7 Steps to Better Problem Solving

    2=Planning, 4=Control, Productivity

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All project managers face problems. Some big, some small. Some easy, some complex. In this article, let's look at 7 steps to better problem solving.

man attempting to solve problem

What are your most significant project problems? Perhaps you have some of these problems:

  • Communication issues
  • Changing requirements
  • Lack of clear goals
  • Insufficient budget
  • Scope creep
  • Team members failing to complete their activities

Worry and anxiety are not productive ways to respond to life's challenges. There is a better approach for solving problems. Irrespective of the types of problems you face, you can find better solutions through the following 7-step process.

7 Steps to Problem Solving

  1. 1
    Define the problem. People often jump to the wrong conclusions. Work with your team and key stakeholders to define the specific problem. Vague and loosely defined problems lead to poor solutions. Individuals often see the dilemma differently. Consequently, it's critical to reconcile differences into a unified problem statement.
  2. 2
    Define the causes of the problem. Consider a personal problem – the family expenses have been over budget for the last three months. What is causing this problem? Eating out too much? Unexpected health care expenses? Using the credit cards too much? Try a cause and effect diagram to help you and your team discover the causal factors.
  3. 3
    Define the decision criteria. This step is rarely considered. Before identifying solutions, work with the decision makers to determine how you will make the decision. For example, let's assume that you plan to purchase a software solution. The criterion could include: 1) cost, 2) ease of implementation, 3) the vendor's track record with other customers, and 4) how long the vendor has existed.

"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." –Margaret Thatcher

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  1. 4
    Identify solutions. Now we can identify solutions. Brainstorming is a great tool for identifying ideas.
  2. 5
    Select a solution. Let's say we've identified five solutions. We now apply our criterion as a filter for determining the best solution. If you like, you could score each solution for each criterion using a scale such as 1 to 5. Finally, total the scores and determine the best solution with your team.
  3. 6
    Implement the solution. The previous steps are strategic; we are attempting to define the strategy of how we will move from our current state to the desired future state. Now, we take action. 
  4. 7
    Evaluate the results. None of our previous efforts matter if we fail to obtain the desired results. Periodically verify your results. For example, you could measure the results three months after the implementation, six months, and one year later. If you are not getting the desired results, why? Do we need to tweak the solution or did we make a poor strategic decision?

Which Problem Do You Need to Solve?

Select one of your problems and apply these steps. Be sure to work with your team to select the solution. After implementation, measure your results. Modify the solution where necessary.

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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications

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