Learn which problem solving techniques and strategies can help you effectively handle the challenges you face in your projects.
Problem Solving Techniques: A 5-Step Approach
Some problems are small and can be resolved quickly. Other problems are large and may require significant
time and effort to solve. These larger problems are often tackled by turning them into formal projects.
"A project is a problem scheduled for solution."
- Joseph M. Juran
Whether the problem you are focusing on is small or large, using a systematic approach for solving it will
help you be a more effective project manager.
This approach defines five problem solving steps you can use for most problems...
- Define the Problem
- Determine the Causes
- Generate Ideas
- Select the Best Solution
- Take Action
Define the Problem
The most important of the problem solving steps is to define the problem correctly. The way you define
the problem will determine how you attempt to solve it.
For example, if you receive a complaint about one of your project team members from a client, the solutions you
come up with will be different based on the way you define the problem.
If you define the problem as poor performance by the team member you will develop different solutions than if
you define the problem as poor expectation setting with the client.
Determine the Causes
Once you have defined the problem, you are ready to dig deeper and start to determine what is causing it. You can use a fishbone diagram to help you perform a cause and effect analysis.
If you consider the problem as a gap between where you are now and where you want to be, the causes of the
problem are the obstacles that are preventing you from closing that gap immediately.
This level of analysis is important to make sure your solutions address the actual causes of the problem
instead of the symptoms of the problem. If your solution fixes a symptom instead of an actual cause, the
problem is likely to reoccur since it was never truly solved.
Once the hard work of defining the problem and determining its causes has been completed, it's time to get
creative and develop possible solutions to the problem.
Two great problem solving methods you can use for coming up with solutions are
brainstorming and mind mapping.
Select the Best Solution
After you come up with several ideas that can solve the problem, one problem solving technique you can
use to decide which one is the best solution to your problem is a simple trade-off analysis.
To perform the trade-off analysis, define the critical criteria for the problem that you can use to
evaluate how each solution compares to each other. The evaluation can be done using a simple matrix.
The highest ranking solution will be your best solution for this problem.
Once you've determined which solution you will implement, it's time to take action. If the solution involves
several actions or requires action from others, it is a good idea to create an action plan and
treat it as a mini-project.
Using this simple five-step approach can increase the effectiveness of your problem solving skills.
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