Project Managers need to solve problems often. Having couple of problem-solving techniques in their pocket may be very handy. Especially when there’s a need for approach that possibly engage the whole team while number of participants may vary. And wouldn’t it be just perfect if finding innovative and applicable solutions is actually fun?
Synectics comes from the Greek language means “the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements”. I learned this technique couple of years ago from a coach who is also psychologist and works with leadership teams. I have a big respect for his work and I have opportunity to apply this method several times with success. Hope it helps!
“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” Steven Johnson
Synectics is a method that works with problem analogies and put them in a different, seemingly not at all linked, environment. Let’s demonstrate that on a potential problem from project management discipline.
Note: As any other group technique, it works the best in a smaller group, around 7-10 people. If you have bigger team you may split them in several groups and combine their outputs afterwards.
Step 1 Name your problem.
Example: We often misunderstand customer requirements and spend too much time working on wrong SW functionalities.
Step 2 Brainstorm analogies to your problem. Be creative at this step and encourage any ideas, this is the fun part. Analogy does not have to be from the same industry, business context or have any relation to the scope of your project. What counts is the principle of the problem to which you create the analogy.
Example: I don’t understand what my mom wants me to do and then I do something else which she does not consider helping. | The vending machine does not react to the numbers I push and then I get a wrong snack. | I’m buying the best food I can for my cat but she does not appreciate that.
Step 3 Let the team(s) pick up the analogy they like the most.
Example: I’m buying the best food I can for my cat but she does not appreciate that.
Step 4: Brainstorm ideas how to solve the analogy problem. Follow the common brainstorming rules to encourage everyone to participate and don’t dismiss any ideas.
“The history of innovation is the story of ideas that seemed dumb at the time.”, Andy Dunn
Example: Let the cat taste samples before you buy the whole bag. Let the cat cook by herself. Let the cat write her own cookbook. Teach your cat sign language so that she can point out what she likes for lunch. Ask other people who also have cats to learn what approach works for them the most. Pick up flavors the cat likes and mix them for her lunch.
Step 5: Translate the brainstormed solutions back to the context of the original problem.
Example: Pick up flavors the cat likes and mix them for her lunch -> Don’t complete large features before presenting them to the customer. Split the customer requirements in smaller pieces and gather their feedback one by one. Adjust your understanding based on the received feedback and only then process to their integration into bigger part of the software.
Good luck and let me know what are your favorite creative problem-solving techniques! If you practice this one, what is your feedback on synectics?