So what can we as project managers do to deal with these very ‘hard to resolve’ problems that invariably arise?
There are several ways to address problems that arise over the course of a project. Each problem has its own attributes and requires its own approach to solving. But there are some generic actions you can take. These center around the notion that projects require a team-based approach to problem solving and a project manager can facilitate team performance.
The first and foremost consideration is that the team solving the problem needs to be a ‘team’. This means there has to have been something else they’ve done together prior to addressing the ‘big’ problem. I tend to look for things to nurture teamwork prior to taking on more challenging issues.
We’re all aware of the traditional phases of the team including forming, storming, norming and performing. We know the project team will drift in and out of these stages, depending on the dynamics of the environment and situation. If team members have a precedent on what to do to resolve smaller matters, then alignment of the team to focus on the more serious issue will be easier and faster.
Essentially we want to ensure team dynamics will not delay starting the problem-solving process. We do this by facilitating the team through as many ‘cycles of learning’ together as possible, early in the project. Here the cycles of learning apply to how members settle into their roles, share information and relate to each other in a synergistic manner. If they’ve experienced it before then revisiting it again for another issue is easier and hopefully progressive.
Another proactive approach is to mitigate the risk of technical issues through risk analysis and assessment. Unproven technology and integration issues can be difficult to uncover as part of the risk management process. However, the development methodology (i.e. agile, waterfall, prototypying, etc) selected for the project can help. For example, prototyping specific aspects of the technology or its integration can provide very illuminating results early in a project life cycle. Often these foreshadow where development ‘challenges’ can be expected. Schedules and budgets can be adjusted much earlier.
In closing, while good risk management is a great tool to identify potential problems, building a team ready and able to solve problems quickly and effectively is essential to deal with the uncertainty of scheduling solutions to problems.
Mike Lecky is a consultant at The Manta Group, a management consulting company specializing in IT governance, Project and Portfolio Management, Service Management, Risk and Compliance. Mike has degrees from the University of Waterloo (BScEng), The University of Western Ontario (MBA) and the University of Liverpool (MScIT). He worked for 12 years in aerospace electronics and as a Project Engineer managed several general aviation and US Military contracts. He teaches project management online with the School of Applied Technology at Humber College. Now, with over 25 years experience, he is a PMP and an information security professional (CISSP) and has a broad range of program and technology implementation experiences in the high tech and service sectors. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org