Perfecting problem solving on projects

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Every project comes with its own set of problems and challenges, and it is the project managers job to find a way to solve these issues without jeopardising the delivery of the project overall. Building problem solving and collaboration into your team will enable you to identify and solve problems quicker and more effectively, mitigating issues before they start to have an impact on the project itself. Here are some top tips for perfecting your problem solving abilities in a project management environment.

Building an atmosphere that enables problem solving

To solve a problem, you first need to notice it. A project manager can’t be everywhere at once, and in so many ways you are reliant on your team to be your eyes and ears in every corner of the workplace. Building an atmosphere where problem solving is just part of the daily routine is therefore critical to a successful project.

  • Foster an open and honest environment where everyone has the opportunity and confidence to bring forward their concerns, ideas and solutions
  • Keep problem identification as a permanent fixture on your project meeting agenda
  • Reward problem identification in the project team to encourage others to bring their concerns forward too
  • Consider if you are being approachable and receptive to possible problems being raised by your team

Developing a structure for problem solving

Once you have identified a problem, rushing headlong into a solution is not usually the best way forward. As much as you want to mitigate this problem quickly, you stand a much better chance of a successful outcome if you stick to a considered structure for problem solving and think the solution through properly before acting.

  • Develop a method for problem solving that works step by step, and ensure all your team are aware and have bought in to this method of working
  • Before taking any action to rectify a problem, perform a root cause analysis to see what caused the problem in the first place. Not only will this give you the opportunity to correct the original cause of the problem, it may also help you identify other problems that had not yet been noticed
  • Once you are aware of the root cause of your problem, don’t rush into a solution immediately. Take a step back and brainstorm with your team to ensure you are taking the very best course of action possible
  • Select a solution and evaluate what the impact of this will be on the project. The last thing you want to do is to solve one problem by creating ten more
  • Plan and execute your solution, and then verify that your actions have actually solved the problem at hand. If this involves changes to the project plan, update the document and advise your stakeholders
  • Finally, deal with the root cause of the problem. This might be a team member or a flawed process, either way you need to make the change and put structures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Delivering a project with problems embedded in it will expose your company to risk. With an open and honest environment and a vigilant project team, there really should be no excuse for delivering anything that is not up to par. Take every problem as a learning experience and an opportunity to develop your team and your own skills for the better.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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