State
Use process mapping, user flows, affinity diagrams and other visualisation methods to illustrate the as-is experience related to the problems. Visualising the current state from end to end spotlights pain points and dysfunctions. You can see where key problems manifest in the overall workflow rather than getting lost in siloed project stages. These visuals keep stakeholders literally on the same page regarding the scope of issues.
- Determine Root Causes
For each well-defined problem, thoroughly analyse the root causes, not just surface symptoms. Ask “why” questions and dig deeper into all contributing factors using root cause analysis techniques. Determine if the root cause stems from process, tools, resources, training, communication, external vendors, etc. Discovering the true root cause is essential for coming up with an effective solution that resolves the core issue once and for all.
Follow these steps to correctly identify a problem, define the problem, and determine the root cause. Then move on to solving the problem effectively.