A 6 Steps Guide to Improve your Problem-Solving Skills as a Project Manager

Fernando Judzon
Posted by Fernando Judzon on Feb 17, 2021 12:42:28 PM

The ability to solve problems effectively is one of the most important skills a project manager can develop. From the power to find practical applications to those insights achieved through creative thinking to the analytical aptitude that allows for problem identification and classification of possible solutions, problem-solving is a kind of soft skill that is not acquired overnight but rather demands a quite complex set of abilities. Below, we have outlined a guide with six steps that will help you improve your problem-solving skills as a project manager. 


1) Identify the problem

The first step you’ll need to undertake is the correct identification of what exactly the problem is. The reason why this step is so important is that the way you define the problem will ultimately determine the methods you will use to solve it.

To do this, you can start by defining what is the standard by which you are measuring your current situation against. This way you can decide how much you have gone off the rails by now. Understanding at what stage the problem is will help you develop an accurate description of it.  

  1. 2) Determine the root causes

  2. Often a problem-solving process can fail because of poor diagnosis, which usually leads to targeting the symptoms instead of the real causes. This is why identifying the real origin is key to developing an efficient, non-superficial solution for a given problem.

  3. Causes for all different kinds of problems can essentially be reduced to three categories: material, human and organizational. Was the problem caused by a failure of equipment, a mistake committed by a person, or a defective process? An accurate diagnosis will allow you to tackle the real causes of the problem, and this means that the solution you will come up with will offer long-term benefits for your team and your organization, by avoiding the risk of running into the same problem in the future.

  5. 3) Develop a list of solutions

  1. Any problem can be approached from multiple perspectives. At this point, you shouldn’t stick to only one possible solution but try to see the problem from different angles instead. This way, you will be able to develop a list of different solutions.

    This step can benefit both from creative thinking and a more systematic approach. Creating a mind map may help you visually organize information, establish priorities and see the big picture. Also, you can organize a brainstorming meeting with your team where you can explore different creative approaches to the problem and its possible answers.

  3. 4) Choose the best possible solution

  4. When you and your team have listed a variety of different possible solutions, it’s time to pick among them the one that will be more effective. But to do this, you should first establish criteria to make this decision. Compare the solutions listed to each other by analyzing their efficiency, risk, cost, and long-term value, and then rank them according to these standards.

  5. Once you have picked the best possible solution for the problem, write it down thoroughly to clearly determine all the implications its implementation may have.

  7. 5) Implement the solution

  1. Since implementing the solution will imply a complex organizational effort, you will need to establish a process in which everyone’s responsibility is clearly outlined. Create an implementation plan and make sure every member of your team understands what they need to do to contribute to the success of the plan. Set up a timeline and create a system to track the evolution of the process. But be mindful that -as any experienced PM knows- things do not always work out as we have planned. So be sure to have a contingency plan in case something unexpected occurs.

  3. 6) Evaluate the results

Once the implementation of the plan is completed, it’s time to evaluate the results. If the solution has worked correctly, you should be able to draw lessons for the future, not only to create solutions for other potential problems but also to prevent some problems from arising in the first place.


Not everything can be anticipated

As much as a project manager can prepare for any risk and anticipate problems, there will always be an unexpected problem to be tackled. In fact, problem-solving is one of the key skills for a successful project manager. And although every problem you will face will be unique and require different actions, following the six steps outlined in this guide will help you become a more efficient problem solver.  


Topics: Project Management

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