Problem or Solution ?

Be fearlessAs is common in many project situations, I as a project manager have had to deal with running projects with little formal control or have been given solutions to produce that were unclear or perhaps even wrong. This amounts to working on a solution in search of a problem. Such situations invariably create resistance from stakeholders. I find that I need to take the time to interview key stakeholders and as many senior managers as possible. This extra effort surfaces real problems that need solving and identifies true definitions of success that meet stakeholder requirements.

For instance, time to market is crucial in getting new personal computers to market. I was given the charter to get a team together and quickly fix all prototype defects. However, this was not the real problem. Most functional managers did not want other people working on modules for which they were responsible. The real problem that surfaced from my discussions with key stakeholders was when offending modules were not clear–meaning a defect was reported but the cause was not immediately obvious–finger pointing wasted time.

I re-purposed the high powered cross-functional team to focus only on quickly identifying problem sources; fixes stayed within responsible functional areas. This worked wonderfully because everyone wanted unproductive time wasters eliminated, and they appreciated help to focus in on what caused modules not to work right together. The modified process came into being because the project manager pushed back against the assignment and insisted on clarifying what the project needed to accomplish.

Any time you accept a project assignment without a clear problem statement that everyone agrees upon, you set yourself up for failure. Take the time and effort to push back. This takes courage but will be well rewarded.

Randy Englund,


1 thought on “Problem or Solution ?”

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    Amen Randy. So many projects are chartered with pre-conceived solutions and too many project managers simply take those instructions and run with them.

    A critical part of the project manager’s job is to help the customer understand their problem. Find a target before you aim, aim before you fire.

    Josh Nankivel

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