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Problem Solving Techniques for Project Managers

Learn which problem solving techniques and strategies can help you effectively handle the challenges you face in your projects.

Problem Solving Techniques: A 5-Step Approach

Some problems are small and can be resolved quickly. Other problems are large and may require significant time and effort to solve. These larger problems are often tackled by turning them into formal projects.

"A project is a problem scheduled for solution."

- Joseph M. Juran

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

Problem Solving is one of the Tools & Techniques used for Managing Quality and Controlling Resources.

Modules 8 and 9 of the PM PrepCast cover Project Quality Management and Project Resource Management.

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Whether the problem you are focusing on is small or large, using a systematic approach for solving it will help you be a more effective project manager.

This approach defines five problem solving steps you can use for most problems...

Define the Problem

Determine the causes, generate ideas, select the best solution, take action.

The most important of the problem solving steps is to define the problem correctly. The way you define the problem will determine how you attempt to solve it.

For example, if you receive a complaint about one of your project team members from a client, the solutions you come up with will be different based on the way you define the problem.

If you define the problem as poor performance by the team member you will develop different solutions than if you define the problem as poor expectation setting with the client.

Fishbone Diagram

Once you have defined the problem, you are ready to dig deeper and start to determine what is causing it.  You can use a fishbone diagram to help you perform a cause and effect analysis.

If you consider the problem as a gap between where you are now and where you want to be, the causes of the problem are the obstacles that are preventing you from closing that gap immediately.

This level of analysis is important to make sure your solutions address the actual causes of the problem instead of the symptoms of the problem. If your solution fixes a symptom instead of an actual cause, the problem is likely to reoccur since it was never truly solved.

Once the hard work of defining the problem and determining its causes has been completed, it's time to get creative and develop possible solutions to the problem.

Two great problem solving methods you can use for coming up with solutions are brainstorming and mind mapping .

After you come up with several ideas that can solve the problem, one problem solving technique you can use to decide which one is the best solution to your problem is a simple trade-off analysis .

To perform the trade-off analysis, define the critical criteria for the problem that you can use to evaluate how each solution compares to each other. The evaluation can be done using a simple matrix. The highest ranking solution will be your best solution for this problem.

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

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Once you've determined which solution you will implement, it's time to take action. If the solution involves several actions or requires action from others, it is a good idea to create an action plan and treat it as a mini-project.

Using this simple five-step approach can increase the effectiveness of your problem solving skills .

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Related Articles About Problem Solving Techniques

Fishbone Diagram: Cause and Effect Analysis Using Ishikawa Diagrams

A fishbone diagram can help you perform a cause and effect analysis for a problem. Step-by-step instructions on how to create this type of diagram. Also known as Ishikara or Cause and Effect diagrams.

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How to assess problem-solving skills for project managers

Being able to accurately assess a team member’s mastery of problem solving when managing a project is something of a hot topic. Every organization wants to future proof its activities, and problem-solving is typically seen as a magic bullet in this regard.

But what do we actually mean by problem solving skills, and how can these skills be accurately assessed?

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether or not problem solving is a soft skill , and this is at the heart of where the difficulty in assessing them often lies. Usually, problem solving involves a variety of other soft skill sets, such as decision-making, analysis, leadership skills, communication and creativity . So, yes, alongside being a great personal strength, for the most part it is considered to be a soft skill rather than something that’s learned through education or training . That said, the particular methods and processes that project managers in particular use to problem solve – those would be considered a hard skill.

For project managers and project teams , problem solving is their bread and butter and it relies on a huge variety of different techniques and skills that successful problem solvers will all be proficient in, so it’s no wonder that organizations are keen to accurately assess these skills so they can work together even more efficiently .

Why is problem-solving an essential skill?

These skills are a must-have for managers and pretty much all senior roles. In fact, they could be seen as an asset in any team. It wouldn’t be entirely unrealistic to say that good problem solvers are also often the people who most frequently come up with better ways to do things, fresh ideas and their communication skills are often top notch. And as far as employability skills are concerned , problem solvers are right there at the top.

Solving the proficiency question

Picture the scene: you’ve got a great team, but you want to be even better and you may even bring someone new onboard. On paper, everyone has great problem-solving skills, but you want to deep dive a little more and identify ways to work even more efficiently as a team.

This is an important thing to know (especially if you want to bring new people onboard), because according to recent research , up to 85% of resumes contain misleading statements and interviews alone are not always great predictors of role suitability and performance . In an ideal world, you’d start assessing these skills at the point of the recruitment process. Can they be measured by figures, or is it more complex than that?

The traditional approach would be to assess for problem solving skills in one of two ways.  Firstly, you could ask for examples of when the candidate previously solved a problem successfully. There’s quite a lot of merit in this approach: you’d get a feel for how comfortable the candidate is with talking about problem solving , whether something immediately came to mind, and whether or not they had the knowledge to back up what they’d written on their resume.

Another way to test their problem-solving mettle would be to provide a hypothetical scenario and ask for their take on it . Much like the previous approach, this would allow you to assess their response and get a feel for their way of working.

Depending on the organization you work for and the role you undertake, you could be looking for very different things than say, your friend who works in a different industry. But overall, checking out someone’s problem solving skills can be a great way to find out how a person uses creativity, logic, and analytical skills to get to the bottom of really complex issues and situations.

In the case of teams already in situ, you could use these same techniques in a cross-functional workshop environment .

Why do we care so much about problem solving?

Because quite simply, it’s about overcoming obstacles . In fact, this is often what is described as the ‘ultimate goal’ of problem solving from a project management approach.  And while what’s best for one situation may not be for another, it's hard to refute the fact that finding the best solution to resolve an issue is an alluring, if not downright attractive proposition. Problem solving involves a complex way of thinking, that covers discovery, analysis and resolution .

Of course, not everybody is good at problem solving. It’s not an innate skill and not everybody has the skillset required to carve a career out of finding solutions to other people’s problems, which is why it’s so important to use an objective way of gathering information about your workforce and their skill sets. The data you gather can and should be used to help you make informed decisions about who does what within your team and any continuous improvement measures that may be necessary.

Is there a winning strategy for assessing problem solving skills?

The answer is yes and no! It’s often possible to quantify things such as a person’s success ratio when it comes to reaching solutions, or to create a numerical value-based approach to the skills required for effective problem solving. There are also a number of frameworks and methods that can help a team assess and improve their problem solving skills.

Personality tests are often used in this scenario. These kinds of tests can help you spot patterns and characteristics that will likely be relevant to your role as well as putting the spotlight on how candidates will react in certain situations. 

Other employers prefer to use cognitive ability tests . These are all about aptitude and can be used to assess skills in the areas of verbal reasoning, critical thinking and other abilities which all feed into problem solving. These kinds of tests will provide a score which you can use for comparison and rating purposes.

When using these tests and assessing problem solving skills, it’s helpful to keep how you work front of mind as well. Afterall, if you have a hybrid or even a remote working model in place, this may be a better fit for some personality types or those with a more specific skill set. 

A focus on figures

Data analytics and problem-solving often go hand in hand. According to the abovementioned HRForecast* article, there are three key reasons why data analytics is important when it comes to problem solving, and how it can be used to measure improvements across your organization.

  • Firstly, because it can help uncover hidden details , including trends. 
  • Secondly, you’re more likely to be able to create automated models if you have a wealth of data, and this data can be used to help predict relevant solutions. 
  • Thirdly, with relevant data analysis, you can efficiently store it and use later for solving other problems in more or less similar contexts. 

A complex framework

By and large though, a high performing team member who has strong patience, communication and cognitive skills is more likely to approach problem solving in a way that will lead to a successful outcome than not. However, there are a great many factors that can affect a person’s proficiency in problem solving, which makes it a complex beast to analyse. To be truly proficient in problem solving you need to really understand the problem that you’re dealing with . Without this, you’re extremely unlikely to be able to find a solution to your problem – no matter how good your skills are!

To understand the problem you’re facing, it’s important to see the bigger picture that surrounds it , the problems that might hold things up, as well as any key stakeholders, and whatever you identify as the root causes of the problem.

As a manager, you’ll want to look for team members who exhibit skills which more readily lend themselves to problem solving. While personality will play a part in this, communication, group working skills and cognitive skills should all be on your radar as the attributes that can lead to good problem solving.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that resources are an often-forgotten dependency when it comes to problem solving. Afterall, you can have the capabilities to solve problems, but if you don’t have the right resources to hand, you could find the process of solving your problem is seriously slowed down.

Think outside your organization

Another key piece of the problem-solving puzzle relates to external factors . What do we mean by external factors ? Well, things like competitors, economic circumstances and wider geo-political or environmental concerns. These things may not directly impact the problem you’re trying to solve, but they will have a knock-on effect to the overarching process, which means they shouldn’t be discounted.

What can we be sure about when it comes to assessing problem solving skills?

Effective problem-solving really does require a skill set that is both broad and allows teams and organizations to move forward to achieve their strategic and operational aims. 

It may not be black and white but experienced problem solvers understand the need to drill down into a problem so that they can then approach it in ‘chunks’ and increase the likelihood of coming up with a workable solution .

We’ve long been fascinated with the idea of problem solving, and in particular, solving the question of how to assess problem solving skills. We could be forgiven for thinking that it should be straightforward, but the reality is that problem solving is a much more complex process.

But in what is perhaps one of the most startling examples of why problem-solving skills are so important, the recent pandemic has made organizations of all shapes and sizes problem-solve on an almost unprecedented scale . Being able to quickly change ways of working , learn to use new pieces of tech and generally find work arounds for systems and processes that had been unchanged for years has been a critical element in the success or failure of organizations around the world.  

Now that a hybrid approach is an accepted part of the ‘new normal’, we’ve watched with interest the emerging design thinking methods and problem-solving strategies in companies. Over the last few years, they have become well and truly embedded in the everyday routines of many organizations, who once swore that traditional meetings and in-person discussions were the only way to solve a problem.

We like to think of problem-solving skills as a kind of superpower . Not dissimilar to thinking skills, they allow people to develop strategies that will inform their questions and ultimately lead to answers.

Your next steps

If you’re thinking about assessing problem solving skills within your team, or are looking for ways to assess those skills in a recruitment setting , it’s important to have a plan. Think about the end of goal of your assessment and then choose an approach that will support that.

Make sure you have the tools in place to allow your teams to problem solve to the absolute best of their ability. This may mean using new ways of holding workshops or switching to a design thinking approach and collaborating across a wider remote team.  Or it could be as simple as finding a way for every contributor to feel involved from wherever they are in the world.

Whatever you do, remember that in an age where the workplace is constantly evolving and economic turbulence looks set for some time, having a workforce that is both able and armed with the tools and culture to let them problem solve to a high level can truly be the difference between sinking or swimming.

Klaxoon

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What Is Problem Solving in Project Management? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

  • Written by Contributing Writer
  • Updated on August 4, 2023

What Is Problem Solving

In project management , problem-solving is a crucial and necessary skill. Whether you have failed to consider every possible factor impacting a project, a problem arises through no fault of your own, or conditions change that create issues, problems must be addressed promptly to keep projects on track.

In this article, we will define problem-solving and how it impacts projects, provide real-world examples of problem-solving, and give you a structured, step-by-step process to solve problems. We’ll also show you how earning a project management certification can help you gain practical experience in problem-solving methods.

What Is Problem-Solving?

Problem-solving is a process to identify roadblocks or defects that arise during a project. A structured system to define problems, identify root causes, brainstorm and test solutions, and monitor results can affect change to improve performance and overcome challenges.

Effective problem-solving enables teams to deal with uncertainties or gaps in planning to minimize the impact on outcomes.

The Importance of Problem-Solving in Project Management

During a project and operation, problems can arise at any time. You may find that your planning before launching a product, for example, did not consider all the factors that impact results. You may find that you were too optimistic about project timelines, performance, or workforce. Or, as many of us discovered over the past few years, supply chain disruption may make even the best project plans obsolete.

Regardless, your job is identifying, solving, and overcoming these problems. Project managers must be skilled in leading team members through a structured approach to resolving problems.

Proactive problem-solving requires careful consideration of all the variables in a project, including preparation to:

  • Achieve project objectives
  • Address obstacles before they arise
  • Manage project risks and contingency plans
  • Manage communication and collaboration
  • Provide a framework for time and cost management
  • Provide a pathway for continuous improvement

Also Read: 10 Tips on How to Increase Productivity in the Workplace

Problem-Solving Steps in Project Management

While the process you choose to solve problems may vary, here is a seven-step framework many project managers use. This problem-solving method combines primary and secondary problem-solving steps.

#1. Define the Problem

  • Gather data and information from key stakeholders, team members, and project documentation. Include any relevant reporting or data analysis
  • Itemized key details, such as a description of the problem, timelines, outcomes, and impact
  • Frame the issue as a problem statement

A good example of a problem statement might be: An unexpected demand spike has exceeded our current production capacity. How can we still meet customer deadlines for delivery?

#2. Analyze Root Causes

  • Break down issues into smaller components to diagnose bottlenecks or problems
  • Identify the organizational, mechanical, environmental, or operational factors that contribute
  • Distinguish between one-time issues vs. systematic, ongoing areas that need improvement

When analyzing root causes, it’s common to find multiple factors contributing to a problem. As such, it is essential to prioritize issues that have the most significant impact on outcomes.

#3. Brainstorm Potential Solutions

  • Holding specific sessions focused on brainstorming ideas to resolve root causes
  • Build on ideas or suggest combinations or iterations
  • Categorize solutions by types, such as process or input changes, adding additional resources, outsourcing, etc.)

In brainstorming, you should refrain from immediately analyzing suggestions to keep ideas coming.

#4. Evaluate Potential Solutions

  • Reframe the problem and concern for team members, providing a framework for evaluation such as cost, timing, and feasibility
  • With ideas in hand, it is time to evaluate potential solutions. Project managers often employ strategies such as weighted scoring models to rank ideas.
  • Consider the pros and cons in relation to project objectives

As you narrow the list, getting additional insight from subject matter experts to evaluate real-world viability is helpful. For example, if you are proposing a process change in operating a machine, get feedback from skilled operators before implementing changes.

#5. Decide on a Plan of Action

  • Make a decision on which course of action you want to pursue and make sure the solution aligns with your organizational goals
  • Create an action plan to implement the changes, including key milestones
  • Assign project ownership, deadlines, resources, and budgets

Defining what outcomes you need to achieve to declare success is also essential. Are you looking for incremental change or significant improvements, and what timeline are you establishing for measurement?

#6. Implement the Action Plan

  • Communicate the plan with key stakeholders
  • Provide any training associated with the changes
  • Allocate resources necessary for implementation

As part of the action plan, you will also want to detail the measures and monitoring you will put in place to assess process outcomes.

#7. Monitor and Track Results

  • Track solution performance against the action plan and key milestones
  • Solicit feedback from the project team on problem-solving effectiveness
  • Ensure the solution resolves the root cause, creating the desired results without negatively impacting other areas of the operation

You should refine results or start the process over again to increase performance. For example, you may address the root cause but find a need for secondary problem-solving in project management, focusing on other factors.

These problem-solving steps are used repeatedly in lean management and Six Sigma strategies for continuous improvement.

Also Read: 5 Project Management Steps You Need to Know

How Project Management Tools Can Help You in Problem-Solving

Project management software can guide teams through problem-solving, acting as a central repository to provide visibility into the stages of a project.

The best project management software will include the following:

  • Issue tracking to capture problems as they arise
  • Chat and real-time collaboration for discussion and brainstorming
  • Templates for analysis, such as fishbone diagrams
  • Action plans, assigning tasks, ownership, and accountability
  • Dashboards for updates to monitor solutions
  • Reporting on open issues, mitigation, and resolution

Examples of Problem-Solving

Here are some examples of the problem-solving process demonstrating how team members can work through the process to achieve results.

Sign-ups for a New Software Solution Were Well Below First-Month Targets

After analyzing the data, a project team identifies the root cause as inefficient onboarding and account configurations. They then brainstorm solutions. Ideas include re-architecting the software, simplifying onboarding steps, improving the initial training and onboarding process, or applying additional resources to guide customers through the configuration process.

After weighing alternatives, the company invests in streamlining onboarding and developing software to automate configuration.

A Project Was at Risk of Missing a Hard Deadline Due to Supplier Delays

In this case, you already know the root cause: Your supplier cannot deliver the necessary components to complete the project on time. Brainstorming solutions include finding alternative sources for components, considering project redesigns to use different (available) components, negotiating price reductions with customers due to late delivery, or adjusting the scope to complete projects without this component.

After evaluating potential solutions, the project manager might negotiate rush delivery with the original vendor. While this might be more expensive, it enables the business to meet customer deadlines. At the same time, project schedules might be adjusted to account for later-than-expected part delivery.

A Construction Project Is Falling Behind Due to Inclement Weather

Despite months of planning, a major construction project has fallen behind schedule due to bad weather, preventing concrete and masonry work. The problem-solving team brainstorms the problem and evaluates solutions, such as constructing temporary protection from the elements, heating concrete to accelerate curing, and bringing on additional crews once the weather clears.

The project team might decide to focus on tasks not impacted by weather earlier in the process than expected to postpone exterior work until the weather clears.

Also Read: Understanding KPIs in Project Management

Improve Your Problem-Solving and Project Management Skills

This project management course delivered by Simpliearn, in collaboration wiht the University of Massachusetts, can boost your career journey as a project manager. This 24-week online bootcamp aligns with Project Management Institute (PMI) practices, the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma.

This program teaches skills such as:

  • Agile management
  • Customer experience design
  • Design thinking
  • Digital transformation
  • Lean Six Sigma Green Belt

You might also like to read:

5 Essential Project Management Steps You Need to Know

Project Management Frameworks and Methodologies Explained

13 Key Project Management Principles and How to Use Them

Project Management Phases: A Full Breakdown

How To Develop a Great Project Management Plan in 2023

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Master the decision-making process: A successful team's comprehensive guide

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Think of the most successful teams you’ve worked with — what did they have in common? It’s likely they worked well together under a shared vision and team understanding. And they probably made good decisions, seemingly without effort. Effective decision-making is critical when it comes to team and project success. But it requires preparation, confidence, and the right tools.

Here at Atlassian, we use Confluence as a knowledge management tool to support our decision-making processes, from brainstorming to final decision documentation.

The importance of effective decision-making

From projects to planning, making effective decisions takes practice, and sets the foundation for your success. While small, quick decisions may allow some flexibility, big-impact decisions are harder to reverse — so being able to successfully weigh options, risks, and opportunities is a muscle that needs to be flexed and refined.

Regardless of which techniques you choose and how you represent your leadership style, it’s also important to gain buy-in from your whole team and make sure you’ve set up clear processes that you can replicate efficiently in the future.

The four types of decision-making

When it comes to knowing where to begin in your decision-making process, it’s helpful to understand the four types of decision-making and lean into the one that feels most natural and fits the situation at hand. The four types include:

  • Autocratic : the leader takes control and makes the decisions. Little or no discussion is involved in the decision-making process.
  • Consensus : the leader remains hands-off and lets the team come to a group consensus where everyone must agree. The group decides unanimously based on their own input and expertise.
  • Democratic : the leader steps back from the decision and lets the group vote on a decision where the majority leads. Not everyone will agree, but group members agree to comply with the decision.
  • Consultative : the leader takes advice and opinions from the group and uses that to make a final decision. The leader may take advice or suggestions from the group.

Choosing your decision-making process can be obvious, like an autocratic decision to determine the marketing budget for the year. But when it comes to decisions that make an impact on either the day-to-day or long-term work of our team, you’ll want more input from them. 

Planning an event for a client with a tight deadline and budget, for example, may require some insight from your group that you may not have. You’ll want to make a consensus or consultative approach there so the group expertise is implemented into the final decision and everyone feels comfortable with the work they have to do to get there. 

Maybe your team wants to settle on a specific day of each week to be a designated “meeting-free” day. Your team can debate and collaborate to come to a democratic decision together and comply with it moving forward.

Decision-making techniques, styles, and approaches

Knowing your decision-making style doesn’t preclude you from making informed decisions. While we all have a level of personal and professional intuition to trust, effective decision-making is backed up by analysis, research, and fact. A PwC survey of senior executives found that data-driven organizations are three times more likely to see improvements in decision-making than those who rely less on data.

There are countless decision-making models that drive informed choices, and finding the right technique comes down to your team makeup and your leadership style . Many teams prefer a SWOT analysis , which outlines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the decision to accurately gauge benefits and risks. 

SWOT analysis template screenshot

Use Atlassian’s SWOT analysis template in Confluence 

Steps you should take in the decision-making process

The first step you need to take when making a decision is identifying the problem your team needs to solve. Create a Confluence page where you can visualize the problem and who is responsible for overcoming it. Having the problem clearly spelled out will help ensure everyone understands what decision they need to make and why. What is the impact of the problem? What are your goals that will confirm your solution is a success?

Then, break down the issue. Gather information and data that defines what has caused the problem or is preventing a solution. This can include market research, company data, personal insights, and trending news. Build a table that outlines the risks and benefits of potential solutions to prepare your team ahead of time.

Encourage your team to review that outline and provide feedback early on, so they can identify any missing gaps or obstacles before you flesh out the problem. They may also be able to contribute to your research and provide further insights you didn’t consider.

Evaluate your team’s options and use a framework to make a decision. You may need a group effort or further evaluation, which is where your framework comes into play. You may find that the original framework you proposed — like a SWOT analysis – isn’t thorough enough for the solution you’ll need. Encourage your team to propose the right framework that will help with transparency in the decision and will also make their workload clear.

Once you’ve made the decision, work through project management tools like Trello or Jira Work Management to implement it, test it, and monitor it. Continue to document your progress along the way in Confluence so you can refer to it in the future to replicate or iterate your performance.

Popular decision-making frameworks

DACI : Use this framework to work with a team to come to group decisions together, identifying roles within the process including Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed individuals. Use data and background knowledge to help support the decision.

Problem framing : Work with your team to identify problem statements that outline one concise solution to the problem in a digestible and collaborative manner. This helps focus on understanding and defining the problem while you align your team on approach. Then you can assemble a select group of stakeholders to settle on the right decision.

Trade-offs : Sometimes making the right decision means making compromises. What will you trade-off for the benefit of the right decision? Work with your team to identify constraints, blockers, and priorities before you kick off the project so you come prepared with decisions before the obstacles happen.

OKRs : Make your decisions with an objective in mind. OKRs are designed for continuous growth and can function as a “north star” that keeps you on course as you make individual decisions during a project.

Decision-making in Confluence

Regardless of which model you pick, your team can work together to both build and document your decision-making framework within Confluence. We have templates for DACI , SWOT analysis , a design decision template , a voting table , and more

DACI screenshot

Within your template, you can assign responsibilities like an owner, contributors, and approver, and tag them directly within the page. Team members can add comments, share links, and distribute files within the table of options, helping guide your team to valuable resources and making your decisions more informed. Pin this Confluence page to Atlas as a guiding document to inform anyone who takes part in the initiative moving forward.

Then, carry this process documentation forward as a record to share with team members and stakeholders so they can understand the why behind your decisions and support you in the how . The more detailed your documentation, the easier it will be to replicate this successful process in the future.

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assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

Problem Solving And Decision Making: 10 Hacks That Managers Love

Understanding problem solving & decision making, why are problem solving and decision making skills essential in the workplace, five techniques for effective problem solving, five techniques for effective decision making, frequently asked questions.

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Steps in problem solving and decision making

  • Improved efficiency and productivity: Employees with strong problem solving and decision making skills are better equipped to identify and solve issues that may arise in their work. This leads to improved efficiency and productivity as they can complete their work more timely and effectively.
  • Improved customer satisfaction: Problem solving and decision making skills also help employees address any concerns or issues customers may have. This leads to enhanced customer satisfaction as customers feel their needs are being addressed and their problems are resolved.
  • Effective teamwork: When working in teams, problem solving and decision making skills are essential for effective collaboration . Groups that can effectively identify and solve problems together are more likely to successfully achieve their goals.
  • Innovation: Effective problem-solving and decision-making skills are also crucial for driving innovation in the workplace. Employees who think creatively and develop new solutions to problems are more likely to develop innovative ideas to move the business forward.
  • Risk management: Problem solving and decision making skills are also crucial for managing risk in the workplace. By identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them, employees can help minimize the negative impact of risks on the business.

Problem solving techniques

  • Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a technique for generating creative ideas and solutions to problems. In a brainstorming session, a group of people share their thoughts and build on each other’s suggestions. The goal is to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time. For example, a team of engineers could use brainstorming to develop new ideas for improving the efficiency of a manufacturing process.
  • Root Cause Analysis: Root cause analysis is a technique for identifying the underlying cause of a problem. It involves asking “why” questions to uncover the root cause of the problem. Once the root cause is identified, steps can be taken to address it. For example, a hospital could use root cause analysis to investigate why patient falls occur and identify the root cause, such as inadequate staffing or poor lighting.
  • SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis is a technique for evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or situation. It involves assessing internal and external factors that could impact the problem and identifying ways to leverage strengths and opportunities while minimizing weaknesses and threats. For example, a small business could use SWOT analysis to evaluate its market position and identify opportunities to expand its product line or improve its marketing.
  • Pareto Analysis: Pareto analysis is a technique for identifying the most critical problems to address. It involves ranking problems by impact and frequency and first focusing on the most significant issues. For example, a software development team could use Pareto analysis to prioritize bugs and issues to fix based on their impact on the user experience.
  • Decision Matrix Analysis: Decision matrix analysis evaluates alternatives and selects the best course of action. It involves creating a matrix to compare options based on criteria and weighting factors and selecting the option with the highest score. For example, a manager could use decision matrix analysis to evaluate different software vendors based on criteria such as price, features, and support and select the vendor with the best overall score.

Decision making techniques

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Cost-benefit analysis is a technique for evaluating the costs and benefits of different options. It involves comparing each option’s expected costs and benefits and selecting the one with the highest net benefit. For example, a company could use cost-benefit analysis to evaluate a new product line’s potential return on investment.
  • Decision Trees: Decision trees are a visual representation of the decision-making process. They involve mapping out different options and their potential outcomes and probabilities. This helps to identify the best course of action based on the likelihood of different outcomes. For example, a farmer could use a decision tree to choose crops to plant based on the expected weather patterns.
  • SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis can also be used for decision making. By identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of different options, a decision maker can evaluate each option’s potential risks and benefits. For example, a business owner could use SWOT analysis to assess the potential risks and benefits of expanding into a new market.
  • Pros and Cons Analysis: Pros and cons analysis lists the advantages and disadvantages of different options. It involves weighing the pros and cons of each option to determine the best course of action. For example, an individual could use a pros and cons analysis to decide whether to take a job offer.
  • Six Thinking Hats: The six thinking hats technique is a way to think about a problem from different perspectives. It involves using six different “hats” to consider various aspects of the decision. The hats include white (facts and figures), red (emotions and feelings), black (risks and drawbacks), yellow (benefits and opportunities), green (creativity and new ideas), and blue (overview and control). For example, a team could use the six thinking hats technique to evaluate different options for a marketing campaign.

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

Aastha Bensla

Aastha, a passionate industrial psychologist, writer, and counselor, brings her unique expertise to Risely. With specialized knowledge in industrial psychology, Aastha offers a fresh perspective on personal and professional development. Her broad experience as an industrial psychologist enables her to accurately understand and solve problems for managers and leaders with an empathetic approach.

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5 Key Decision-Making Techniques for Managers

Business manager engaging in decision-making with his team

  • 31 Mar 2020

Decision-making is an essential business skill that drives organizational performance. A survey of more than 750 companies by management consulting firm Bain found a 95 percent correlation between decision-making effectiveness and financial results. The data also showed companies that excel at making and executing strategic decisions generate returns nearly six percent higher than those of their competitors.

At many organizations, it’s up to managers to make the key decisions that influence business strategy. Research by consulting firm McKinsey , however, shows that 61 percent of them believe at least half the time they spend doing so is ineffective.

If you want to avoid falling into this demographic, here are five decision-making techniques you can employ to improve your management skills and help your organization succeed.

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Decision-Making Techniques for Managers

1. take a process-oriented approach.

One of your primary responsibilities as a manager is to get things done with and through others, which involves leveraging organizational processes to accomplish goals and produce results. According to Harvard Business School Professor Len Schlesinger, who’s featured in the online course Management Essentials , decision-making is one of the processes you can use to your advantage.

“The majority of people think about making decisions as an event,” Schlesinger says. “It’s very rare to find a single point in time where a ‘decision of significance’ is made and things go forward from there. What we’re really talking about is a process. The role of the manager in overseeing that process is straightforward, yet, at the same time, extraordinarily complex.”

When establishing your decision-making process , first frame the issue at hand to ensure you ask the right questions and everyone agrees on what needs to be decided. From there, build your team and manage group dynamics to analyze the problem and craft a viable solution. By following a structured, multi-step process, you can make informed decisions and achieve the desired outcome.

2. Involve Your Team in the Process

Decision-making doesn’t have to be done in a vacuum. To avoid relying on managerial decisions alone, involve your team in the process to bring multiple viewpoints into the conversation and stimulate creative problem-solving .

Research in the journal Royal Society Open Science shows team decision-making is highly effective because it pools individuals’ collective knowledge and experience, leading to more innovative solutions and helping to surface and overcome hidden biases among groups.

Considering others’ perspectives on how to approach and surmount a specific challenge is an ideal alternative because it helps you become more aware of your implicit biases and manage your team with greater emotional intelligence .

Related: Emotional Intelligence Skills: What They Are & How to Develop Them

3. Foster a Collaborative Mindset

Fostering the right mindset early in the decision-making process is critical to ensuring your team works collaboratively—not contentiously.

When facing a decision, there are two key mindsets to consider:

Decision-Making Mindsets: Advocacy vs. Inquiry

  • Advocacy: A mindset that regards decision-making as a contest. In a group with an advocacy mindset, individuals try to persuade others, defend their positions, and downplay their weaknesses.
  • Inquiry: A mindset that navigates decision-making with collaborative problem-solving. An inquiry mindset centers on individuals testing and evaluating assumptions by presenting balanced arguments, considering alternatives, and being open to constructive criticism.

“On the surface, advocacy and inquiry approaches look deceptively similar,” HBS Professor David Garvin says in Management Essentials . “Both involve individuals engaged in debates, drawing on data, developing alternatives, and deciding on future directions. But, despite these similarities, inquiry and advocacy produce very different results.”

A study by software company Cloverpop found that decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60 percent better results. Strive to instill your team members with an inquiry mindset so they’re empowered to think critically and feel their perspectives are welcomed and valued rather than discouraged and dismissed.

4. Create and Uphold Psychological Safety

For your team members to feel comfortable sharing their diverse perspectives and working collaboratively, it’s crucial to create and maintain a psychologically safe environment. According to research by technology company Google , psychological safety is the most important dynamic found among high-performing teams.

“Psychological safety is essential—first and foremost—for getting the information and perspectives out,” HBS Professor Amy Edmondson says in Management Essentials . “It’s helpful to be able to talk about what we know and think in an effective and thoughtful way before coming to a final conclusion.”

To help your team feel psychologically safe, be respectful and give fair consideration when listening to everyone’s opinions. When voicing your own point of view, be open and transparent, and adapt your communication style to meet the group’s needs. By actively listening and being attuned to your colleagues’ emotions and attitudes, you can forge a stronger bond of trust, make them feel more engaged and foster an environment that allows for more effective decisions.

Related: 5 Tips for Managing Change in the Workplace

5. Reiterate the Goals and Purpose of the Decision

Throughout the decision-making process, it’s vital to avoid common management pitfalls and lose sight of the goals and purpose of the decision on the table.

The goals you’re working toward need to be clearly articulated at the outset of the decision-making process—and constantly reiterated throughout—to ensure they’re ultimately achieved.

“It’s easy, as you get into these conversations, to get so immersed in one substantive part of the equation that you lose track of what the actual purpose is,” Schlesinger says.

Revisiting purpose is especially important when making decisions related to complex initiatives—such as organizational change —to ensure your team feels motivated and aligned and understands how their contributions tie into larger objectives.

Why Are Decision-Making Skills Important?

Effective decision-making can immensely impact organizational performance. By developing your decision-making skills, you can exercise sound judgment and guide your team through the appropriate frameworks and processes—resulting in more data-driven decisions .

You can also anticipate and navigate organizational challenges while analyzing the outcomes of previous efforts, which can have lasting effects on your firm’s success.

Management Essentials | Get the job done | Learn More

Improve Your Decision-Making Skills

Enhancing your decision-making capabilities can be an integral part of your journey to becoming a better manager , reaching your business goals, and advancing your career. In addition to real-world experience, furthering your education by taking a management training course can equip you with a wide range of skills and knowledge that enable both your team and organization to thrive.

Do you want to design, direct, and shape organizational processes to your advantage? Explore Management Essentials , one of our online leadership and management courses , and discover how you can influence the context and environment in which decisions get made.

This post was updated on December 21, 2022. It was originally published on March 31, 2020.

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

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Twproject: project management software,resource management, time tracking, planning, Gantt, kanban

Twproject: project management software,resource management, time tracking, planning, Gantt, kanban

Twproject is a full featured web based project management software that gives you full visibility and control over your projects.Twproject is also a time tracking software, a bug tracking software, a project planning software.

Decision making and its impact on problem solving

decision making process

Decision making and its impact in problem solving is simply undeniable and is an intrinsic part of effective project management .

The importance of decision making in problem solving

The 6 stages of the decision-making process, the decision making process: defining and identifying the problem clearly, the decision making process: collecting information, the decision making process: brainstorming possible solutions, the decision making process: narrowing down options, the decision making process: implementing the solution adopted, the decision making process: assessing results.

It is key for a project manager to make sound decisions and fix problems appropriately as it affects the overall organizational functioning.

Problem solving and decision making are typically intertwined; you cannot solve a problem without making a decision.

Also in project management, problems are an everyday event, or nearly so.

It would be awesome to just pretend nothing happened and make them magically disappear, but if you don’t seek solutions, the problems will persevere.

In the workplace, if the problem-solving habit is not established in the company culture, the organization will eventually fall apart.

Therefore, the project manager must have the training and the proper decision-making process to solve business problems independently and confidently.

This way, the decision-making process will be an asset to the organization.

Even though some people are more in tune with proper decision making , this skill can still be learned and mastered by any person.

Below are the 6 steps of the problem-solving decision-making process.

This might be the most overlooked piece of the decision-making process because it sounds so obvious, yet it is critical that all stakeholders are properly aligned on the issue at hand.

You might be shocked to discover how much information can be lost, especially in a larger corporate organization.

If problems are complex, it can be beneficial to break them down into smaller pieces as early as project planning .

It’s important to stay clear of emotion and judgmental bias as you define the problem to make it as objective as possible.

Here is a list of questions that can help you define and identify a problem:

  • What is happening precisely?
  • Where is this happening?
  • How is this happening?
  • How often is this happening?
  • With whom is this happening?
  • Why is this happening?

Most problems cannot be solved without a fair share of data or information.

During this decision-making stage , what is important is to collect relevant information.

Usually, having too much data hinders the process and results in a waste of time. Likewise, there may be instances when data collection generates a new perspective or problem.

In this scenario, it may be worth going back to Step 1 and revisiting the problem at hand.

decision making

This is the time to be creative.

During this phase, the project manager, with the help of the project team and/or stakeholders, should consider any type of idea that could become a solution.

Brainstorming works best in an atmosphere free of bias because you never know which idea will plant the seed and stimulate the growth of the correct decision.

Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, the more complex the issue the more ideas are needed, even those that may initially seem wild.

From the lengthy list of potential ideas, now it’s time to narrow it down.

The ways in which you get to choose the main ideas may vary, but may include:

  • Pros and cons list: identify the benefits and drawbacks of each option
  • SWOT analysis: breakdown of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each option
  • Scenario analysis: projection of potential likely scenarios that will result from each option

Different problems will require different levels of understanding of each potential option.

This assessment process helps narrow down the options and aid in choosing the most effective and feasible solution.

It is a good idea to include key stakeholders in this process to get an unbiased and balanced view.

Here are some questions that can be helpful at this stage:

  • What will the situation be like when the problem will be fixed?
  • What steps should be taken to implement the best solution to the problem?
  • What resources will be needed in terms of people, budget, and facilities?
  • How long will it take to implement the solution?
  • Who will be the main responsible for ensuring the plan gets executed?

This is the action phase, where the chosen solution gets actually executed on the problem .

This requires a decent plan and good execution, and constant monitoring of the steps is necessary.

However, in this step, two things must be kept in mind:

  • First, choose the option that has the company’s interest at heart. There will be times when some employees will be negatively impacted by a decision, but in most cases the best solution for the organization as a whole is always taken.
  • Secondly, keep in mind that not all stakeholders may be happy with the solution implemented. Only in rare cases will all of the single members of an entire company be fully satisfied with a major decision, and that is the case in most cases. Often, however, employees who are initially dissatisfied will eventually see that the decision was made for the overall good of the company and will adapt accordingly.

Assessing the results leads to understanding the effectiveness of the adopted solution.

To understand if the plan was successful, it is necessary to get an idea of what helped and what didn’t and try to incorporate the changes.

In case the solution did not prove to be effective, you move on to choose a new option from the alternatives.

Therefore, decision making is critical to problem solving, even in project management.

It may seem like a lot of work, but by taking the necessary steps to solve important problems and come to a successful resolution will save much more time and lead to a healthier business in the long run.

Keep up with the times.

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Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem." 

Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?

In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.

What is problem solving? 

Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.

Decision-making tools for agile businesses

In this ebook, learn how to equip employees to make better decisions—so your business can pivot, adapt, and tackle challenges more effectively than your competition.

Make good choices, fast: How decision-making processes can help businesses stay agile ebook banner image

4 steps to better problem solving

While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here’s how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team:

1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved

One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:

Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?

What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?

Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area? 

When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?

Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?

How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?

Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.

Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:

Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed

Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team

What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.

Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet

When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th

How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.

In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.

2. Brainstorm multiple solutions

If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.

Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:

Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.

Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy. 

Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.

Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.

3. Define the solution

After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution? 

Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.

4. Implement the solution

To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.

After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.

Implement common problem-solving strategies

There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:

Trial and error

Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes. 

This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.

The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause. 

This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.

Here’s an example:

Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.

“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.

“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing. 

“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.

“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments. 

“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members. 

In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem. 

A SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:

Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem? 

Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?

Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?

Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?

As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution. 

This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions. 

Even more successful problem solving

After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve. 

Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

assess the use of problem solving and decision making techniques when managing projects

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Book cover

Problematic Wildlife pp 109–122 Cite as

Problem Solving and Decision-Making in Project Management of Problematic Wildlife: A Review of Some Approaches and Conceptual Tools

  • Corrado Battisti 2 &
  • Giovanni Amori 3  
  • First Online: 18 December 2015

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2 Citations

When managing problem wildlife, we need to make decisions aimed to solve crises among factors of pressure (e.g. exotic species or communities), impacted targets (populations, communities, ecosystems, processes) and political and social pressures. These crises happen in multi-complex organizational, socio-ecological systems, often characterized from high uncertainty. Now, a large number of interdisciplinary conceptual tools, criteria and approaches, belonging to the problem-solving and decision-making arenas, is now available for practitioners and managers that work on conservation projects. In this review, we selected some of the more recent tools and approaches including them in a single project framework (the IUCN cycle used for nature reserve planning), spanning all from the analysis of the context (both in project teams and in real world), to the planning stage until the monitoring phase. We encourage practitioners to use these innovative tools and approaches in their projects that are focused on problematic wildlife.

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Acknowledgment

We would acknowledge Caroline Steen and Bruce Leopold have carefully reviewed the first draft of the manuscript.

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Corrado Battisti

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Giovanni Amori

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Battisti, C., Amori, G. (2016). Problem Solving and Decision-Making in Project Management of Problematic Wildlife: A Review of Some Approaches and Conceptual Tools. In: Angelici, F. (eds) Problematic Wildlife. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-22246-2_6

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The SPALTEN Problem-Solving Methodology as a Decision Making Tool in Project Management

Developed by Felix Dressel.

Problem solving and decision making are essential parts of project management. [1] With the model of Burke and Barron these two parts are put in context to each other and connections can be visualized. Throughout both processes in project management, key actions can be defined which enable the project manager to generate solutions and narrow them down before making a decision. [2] [3]

The SPALTEN problem-solving methodology provides a similar approach. Originally published to improve problem-solving in product development, SPALTEN is universally applicable to any sort of problem, also in other areas of expertise. [4] By gathering and analyzing the given situation as well as by creating, rating, and selecting possible solutions, the method provides the user a step-by-step approach for problem solving. [5]

This article describes the approach of the problem-solving methodology SPALTEN and puts it in the context of Burke and Barron's model of problem solving and decision making in project management. Here, the focus is on how the processes in project management look like, what the SPALTEN methodology and how it can be applied in the context of Burke and Barron’s framework. Finally, the article shows what steps the SPALTEN process contains, which methods can be used and where the limitations are.

Problem Solving and Decision Making in Project Management

In the process of project management, the successful realization of the projects often depends on the ability to make the right decision when problems are encountered. As Burke and Barron state: “A project is often just a big problem that needs to be solved.” [2] While such a problem might often be seen as an obstacle, it also provides an opportunity through which the current situation can be improved. To address a problem and to make a decision the project manager needs a system to identify the problem as concrete as possible and to come up with creative solutions. [1] [2]

The processes of the identification of problems and the decision making of different solution possibilities are often connected. On one side, the problem-solving process focuses on concretely defining the problem and coming up with different solutions (divergent). On the other side, the decision-making process has to consider all the different solution possibilities by taking into account the surrounding situation and ensuring that the selected solution solves the problem as comprehensive as possible (convergent). These two sides are visualized in Figure 1. [2]

During the whole process, actions have to be carried out which build upon each other. During the problem-solving process, the actions are: [2]

  • 1. Define Objectives: The starting point of the problem-solving process: The goals and objectives of the project are defined, against which the problems and opportunities have to be evaluated.
  • 2. Identify Problems and Opportunities: Identify and define the problems and opportunities encountered during the project.
  • 3. Gather Information: Gather all relevant data and information to create an overview of the current situation.
  • 4. Solve Problem: Create a list of possible solutions which have to be evaluated and weighted in further steps.

The decision making starts where the problem-solving ends which is often supported by decision-making techniques . [1] After identifying multiple solutions, the following actions are: [3]

  • 5. Identify Need for a Decision: What decisions have to be made? Who has the authority to make them?
  • 6. Gather Information: Gather all data and information which are relevant for the decision.
  • 7. Make Decision: Decide on the best possible solution.
  • 8. Implement Decision: This includes the presentation of the decision, its justification, and further steps for the implementation.

To ensure, that the solution was implemented successfully a feedback tool has to be installed. If the problem is not resolved, further measures and actions might be required by the project manager. [3]

The SPALTEN Problem-Solving Methodology

The SPALTEN problem-solving methodology was first published in 2002 by Albers et al. [4] The methodology is not limited to a certain topic or area of expertise but can be adapted in condition and complexity to any problem, which allows to approach a problem universally. The term SPALTEN (spalten (German) = to split) was designed and structured as an acronym representing its different steps. As presented in Figure 2, the steps are: [5]

  • Situation Analysis ( S ituationsanalyse)
  • Problem Containment ( P roblemeingrenzung)
  • Alternative Solutions ( A lternative Lösungen)
  • Selection of Solutions ( L ösungsauswahl)
  • Consequences Analysis ( T ragweitenanalyse)
  • Make Decision and Realization ( E ntscheiden und Umsetzen)
  • Recapitulate and Learn ( N achbereiten und Lernen)

Each of the seven working steps can be conducted and supported by a set of suitable methods. This process helps the user to gather and analyze the given situation as well as to create, rate and select possible solutions. SPALTEN also enables to divide complex problems into smaller ones, which makes it easier to manage one big problem and work out a solution for this. For this, each of the working steps can be carried out as a separate SPALTEN process, which is also shown in Figure 2. [5]

Decision Making with the SPALTEN Methodology

By the definition of Burke and Barron, an optimal decision can be made only after considering the processes of problem solving and decision making first. [2] [3] When applying the SPALTEN methodology to this framework, most of its steps can be categorized to the two processes (Figure 3):

  • Problem Solving: With the working steps of Situation Analysis, Problem Containment and Alternative Solutions, a high variety of possible solutions is generated (divergent). At the same time, the methodology ensures that the solutions fit to the previous defined problem(s).
  • Decision Making: With the following steps, Selection of Solutions, Consequences Analysis and Making Decision and Implementation, SPALTEN narrows down the possibilities, supported by individually defined criteria (convergent). Before a final decision is made, also possible risks and opportunities are analyzed. To avoid the risks or support the opportunities and to ensure a successful implementation, a plan must be made which lists future tasks and responsibilities.

By carrying out these six steps, a core problem can be identified, and an optimal solution can be developed on the basis of which an optimal decision can be made. In addition to problem solving and decision making, SPALTEN also gives the user the possibility to ensure long lasting success. With its last step, Recapitulate and Learn, the results are documented in the right way and feedback is collected. This improves future executions of the methodology.

How to use SPALTEN

The SPALTEN problem-solving methodology is separated into seven working steps. Additionally, between every two steps, the problem-solving team can be adapted to the respective demands, and an information check has to be carried out. The problem-solving team can be adapted to align the skills of the team members with the demands of the tasks. One way to acquire new competences for a certain step is to consult additional experts for specific tasks. However, the team can also be reformed completely if necessary, to ensure that the required skills for the different steps are covered. Similar to the problem-solving team, also the present information has to be reconsidered continuously. Each step builds upon the one which came before, and therefore, all necessary information must be available before moving forward in the process. Throughout the whole problem-solving methodology, a continuous idea pool guarantees that no information is lost. This pool can be accessed any time by the team members to add new ideas or adapt and regroup existing ones. [5] [6]

Situation Analysis

The basis of SPALTEN is the Situation Analysis . The process starts with a detailed collection of all information regarding the current situation. This high amount of collected information must also be structured and documented in the same step. The goal is to completely assess the situation and decide on a problem-solving approach. [5]

To analyze the current situation and collect a high variety of problems, classical techniques such as Brainstorming or Brainwriting can be used. The benefit of Brainwriting in the case of SPALTEN is, that all the ideas are written down during the process already. This simplifies the documentation and also takes into account the opinion of others involved. However, in both techniques it is important, that no ideas are judged to get the widest possible range of problems. In that way, an optimal basis for the next step, the problem containment, can be provided.

Problem Containment

The Problem Containment aims to describe the problem based on the collected information of the previous step. The previous structure is narrowed down by e.g., grouping the relevant information by common attributes or connections. The problem containment aims to identify the cause(s) for the deviation between the targeted and the actual state. Both states are to be described as concrete and precise as possible. The result of this step is a prioritized list of root problems. Ideally, only the most important problem is addressed in the following steps. [6]

An example for a hands-on approach is the Affinity Diagram . To organize a high amount of information, the steps of the diagram gather and sort them into logical groups before headers for each of them are created. This process is repeated to create groups and subgroups including all the available information. Also Multi-Voting can be used to structure and prioritize the high amount of information. The project manager decides on the number of votes and iterations before the voting starts. This can be combined with the Affinity Diagram to first group and then prioritize all the available problem information. [1]

Alternative Solutions

After the core problem has been defined, possible solutions are generated in the step of Alternative Solutions . The result is a high variety of possible solutions. While the solutions aim to cover the problem as comprehensive as possible, they also have to be formulated as concrete as possible to fit to the defined problem. Again, the amount of information increases. Usually, a high creativity is required for this step, which can be supported by specific creativity methods. [5]

The Impulse Image Technique is a simple method to support creative thinking and the generation of creative ideas. With a randomly chosen image, the team has to combine the defined problem with what is shown on the picture. A direct relation between the image and the problem is not required. For example, a bridge can be applied to a solution which connects two areas of expertise. [7] A more unusual but creative approach is the Headstand Method. It is conducted by reformulating the goals of the project by turning them into the exact opposite. The team collects activities which would prevent the project from being successful and how not to achieve the goal. After sorting and grouping the negative ideas, they are turned back into positive ones which describe how to successfully complete the project. [8]

Selection of Solutions

The Selection of Solutions builds upon the high variety of solutions from the previous step. First of all, decision criteria have to be defined and weighted, on which the possible solutions can be compared. The definition of selection criteria must be based on the specific problem situation which was defined in the step of problem containment. The amount of information decreases by focusing on the most promising solution. [6]

With the Six Thinking Hats Method a team can objectively select from a high variety of possibilities. Thereby, the different solutions are evaluated from the point of view of six different roles which each inherit a different set of characteristics and values. During the discussion, the challenge is to only argue from the point of view of the role without including personal opinions. The characteristics and values of the roles can differ on the area of application. Different variations exist where e.g., the roles are defined by characters of the Star-Trek universe in the Star-Trek-Evaluation. [9]

Consequences Analysis

With the previous steps a root problem has been defined and the most promising solution has been selected. Now, the Consequences Analysis allows to evaluate the risks and chances of the solution before it is carried out. With the help of methods, predictions can be made which reveal critical consequences whose cause can be determined before they occur. Based on this, actions can be defined to prevent risks and guarantee opportunities. [5] [6]

The introduction to a Risk Analysis can be another iteration of Brainstorming . Especially uncertain future risks can be uncovered while at the same time, the whole team can relate to the ideas of the others. A more structured overview can be provided by a Cause-and-Effect Analysis in the form of a Fishbone Diagram . Here, causes can be sorted and grouped by the identified effect, especially if the outcome is very likely or even known beforehand.

Make Decision and Realization

After the optimal solution has been identified and possible risks have been taken into account, the step of Make Decision and Realization aims to realize the selected solution. For this, realistic tasks have to be formulated and assigned to the corresponding team members. The result is a well-structured plan which includes e.g., to-dos, due dates, responsibilities, etc., all based on minimizing the identified risks and increasing possible opportunities. [1] [5] [6]

As described in the overview of this article, the decision-making process directly links to the preceding problem solving. This is based on all the available information regarding the identified problem and the developed solution(s). When deciding, it is especially important, that the decision is supported by the necessary power in the organization and that a plan for the implementation is already defined.

Recapitulate and Learn

The final step is Recapitulate and Learn . Based on the continuous improvement process, the total knowledge is documented and stored for future reference (especially the identified problems and developed solution possibilities). This gives the team and other members of the organization the chance to keep track of the results. It also provides the possibility to reflect upon the performance throughout the whole problem-solving process. [6]

To ensure a lasting benefit of the whole process, the documentation has to include the results of the different steps, which are: All the identified problems, the core problem, all the developed solution possibilities, the most promising solution, and the implementation plan. An additional Feedback Capture Grid can be used to collect the feedback of everyone involved and organize it by the categories of positive feedback, improvement potential, open questions, and new / left-over ideas. [10]

The Limitations of Decision Making with SPALTEN

In summary, the SPALTEN problem-solving methodology is a proven tool. It enables a team to analyze the current situation, to identify and narrow down a range of problems and to develop and narrow down possible solutions. These results then support the decision making and implementation while also taking into account the documentation and feedback. With the possibility to adapt to nearly every situation, the methodology also works when only some of the steps are carried out. For example, an engineering team can conduct the first four steps while the consequences analysis and decision are made on a higher power level.

Originally, the methodology was developed for product development. In this area it has already been applied successfully multiple times. [11] However, it has not yet been used to a sufficient extent in project management. The implementation and success of SPALTEN as a decision support tool in project management still needs to be evaluated in a professional environment.

  • ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Project Management Institute. 2017. A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide). 6th Edition. Newtown Square.
  • ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Burke, Rory, and Steve Barron. 2014a. "Problem Solving" . In Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams, Second Edition, Eds. Rory Burke, and Steve Barron, 317–336Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  • ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Burke, Rory, and Steve Barron. 2014b. "Decision Making" . In Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams, Second Edition, Eds. Rory Burke, and Steve Barron, 337-349Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  • ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Albers, A., M. Saak, N. Burkhardt, and D. Schweinberger (Eds.). 2002. "Gezielte Problemlösung bei der Produktentwicklung mit Hilfe der SPALTEN-Methode."
  • ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Albers, Albert, Nicolas Reiß, Nicola Bursac, and Jan Breitschuh (Eds.). 2016. "15 Years of SPALTEN Problem Solving Methodology in Product Development."
  • ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Albers, A., M. Saak, N. Burkhardt, and M. Meboldt (Eds.). 2005. "SPALTEN PROBLEM SOLVING METHODOLOGY IN THE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT."
  • ↑ Aerssen, Benno van, and Christian Buchholz. 2021a. "Impulse Image Technique." https://www.ask-flip.com/method/10 . Accessed: 20 February 2020.
  • ↑ Aerssen, Benno van, and Christian Buchholz. 2021b. "Headstand Method." https://www.ask-flip.com/method/9 . Accessed: 20 February 2020.
  • ↑ Dirlewanger, Arno, Monika Heimann, Horst Geschka, Carsten Deckert, Klaus Stanke, Joachim H. Böttcher, Manfred Damsch, Eduard Hauser, and Hans-Rüdiger Munzke. 2016. "Jahrbuch der Kreativität 2014." Norderstedt: Books on Demand.
  • ↑ Aerssen, Benno van, and Christian Buchholz. 2021c. "Feedback Capture Grid." https://www.ask-flip.com/method/351 . Accessed: 20 February 2020.
  • ↑ Saak, Marcus. 2006. "Development of a concept and of a prototype for a computer-aided tool for the efficient employment of the problem solving methodology "SPALTEN"." Karlsruhe

Annotated bibliography

Project Management Institute. 2017. A guide to the project management body of knowledge. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This book represents the standard of the Project Management Institute (PMI). It is a key source for project management but also considers the context of portfolio management in some chapters. The book contains various principles and processes of project management but also provides a closer look on specific methods and techniques, e.g., for decision making.

Burke, Rory, and Steve Barron, eds. 2014. "Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams, Second Edition." Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

In the book "Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams", Rory Burke and Steve Barron take a closer look at the connection of project management and project leadership. For this article, chapters 23 (p.317-336) and 24 (p.337-350) are the focus. Here they analyze the processes of problem solving and decision making. Characteristics are evaluated as well as interconnections between the two topics.

Albers, Albert, Nicolas Reiß, Nicola Bursac, and Jan Breitschuh (Eds.). 2016. "15 Years of SPALTEN Problem Solving Methodology in Product Development."

Although the SPALTEN problem-solving methodology was first published in 2002 (in German), this article (in English) from 2016 provides the ideal overview. It sums up the environment, development, characteristics, and implementation. Additionally, it evaluates the use of the methodology over the first 15 years.

Aerssen, Benno van, and Christian Buchholz. 2021. "The Florence Innovation Project (FLIP)." Accessed February 20, 2020. https://www.ask-flip.com/ .

The Florence Innovation Project (FLIP) by Benno van Aerssen provides a large database for creativity and innovation methods. Through its website, it is possible to access a well-structured collection of methods and tools suitable for various purposes. In the framework of this article, such methods are especially interesting, when applying the SPALTEN steps in practice.

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Tips and techniques for problem-solving and decision-making.

Forbes Coaches Council

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Divya Parekh , of The DP Group, covers business growth, storytelling, high-impact performance and authority building.

Are you struggling to find effective solutions to problems you face in your professional or entrepreneurial ventures? Are you often indecisive when faced with complex decisions?

The ability to solve problems and make decisions quickly and effectively can mean the difference between success and failure. There are two main approaches to problem-solving and decision-making: vertical thinking and horizontal thinking. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses, so understanding the differences between them can help you apply the right method at the right time.

Let's look at a few case studies to understand the very different benefits of these two approaches.

Vertical Thinking For Decision-Making

First, let's take Jane, the CFO of a financial services company. She needs to decide whether to invest in a new company software system.

Jane gathers all the relevant data about the software system and analyzes it thoroughly. She compares the cost of the system to the potential benefits, evaluates the risks involved and consults with subject matter experts. After careful consideration, she decides the benefits outweigh the costs and risks, and the company should invest in the software system.

This is vertical thinking: making a well-informed decision based on a thorough analysis of the data. Vertical thinking is especially useful in situations where there is a clear goal and a need for a precise, data-driven approach. Experts often use it in fields like finance, where decisions depend heavily on facts and figures.

Best Travel Insurance Companies

Best covid-19 travel insurance plans, horizontal thinking for problem-solving.

Let's move on to Sophie, the head of marketing for a fashion company. The company has been struggling to attract new customers.

Sophie sets up a brainstorming meeting with different department heads. They come up with a variety of creative solutions based on their diverse perspectives. One idea that stands out is to partner with a popular social media influencer to promote the company's products. The team works together to develop a plan to reach out to the influencer and negotiate a partnership.

This is horizontal thinking: working with a team to generate a variety of ideas and consider different perspectives to find an innovative solution. Horizontal thinking is a great approach for problem-solving when the problem is complex and there may be multiple solutions or approaches. Creative professionals, especially in marketing, advertising and designing, highly value this approach.

How Emotions Affect These Approaches

Over several years of coaching, I've noticed that emotions can play a significant role in problem-solving and decision-making, regardless of the thinking style used.

For instance, when using vertical thinking, emotions such as frustration and impatience can arise when a person or team has been working on a problem for an extended period with no clear solution. Conversely, when a team lands on a solution, there can be a sense of relief and accomplishment.

Similarly, when using horizontal thinking, emotions such as excitement and optimism can arise during a brainstorming session when new and creative ideas are being generated. However, disappointment or frustration can also arise when an idea fails to work.

It's important to recognize and acknowledge these emotions as they can affect team dynamics and ultimately, the success of the problem-solving process. I encourage leaders to create a safe and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their emotions and concerns.

Make These Thinking Styles Work For You

In my experience, a personalized approach that balances both vertical and horizontal thinking can help manage emotions and any other issues that arise effectively. By using vertical thinking to identify specific problems and solutions, and horizontal thinking to generate creative ideas, you can create a problem-solving process that encourages collaboration, creativity and innovation while minimizing negative emotions.

Are you ready to take your problem-solving and decision-making skills to the next level?

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

Divya Parekh

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Making decisions and solving problems are two key areas in life, whether you are at home or at work. Whatever you’re doing, and wherever you are, you are faced with countless decisions and problems, both small and large, every day.

Many decisions and problems are so small that we may not even notice them. Even small decisions, however, can be overwhelming to some people. They may come to a halt as they consider their dilemma and try to decide what to do.

Small and Large Decisions

In your day-to-day life you're likely to encounter numerous 'small decisions', including, for example:

Tea or coffee?

What shall I have in my sandwich? Or should I have a salad instead today?

What shall I wear today?

Larger decisions may occur less frequently but may include:

Should we repaint the kitchen? If so, what colour?

Should we relocate?

Should I propose to my partner? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with him/her?

These decisions, and others like them, may take considerable time and effort to make.

The relationship between decision-making and problem-solving is complex. Decision-making is perhaps best thought of as a key part of problem-solving: one part of the overall process.

Our approach at Skills You Need is to set out a framework to help guide you through the decision-making process. You won’t always need to use the whole framework, or even use it at all, but you may find it useful if you are a bit ‘stuck’ and need something to help you make a difficult decision.

Decision Making

Effective Decision-Making

This page provides information about ways of making a decision, including basing it on logic or emotion (‘gut feeling’). It also explains what can stop you making an effective decision, including too much or too little information, and not really caring about the outcome.

A Decision-Making Framework

This page sets out one possible framework for decision-making.

The framework described is quite extensive, and may seem quite formal. But it is also a helpful process to run through in a briefer form, for smaller problems, as it will help you to make sure that you really do have all the information that you need.

Problem Solving

Introduction to Problem-Solving

This page provides a general introduction to the idea of problem-solving. It explores the idea of goals (things that you want to achieve) and barriers (things that may prevent you from achieving your goals), and explains the problem-solving process at a broad level.

The first stage in solving any problem is to identify it, and then break it down into its component parts. Even the biggest, most intractable-seeming problems, can become much more manageable if they are broken down into smaller parts. This page provides some advice about techniques you can use to do so.

Sometimes, the possible options to address your problem are obvious. At other times, you may need to involve others, or think more laterally to find alternatives. This page explains some principles, and some tools and techniques to help you do so.

Having generated solutions, you need to decide which one to take, which is where decision-making meets problem-solving. But once decided, there is another step: to deliver on your decision, and then see if your chosen solution works. This page helps you through this process.

‘Social’ problems are those that we encounter in everyday life, including money trouble, problems with other people, health problems and crime. These problems, like any others, are best solved using a framework to identify the problem, work out the options for addressing it, and then deciding which option to use.

This page provides more information about the key skills needed for practical problem-solving in real life.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills eBooks.

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Develop your interpersonal skills with our series of eBooks. Learn about and improve your communication skills, tackle conflict resolution, mediate in difficult situations, and develop your emotional intelligence.

Guiding you through the key skills needed in life

As always at Skills You Need, our approach to these key skills is to provide practical ways to manage the process, and to develop your skills.

Neither problem-solving nor decision-making is an intrinsically difficult process and we hope you will find our pages useful in developing your skills.

Start with: Decision Making Problem Solving

See also: Improving Communication Interpersonal Communication Skills Building Confidence

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