How to Overcome Your Worst Project Problems
By Harry Hall
Allow me to ask you a question. When you face life’s most difficult problems, do you run away from your problems? Successful individuals, groups, and organizations have a habit of running TOWARD their problems, not away from them.
Rather than seeing problems as unwelcome, problem solvers see challenges as opportunities to use their God-given talents and skills to make rich contributions to their organization.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston S. Churchill
What are your most significant project problems? Are your project teams making decisions and changing their minds repeatedly? Do you find yourself spending more time reworking things than creating new things? Are your stakeholders constantly changing requirements?
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 effective solutions through the following 7-step process:
- 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; we must reconcile our differences into a unified problem statement.
Define the causes of the problem. Consider a personal problem – the family expenses have been over budget for the last three months. What factors are 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.
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.
Identify solutions. Now we can identify solutions. Brainstorming is a great tool for identifying ideas.
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. Total the scores and determine the best solution with your team.
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. This step – step 6 – is about implementation. Good project management (i.e., planning, executing, monitoring) can greatly improve your chance for delivering new products and services on time and under budget.
Evaluate the results. None of our previous efforts matter if we don’t get the results that support the achievement of our project goals and organizational objectives. 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?
What’s your biggest problem?
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.
Harry Hall, PMP, PMI-RMP, is the Director of Enterprise Risk Management at the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, one of the largest domestic insurance companies in the state of Georgia. You can read more from Harry on his blog.