Project Management as Problem-Solver
By KJ Koch
One of my favorite quotations associated with projects and project management is a passage in author James P. Lewis’ book, “Fundamentals of Project Management, Developing Core Competencies to Help Outperform the Competition” in which Lewis refers to quality expert Dr. J. M. Juran’s definition of a project as “a problem scheduled for solution”. Juran’s definition refers to the temporary nature of a project, but it also touches upon what I believe to be one of the fundamental, underlying strengths of project management: its ability to solve problems. We know through popular culture that NASA’s project to save the crew of Apollo 13 began with the fateful words, “Houston, we have a problem”. Lewis reminds us that “a problem is a gap between where you are and where you want to be, with an obstacle that prevents easy movement to close the gap” (Lewis, 2002). Project management can be viewed as a methodology that utilizes knowledge, tools, and skills to help avoid the obstacle and a stakeholder as anyone with an interest in the opportunity gap being closed. Indeed, project management utilizes project risk management principles in order to help reduce problems, thereby ensuring a stakeholder’s investment in a project is fully maximized (Kanabar & Warburton, 2008).
Strong leadership is a necessary attribute that a successful Project Manager should possess, and one can demonstrate leadership by being an effective problem-solver, among other things. There are a number of problems, or obstacles, encapsulated within the microcosm of the project that must be effectively handled, whether they be logistical, cost-associated, or interpersonal. Certainly, every manager is faced with these constraints. In order to evaluate a given strength of project management, one must accept that it is a means to an end. Each stakeholder recognizes that a gap exists between where the organization is at present and where it wants to be (the problem). Not all problems are bad – was it Bob Maynard who said, “All problems are opportunities in disguise”? So, project management becomes a means to achieve the desired outcome. Like a journey from one destination to another, PM provides a clear and concise road map. It maps out the intended route, the conveyance that will be utilized to make the trip, and a metric for determining when the destination will be achieved and how successful the team was in achieving it. All of this folds back into my very generalized analysis of strength as success factors that help determine whether the gap is closed and the desired outcome is achieved.
KJ. Koch has worked for 15 years in Healthcare Operations and he’s currently working towards his Masters in Project Management.