International Project Management Day




Problem-Solving Tools and Techniques


Quick Summary
Six different problem-solving tools help you do everything from determining root causes to assessing possible solutions, and outline a basic problem-solving strategy so you can be sure you've covered all the bases.


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What this is

A series of steps and techniques for generating and analyzing ideas for solving a problem at hand. These approaches can be used on a variety of project-related problems, from specific technical issues such as particular failure modes seen during testing, to team process problems such as unproductive meetings, to macro-project issues such as being consistently behind schedule.


Why it's useful

Relying on unstructured brainstorming may not always produce the most effective or feasible ideas for a given situation. By using some or all of the tools in this guideline, you can ensure you're getting to the root of the problem, and even quantify difficult-to-measure criteria in order to help select the best course of action. More structured decision-making can also provide valuable material for later use in selling the idea up the chain of command, justifying expenditures, or getting buy-in from the involved or affected parties.


How to use it

Follow the basic steps presented in this guideline in order to determine root causes and assess possible solutions. Depending on the complexity and impact of the problem, your problem solving team may be a formal committee or an ad-hoc gathering. Complex or critical efforts may require several meetings and detailed process investigation, whereas simple difficulties may be resolved in the matter of an hour or two using selected tools. Either approach is valid; the steps presented here are flexible and general enough to produce results without being unduly restrictive.

When putting together a team to solve a problem, whether it's just grabbing a few people for a quick meeting, or constructing a formal effort, make sure you enlist the right people to help. The best problem-solving teams will include people who understand the process(es) and politics involved, who are familiar with the working environment, and who have needed technical expertise. This may include managers, or team leads, but more often you will want to look to the people who are actually doing the work involved.

While the tools in this guideline are presented in a roughly chronological fashion, you do not necessarily have to use the tools in this particular order, or even to use all of them. This format serves mainly to provide a good, basic problem-solving strategy, and to illustrate the use of these tools with more practical examples. There are dozens of other possible tools available for problem-solving teams, as well-these are among the most useful, but they are far from the only possibilities. Pick and choose those which seem appropriate to your situation and the problem at hand, and which fit your style.


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