I would say that my job, as a project manager, constitutes a mix of the following: project chaperone, creative solution-maker and thorough problem surveyor. There are other bits, but I was left on an island with a mega-bank as my client and only three things would be left out of my bag of tricks, those would be what I picked.
Finding project problems is simple – not easy, but simple. There are some pre-conditions that are handy to apply before trying to find out what ails your project or team:
1. Leave your preconceived notions behind – locating problems is interesting enough without blindfolding yourself.
2. Get everyone who’s affected talking about it – silence is food for problems.
3. Diffuse the emotion if you can around the problem – calm leadership is a good starter.
Now to find those pesky problems….
1. Through team facilitation, ask your team to write down every conceivable thing that could be causing the problem down (sticky notes are SOP for this). Tell your team that there won’t be a chance to further explain, so do their best in clearly describing the cause/problem.
2. Mix up the stickies and get a few volunteers to sort them. Categories or buckets will start to emerge as the stickies are sorted – feel free to change these as many times as you need to get a group of 10 or so problem areas.
3. Look at the 2 or three groups that got the most stickies. You just found your problem (or some of them anyway).
As simple and straightforward as this is, so many PMs put an “S” on their chest and attempt to solve the problem in a vacuum. They (and I, as well) forget the simple tools that can help locate those problems that nip at our heels. For your sake, grab a sticky and write “Brainstorming=Found Problems” and put it somewhere prominent in your team room or work area. After all, admitting and finding your problems is halfway down the path of solving them.