Project Management

Looking for a powerful creative problem-solving technique? Try this one!

From the Female Element Blog
Female Element blog is about experience and current trends in project management, digitalization and agile organizational transformation seen by eyes of a woman. Why to distinguish such view? Female and male brain operates differently and we may have various interpretations for the same situation. Female leadership is a thing and should be recognised. But mostly because more inclusivity for women is good for all aspects of business and we still have way to go.

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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?

Posted on: October 24, 2018 10:17 PM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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Thanks for sharing!

Lenka, one of the biggest challenge for any project managers is problem solving. Thanks for sharing problem solving technique!

Thanks Mandar!

Thanks Pench, I’m happy you like the topic. I’m a big fan of creative problem solving techniques.

What a unique way to solve problems. Always looking for different approaches that end up with a solid resolution that keeps everyone on board.

Important topic!!!

I’m happy you like the method Nicholas, hope you’ll have opportunity to try it soon.

My understanding is that the biggest challenge in solving a problem is identifying the problem in the first place. A project team might be assembled to create a new bit of software, but without knowledge of the intended use of the software, or what business problem the software is intended to solve, it becomes far more likely that the project will not deliver the value envisioned. The same could be said for a hardware or even a construction project. It's important to begin with the end state in mind.

This is why I like to meet with the business users and develop stories about the intended use of the product the project is working on, even if I don't use any other part of an Agile methodology.

Hi Glenn, thanks for your addition, that’s very valid point. Without knowing what benefits and business value you want or create you can hardly drive the team to the right outcome. User stories are very helpful how to connect with your stakeholders, there’s more if you’re interested and check the topic of requirements gathering.
Problem solving techniques are quite useful when you have some situation in your team and need to facilitate a group discussion to find the way out. Or at the very beginning of the project when you have a business issue and want to brainstorm potential solutions.

Thanks, Lenka.

Thanks Lenka for the interesting technique of brainstorming analogy.
Synergize the brainstormed solutions back to tackle the root causes of the problem and getting customers' feedback is indeed require.

Thank Pang, I just added this technique to the Wiki pages. I never really heard from people using it and I would love to promote it a bit more, I have such a great experience with that. Teams like it, its fun and it definitely fosters out of the box thinking.

Thanks for the good pointers Lenka.

Cold be also a good purpose, when you get stucked with solving of the original issue.

@Lenka, that statement example on misunderstanding customer requirements and spending too much time working on wrong SW functionalities is spot on. For large projects, Project Managers must rely on a Business Analyst role to gather and document detailed business requirements. At times, those efforts can get off course, and the PM must intervene to get things back on track. That's where problem solving techniques can become invaluable. Especially since the problem being solved is usually outside of the PM's wheelhouse. Although, it's impossible to be the expert on everything, you don't have to be, if you can efficiently solve problems (with your team) using advanced problem solving techniques. Whenever you do so, you quickly move from being a Project Manager to a Project Leader.

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