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Problem Solving Techniques in Project Management

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 9/19/2010

Product management has its ups and downs. Things go wrong involving team members, clients, vendors, and other stakeholders requiring the use of problem solving techniques that will help achieve success. Read about problem solving techniques that are effective for project managers.

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    Identify and Acknowledge Problems

    Team members should be encouraged to look for potential problems and then acknowledge them when they come up. A team member614px-Cause and effect diagram for defect XXX.svg  should immediately request a meeting with affected stakeholders when the problem is identified. This makes it difficult for others to ignore the problem while eliminating the significant lag time that could result from waiting for someone else to convene a meeting. After all, problems usually become more serious over time, so by getting all team members to react quickly to them quickly, the project manager contributes to the potential success of the project.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/DanielPenfield

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    Problem Solving Meetings

    Problem solving meetings should not be finger pointing meetings, but a time to objectively address issues that threaten the project. The meeting should be convened only if it is necessary, has a clear purpose, and has relevant parties in attendance. The team member calling the meeting should go ahead and make sure that the agenda of the meeting is clearly defined, ground rules are established, and that the meeting stays on topic.

    The meeting itself should be well documented and center around its stated purpose. Team members should be encouraged to brainstorm for solutions and also to evaluate the outcome and effectiveness of the meeting.

    Once the meeting is over, a summary document should be generated that documents the issues that were discussed and the decisions that were made. It also should record assigned responsibilities and estimate the targeted resolution date and any follow up actions that were deemed necessary.

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    Solving the Problem

    Now that you know how to call and conduct a problem solving meeting, let's go over some important techniques used in the problem solving process.

    1. Brainstorming. By encouraging the open expression of any and all ideas, the perspective of all those involved in solving the problem can contribute to identifying possible options to solve the problem and then selecting the best solution from those possibilities.

    2. Patience. When people get into a rush to solve a problem, often the underlying causes are never understood and the correct resolution is overlooked. A patient, methodical approach to the matter will help avoid any mistakes that could make the problem worse or lay the groundwork for additional issues to arise.

    3. Apollo Root Cause Analysis. This technique seeks to acknowledge that most outcomes have multiple root causes at their root, and seeks to catalog conditions and actions that could contribute to a given problem.

    3. Data collection. By making sure relevant information is collected, team members can be more likely to develop suitable response

    4. Consider the effect proposed solutions may have on the project as a whole.

    5. Pareto Analysis. The generalized rule that 80% of results are obtained through 20 % of the work also applies to problems. in other words, 80% of problems are generated by just 20% of the root causes. This rule was named after an Italian named Vilfredo Pareto who observed a similar distribution of income in his nation. Pareto Analysis generates a table of the frequency of every known cause and plots them on a bar chart with a line representing the cumulative total. This analysis is practical way to address the most significant causes first when dealing with problems.

    6. Process evaluation. Problems can be approached by breaking systems into sections which can be analyzed for the source of the problem.

    7. Word analysis. By focusing on the essential questions; who, what, where, why, when, and how; team members can gather the essential facts about a problem without dealing with confusing details.

    8. Fishbone (Ishikawa) diagrams. These diagrams resemble the skeletal structure of some fish and chart causes to their known effects while analyzing a defect. Different sets of questions are used to build a cause and effect Fishbone diagram depending on whether the problem in question deals with manufacturing or services. By visualizing every cause and associated effect, managers can more easily understand the source of problems.

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    Problem Solving Techniques

    By applying these simple problem solving techniques, team members can quickly identify problems and collaborate in their solutions. Study these and other problem solving techniques and you will be more effective on the job and in life.


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