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Problem Solving & Decision Making for New Project Managers

written by: Regina Woodard • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 9/16/2010

Problem solving and decision making is a hallmark of every executive, project manager, or supervisor. But some - whether experienced or new - may have some trouble trying to execute the process.

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    Problem solving and decision making are important facets for every person in an executive position within a business or company, and especially so for project managers. Things happen daily or even hourly in which these skills are in demand; for many newly promoted project managers, the reaction to an issue that comes up is to react against it. This can cause a downward spiral, as they may use a fix from a previous problem for a current problem (which usually does not work).

    The best way to handle these types of problems and decisions is to have a planned approach about what you should do and then execute it. This way, you aren't stuck solving a different problem the same way or constantly solving the same problem over and over again.

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    Some Basic Approaches

    1. Define the Problem - The first thing in problem solving and decision making is to define the problem or issue that you have encountered. Most often, new managers will react to what they think the problem is, instead of identifying what the actual problem is. By defining the problem, you get a clear picture of what is going on and therefore, can narrow the focus and solve that one problem. Communication with others who are experiencing the problem is helpful as well; it's important that you don't "place blame" on anyone, as the problem may not be human error but maybe technical or even an element of weather.

    manager 1 2. Look at Potential Causes - Jumping off from the first point, find out what could be causing the issue. Again, it's important not to put the blame on one or more people, but to get their insights into what the possible cause could be. For instance, if a presentation paper is missing or lost, don't automatically assume that it didn't get done or that the person lost it. Perhaps there was a technical failure (hard drive crash, power outage, etc.) or the file was saved elsewhere.

    3. Find Alternatives on Solving the Problem - Essentially, begin listing several ways on how to solve the issue. To go with the example above, see if there are backup copies for the presentation. If there are, try to find the most recent. Going beyond that, if there was a technical issue, speak to the technical support people on ways to prevent another loss or if the loss was due to say, faulty wiring or an outage, find ways of making sure if the problem happens again to avoid it with UPSs or calling out an electrician.

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    4. Chose Which Solution - After discussing ways to solve the problem, choose a solution that will work best. Go with solving the immediate solution first (in the example, the lost document) and then expand further if the problem may exist further out.

    5. Make the Action Plan - This basically means follow through with the chosen solution, taking care of knowing what steps will be taken, how the steps will be put in place, and who will be responsible for those steps. Also make note on how long the solution will take for all parties and plan accordingly; make sure to tell those involved about what steps are being taken and what you expect the outcome to be.

    6. Monitor and Verify the Solution - Newly minted project managers may sit back at this point, assured that what their action plan is being carried out. This is the wrong attitude, as new issues may come up or a break in communication may happen. Even after the solutions are being put in place, it's important to be aware of how the application of the solution is being handled and to ensure that the solution is working. In the example of the lost file, there should be open dialogue with the employee on how the task is of either retrieving or restarting the project is going. Offer additional help if needed; in terms of a technical issue, ask the tech support how things are going.

    Taking some basic steps to problem solving and decision making is helpful in the role of a new manager. Making a plan on how to solve a problem and then making the decision in the aftermath make for better managing of the entire project team.

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