problem solving


Part II: Problem-Solving

Talent comes in many forms. One of the most powerful is problem-solving.  It benefits the team (smoother execution), leadership (fewer headaches and distractions), customers (greater service satisfaction) and the bottom line (efficiency reduces costs).

“Problem” is a broad term encompassing an unplanned event, miscommunication, technology jam, team conflict, and trouble in execution. A prominent cause of project failure or delay is the lack of timely, practical, and well-developed solutions to unexpected problems.

People who are skilled in problem-solving have undoubtedly learned from prior experiences. They know how to look at challenges objectively, remove sentiment and emotions from the process, hold themselves fully accountable, and focus solely on a smart solution path.

Insider tip:  Start by changing the word “solve”.  When contending with a problem, replace solve with detection, exploration, modeling, experimentation, and accuracy analysis.

Troubleshooting also requires being unconstrained by allowing others to influence and persuade your thinking.

When facing a problem…

Initial Key Questions

  1. What assumptions may already be made by stakeholders or team members? [Tackle them]
  2. What perceptions are out there, whether accurate or not, that will require targeted communication? [Address them]
  3. What guardrails may be necessary to prevent your project from coming off the track? [Erect the rails]
  4. Is there any part of the problem not fully represented, which necessitates gathering more information? [Dig deeper]
  5. Should more resources and SMEs (subject matter experts) be leveraged to reach a resolution? [Reach out]

Adopt Heuristic Methods

  • Receive the problem and reiterate it to affirm the information and your interpretation of the details presented. 
  • Ask several people their thoughts or prior experience with this problem or something similar to it.
  • Scrutinize the processes, activities, interactions and/or production taking place just before, during, around or after the problem.
  • Look for any observable pattern that may help to find a solution.
  • Share the problem with trusted peers for their insights on a comparable issue or parallel instance.
  • Pursue the ‘what ifs’ and explore different ideas as potential remedies.
  • Once there is one or more strong hypothesis on the right solution, then execute and test the results.
  • Be willing to take risks to optimize the resolution while mitigating exposure to any extreme outcomes.

Make a Difference by Doing It Differently

  • Tap the unexplored – look for paths that others have not followed.
  • Test a variety of ways to distinguish an optimal answer to the problem.
  • Emphasize individuality as a characteristic of the problem to prevent it from appearing to be wide-spread or overwhelming.
  • When proposing a solution, demonstrate value using the cost / benefit ratio.
  • Remember that diversity reigns supreme –  not all prospective solutions are the same.

Transcend Conventional Thinking

  • Assess each possible solution as to whether it will satisfy your audience and even attract new customers.
  • Consider how to best cultivate an advantage in your solution that is succinct and sustainable.
  • Instead of dismissing an idea – weigh the benefit of shaping and reconstructing it.
  • Look for demands that may exist around a problem, which are not yet discovered.

Resolution Pathway Points

  • Effective communication. honesty and receptiveness are must-haves.
  • Explore uncharted territory and embrace diverse perspectives.
  • Be adaptable and let experiments be steered in new directions.
  • Positively influence processes and continually measure outputs.
  • Push boundaries and reframe difficult situations.
  • Accept when it’s necessary to take an Incremental approach to reaching a solution.

When proposing a solution, be forward-thinking on expectations and anticipated results. Be prepared for a range of reactions from the following:

  • Customers, the public, and the industry
  • The business itself and the finance team
  • Existing operators and project leaders
  • The affected team members 

What to avoid in problem-solving?

  • Rigidness in thinking and perspective
  • Silo of ideas
  • Rapid responses and conclusions
  • Demand to take a particular direction
  • Expression of negativity or discouragement
  • Allowing fear of failure to impact decisions

Problem-solving skills are valuable attributes of a team or leader. Why?  Because every business initiative will experience adversity or obstacles.  

The ability to successfully identify and execute solutions has a ripple effect and is both cost-saving and time-saving. It reveals the very best in all of us, including patience, perseverance, courage, confidence, resilience, openness and the all important “grit with grace.”

project management

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