Meet our Mavens

February 17, 2015

How do project teams approach problem solving? Part -1

By: Manikandan Chandrasekharan, Technology Consultant

Most companies call in consultants to solve problems that need subject matter expertise outside of that company’s reach. So the project team would have client’s own employees along with contractor and consultants hired to implement a project to solve a problem or to better an existing solution. Consultants have to work with a variety of clients. There could be very little time to understand the work culture at a client location, their organizational structure and their approach to making big decisions and moving fast. That is one of the biggest challenges for a consultant. Companies have a variety of resources and each individual could have a different preference and approach to solving problems and making decisions. This is yet another challenge since different approaches and preferences lead to conflicts and delays in making decisions.

The inclinations towards problem solving wary but most often comprise of the following in different pecking order based on the actual problem itself or the people involved behind trying to resolve the problem.

Define the problem

What is the issue? To understand the problem, one has to talk to the business users and the company’s IT department. The more one talks and asks the right questions, the more available the information to define the problem.

What are the possible causes for the issue? This needs a deep understanding of the subject and knowledge of how everything works. Consulting company would need to send in the right folks to address the problem and define possible causes to try and understand the root cause before defining the problem-solving approach.

What is the root cause for the issue? Once all possible causes are identified, the subject matter expert should be in a good position to identify the root cause for the issue.

What does it impact- directly and indirectly? Just because the issue relates to one section of user community or application capability for instance, doesn’t mean that there aren’t indirect impacts to other applications or users. The relationship with regard to the problem and the area of impact has to be fully understood to identify direct and indirect impacts to others.

How much does it impact? Once the question “what” is addressed, the next question to address is “How much”. This at times becomes difficult to address if cross-functional applications are impacted and one needs the opinion of multiple different SMEs to get answers on how much is impacted.

Define the solution

What options does the company have in terms of tools/ resources? Consultants have to understand the resources, tools and methodologies used by the client. This way a good work relationship can be established and anything if required in addition can be asked beforehand.

What are the possible solutions that could be brought to the table? This is key element is building credibility. The more the consultant understands about the problem, the better s/he is positioned to provide suitable solutions. These solutions provided indicate how much the consultant can add to the company.

What routes to problem solving can be taken at company’s disposal? This involves a partnership.The decision makers in the company have to buy in to your proposal to identify what options do they have and which one’s among them would they be inclined towards.

Which is the best solution amongst the available options? The consultant brings a lot to the table to make a decision here. Keeping all surrounding factors in mind, the best possible solution can only be decided upon when the best resources are working as a team to find the resolution.

Define the problem solving approach to achieve that solution

What are the all the possible steps? Write everything down before thinking of the arrangement. Make note of all finer details.

What doors or options do these steps open up to? Some of the possible tasks might lead to another and this is how a connection from start to the end goal is achieved. The order of deliverables becomes easy when these predecessors and successors are defined.

Define possible outcomes or milestones achieved by completing these steps? Each task would lead to a milestone- small or large. Write in down, doesn’t matter if the granular details need a lot of attention or not. Write everything related to it down.

What is the best pecking order for these steps? Once everything is identified, look for the order or a pattern. The predecessors and successors give way to the connection points, which helps in determining the order of things to be laid out.

Put a plan and structure the tasks under it? Tools like MS Project are very good management tools to be used for this process. One can define a workweek, number of working hours in a day, resource allocation in terms of hours and percentage and what not.

Define deliverables by breaking the plan down? Create subsections of the plan that contribute to smaller milestones that lead towards the desired end goal. These subsections could be grouped by resource, time of activity or effort needed for understanding the metrics and for speeding up the process when project progression is reviewed.

Define a time frame keeping potential risks in mind? This involves understanding a lot of things from how good things are to go and how bad they could get in case some things go wrong. Not all conditions are favorable at all times. So, risks are to be weighed during project progression.

Understand what skillset is needed to achieve the desired end result? This needs resource management skills to understand what would be an ideal fit for resolving the problem.

Define the roles and select the right resource for a role? This is the role of Project managers and Resource managers to identify and assign the resources for the project so that the Consultants get what they want to help the client resolving the pressing issues.