Genius PMO: Make Every Project Manager A Genius (Part II)

By Chris Niccolls

In our last article we talked about developing genius solutions to problems, by using the TRIZ method. TRIZ is an acronym in Russian. In English, it translates into Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. This was developed by a Russian engineer, who examined tens of thousands of patents to determine if there were repeatable methods behind creativity. From this research, it was found that there are only 1,500 types of problems and only types of 40 solutions… or 40 questions… that you ask to find a solution. In our last blog we explored the first five of these questions. In this blog we’re going to look at the steps you need to follow to turn your questions into genius solutions.

Once you’ve asked all (or most) of the 40 questions, you should have at least two or three potential solutions. But which solution is best? Well, if the solution was very easy, it might already be in place. If the right solution for your problem isn’t obvious, it is because your first round solutions are not easy to implement or have negative consequences. In our last blog, for each of the Five questions we asked, we came up with a solution, but each had flaws. In a lot of brainstorming sessions the team tends to stop when they see these flaws. You might say that the best solution you brainstorm are just half a solution, and half a solution isn’t worth the effort to implement.

What if we looked at solutions a different way? What if we assumed that all 1st level solutions will be flawed? The real solution comes from identifying each flaw (the “contradiction,” in TRIZ terminology) and developing solutions for each flaw as if it was a new problem. If you started with three possible solutions, your 1st level solutions might get a rating of 40 to 50. You then repeat the process, neutralizing flaws (but developing new flaws), you now have solutions with a rating of 60 to 70. You repeat this until the solutions are very high quality. You then choose the best rated and easiest to implement solution as your first project.

That’s not too complicated, is it? Now let’s go through the six steps to developing a genius solution:

**Problem**: Start with the problem you are trying to solve. Get enough information to clearly articulate the problem. In some cases, the problem might be fuzzy (my department needs to cost less, our services are undervalued, clients are unhappy, etc.). You can use the same 40 question brainstorming process to clarify the problem.-
**Develop Solutions**: Use the 40 questions to develop several initial solutions, probably 2-3. Each of these solutions will have flaws, perhaps very big flaws. Remember, flaws are good! If you didn’t see any flaws, you probably missed something important. -
**Resolve Contradictions**: Every solution will l have at least one flaw. Some will have many. Flesh out these problems as best as you can. Each contradiction becomes another problem for you to solve. Of course, each new solution will have its own flaws. You need to repeat these steps until you drive out all significant flaws from your final solution. -
**Resources**: Your solutions will be constrained by available resources. Some solutions may be too costly, or take too much time to complete, or require a resource (space, software, specific skills) that you don’t have or cannot obtain in time. Using these constraints, you can narrow down the possible solutions. -
**Ideal Solution**: Having gone through these steps, you end up with a pretty good solution. And you’ve grappled with the flaws in the solution, so that you are not surprised by unexpected negative results. -
**Use a Fishbone**: Yes, I know that I said that there are only five steps, but let’s call this an implied step. If you look back at the previous five steps you have gone through a lot of the same processes you would have if you were building an Ishakawa (Fishbone) diagram. Think of every TRIZ project as a fishbone with 40 potential branches from the main “spine.” Your job is to get it down to the 2 or 3 most likely branches, and then dig into the details. Merging an Ishakawa (Fishbone) diagram with the TRIZ 40 questions process is a natural combination, and gives you a very good way to document and store the results of this five step process.

So, there we are. Our TRIZ hybrid gives you a method to consistently create genius solutions, even if the project manager is not a subject matter expert for this particular type of project. There are, however, just two other things to keep in mind when developing your solutions. The first is that it is highly likely that the solution you need already exists and just needs to be customized. Once you’ve fish boned your data, do a little research (both in your PMO document repository and out on the internet) to find details from similar solutions that others implemented. The second… and last… thing for you to consider is that the most recognized works of genius don’t compromise. You may need to go through ten iterations to get a good enough solution, but if you just keep digging down and identifying flaws in the previous solution, you can find what the right solution. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

Chris Niccolls is a Project Manager with process improvement expertise, who can drive change by driving communication. He has managed large, global operations; built Project Improvement Offices (PMOs) and been a hands-on project manager. He can identify why operations don’t work, and turn around poorly performing services. You can read more from Chris on his blog.