Project Management

3 Problem-Solving Techniques

Vincent is a Senior Project Management Consultant and e-Learning Developer.

You have to truly understand a problem before you can solve it. Here are three techniques or tools for trouble-shooting complex problems and related interdependencies on your projects, ranging from root cause analysis to structured brainstorming approaches such as affinity diagrams and mind maps.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This could be a problem if you’re tasked with making fine furniture using screws.

In “PM as Problem Solver” (July 17), we saw how important it was to fully understand the problem before looking for solutions. Here we will describe three techniques that have proven to be effective at understanding many complex problems. The first technique gets to the root cause or causes of the problem; the second and third are what I refer to as “structured brainstorming,” and are very useful when you need to understand the structure or interdependencies of a problem.

Getting to the Root Cause

Many problems are defined in terms of symptoms: the effects of some underlying cause. A root cause is a cause which must be eliminated or properly dealt with to prevent the reoccurrence of the problem. The root cause may not be something you can easily deduce from the symptoms. Rather you need to establish the facts, especially since there may be multiple root causes to be dealt with. Then you have to …

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