Problem-solving in Project Management

Problem-solving in Project Management

Effective problem-solving is essential for successful project management

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. 

11 Ways to Solve Problems in Project Management

Once you have correctly identified a problem in the project, there are several ways to solve that problem depending on the problem itself. Here are our top 11 ways to solve a problem once identified:

  • Root cause analysis – Ask “why” questions about issues to uncover root causes, rather than just treating surface symptoms. This ensures solutions address the true source of problems.
  • Brainstorming – Facilitate group brainstorming sessions to generate a wide range of creative solutions and ensure different perspectives are represented.
  • Research best practices – Consult reputable project management resources and experts to identify proven methods and best practices for solving similar issues.
  • Process improvement – Analyse processes end-to-end to identify inefficient or redundant steps, handoffs, and decision points contributing to problems. Streamline and optimise processes for greater efficiency.
  • Technology solutions – Research or develop technology tools, automation, and digital systems that could simplify complex tasks or eliminate recurring human-error issues.
  • Change management plan – Create a structured change management plan when implementing major changes to address people’s natural resistance and guide them through transitions.
  • Additional resources – Secure and deploy more staffing, budget, equipment, or other resources if the lack of these elements is the root cause of problems.
  • Vendor negotiation – Renegotiate contracts with vendors if third-party supplier issues are causing downstream project problems.
  • Workflow redesign – Simplify convoluted workflow steps or rearrange handoffs if dysfunctional processes are contributing to issues.
  • Refresher training – Provide refresher training if skills gaps among the team are leading to preventable mistakes and quality issues.
  • Pilot testing – Pilot proposed solutions on a small scale first to evaluate the viability and prevent a major roll-out of untested changes.

Effective project managers have a versatile toolkit of methods to solve the diverse issues that arise. Conducting root cause analysis ensures solutions target the source. 

Having expertise across these key problem-solving techniques allows project managers to quickly diagnose issues and implement targeted solutions to successfully steer projects back on track. With a mastery of structured problem-solving, project leaders can tackle obstacles head-on rather than being derailed by them.

Ensuring Effective Problem-Solving in Project Management

Effective problem-solving is a must-have skill for anyone leading a project. Following structured techniques for accurately identifying issues, analysing causes, generating solutions, and implementing the optimal choice can enable project managers to tackle problems head-on and ensure successful project delivery.  

As a project management training specialist, Provek offers a range of project management courses that will develop your abilities and achieve professional qualifications. For those specifically looking to develop their project management skills and problem-solving abilities, why not consider our APM Risk Level 1 and 2 courses, the half day ‘How to Manage Risks’ workshop or our 1-day Risk Overview course. 

Delivered by Provek trainers, all of which are credible, experienced project managers, these practical training courses provide the techniques and tools to overcome project challenges and deliver successful outcomes. Don’t let problems derail your next project – equip yourself with the problem-solving skills to confidently lead, no matter what obstacles arise.

Why not enrol in a Provek project management course today to take your career to the next level!

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