What are the difficulties with problem-solving?

Problem-solving is a huge part of any organization and integral to the success or failure of its endeavors. From a project management perspective, problem solving is a key element of virtually every item on the daily to-do list. But the world of work is evolving rapidly – and with those changes comes a whole new set of challenges for those at the sharp end of the problem-solving arena. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most important problem-solving challenges facing organizations and project managers, as well as how to efficiently overcome them.

A fundamental part of project management

A good project manager is the cream of the crop when it comes to solving problems – after all, they do it every day. They are familiar with implementing the processes that will lead their organization on the path to fulfilling their operational and strategic aims, and are no strangers to removing the barriers and obstacles that lie in the way.

But problem solving isn’t just about the mechanics of process and implementation. In today’s frenetic and constantly evolving world, people are right at the very heart of the matter.

Why is effective problem solving such a hot ticket item for organizations?

First off, there’s the issue of reaching their strategic and operational objectives, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that problem-solving can and does ensure that organizations make the gear change necessary to shift from idea to action. 

It may seem like a no-brainer, but fast problem solving really does equal faster output (i.e. you’ll get the work done more quickly) and this is where the people part comes in. The way we interact with one another, and how we relate to each other, can have a huge impact on the effectiveness and speed at which we solve problems.

The evolution of problem-solving

“So, what’s new?” I hear you ask. Well, the workplace and teamwork as a whole has undergone seismic change since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Ways of working have, in many places, been completely turned on their heads and hybrid or remote working has now a legitimacy that would have been unheard of a few years ago.

This has had the knock-on effect that geography has become largely unimportant: teams are now working from anywhere, at any time, with both synchronous and asynchronous methods of collaboration accepted by many organizations across a whole raft of industries and sectors. Do these changes impact the day-to-day reality of problem-solving? Well, they do.

Trust the process

There are numerous popular frameworks that are often touted as the key to effective problem solving. When it comes to the nitty gritty of problem-solving skills, here is how it globally works: 

  • First, you need to define your problem; 
  • Then, clarify your thoughts; 
  • Have a clear end goal; 
  • Work out the best way to reach that goal; 
  • Create an action plan and follow through with it. 

Depending what your problem actually is, you may fit the puzzle of your problem-solving process together slightly differently.

Enter Design Thinking

Design thinking is something of a curveball when it comes to problem solving. But in recent years, it has gained enormous popularity within organizations where teams favor it because of the way it puts the needs of the customer front and centre of the whole process. Design thinking as a way of working relies heavily on observation of an organizations customers as well as empathy for their needs and desires. It’s definitely not a cookie-cutter approach to problem-solving, in fact its proponents love it precisely because it’s such an iterative process, with a very hands-on way to create what are often extremely innovative solutions.

Empower problem-solving with efficient collaboration

What’s the biggest take from all of this so far? That for organizations to be successful, they need their people to work together to solve problems quickly and effectively. Collaborative ways of working to aid problem solving may have seemed straightforward when everyone turned up to the office each day and in-person meetings were the norm, but throw in several years of pandemic life, a workforce that no longer sees office life as the be-all and end-all, and you will get a slightly different perspective.

Problem-solving in the age of hybrid work

For as long as solving organizational challenges has been recognized as a vital element of running a successful business, so too has the art of problem solving been focused on what is seen by many as the universal business problem: finding and helping customers while also increasing overall profitability

While this might have worked in an era where the economy was driven by manufacturing and consumer goods, it’s not the case any longer.

It’s all about the UX

Now the economy is very much service-driven, with technological changes on a scale that would have been incomprehensible ten years ago. Perhaps most important of all, consumers – people – are demanding a far higher standard of customer/user experience.

The net result of all this is that to be successful, companies must be highly solution- focused, agile and ready to implement changes as quickly as possible. And this leaves enormous scope for complexity.

The main challenges of problem-solving

If you’re working in a problem-solving capacity, the chances are you’re already well aware of the obstacles in your path. But for the sake of clarity, let’s revisit some of the most significant issues.

Work environment

First up is environment. In years gone by, communications technology has made huge advancements. Teams went from working in iindividual offices to open spaces and, in some cases, hotdesking. Now though, teams are working from their own homes, often from multiple locations around the globe.

While the recent changes towards remote and hybrid workspaces demonstrate a huge step forward in terms of flexibility and the opportunity to better balance your work life, it does throw up some difficulties when problem-solving. Is it possible to foster collective intelligence from such a distance? How do you manage time differences across the team? Is it possible to collaborate with seamless communication and alignment? And is it really possible to create processes that work in such a hybrid fashion to account for the unique ways that each team member is now able to choose to operate?

Company habits and culture

Company culture issues can also be a major barrier. Many organizations get stuck in a particular way of working, and both their leadership team and employees at large are then reluctant to change tack, even if their ‘old ways’ of working are not meeting much success. Meetings are a fascinating example of this – with some organizations still demanding that employees return to the office and a daily grind of in person meetings, while others have entirely switched to remote working in the meantime. 

Transparency

Closely linked to company culture is transparency. Because in order to effectively problem solve, you need both a culture willing to accept the problems/solutions identified, but the transparency in the first place to be able to identify the problems! This isn’t always an easy process and often necessitates senior leaders and project managers to move out of their comfort zones and be willing to face new ideas and new approaches to problem solving with an open mind.

How to facilitate efficient problem-solving and overcome its difficulties

Each role in an organization will naturally have its own unique set of difficulties to overcome – with some being more constrained by so-called ‘functional fixedness’ for example, while others may face obstacles caused by irrelevant information. Ultimately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to problem-solving, but there are some things you can do to improve your chances of finding solutions that will have a measurable impact.

Try new ways of thinking

If we accept that there are new problems to be solved, then it makes sense that we may need to implement new ways of thinking. How can we do that, or rather how should we do that? Without being able to predict the future, the best we can do is aim for creating teams with a truly diverse range of skills and an environment that encourages creative thinking. Next, we need to consider what this looks like in practise, or rather, the things you can do now, to try and avoid falling foul of these barriers to success.

Use tools that are fit for purpose

It’s likely that you have some systems and processes in place to support your problem-solving activities, but it’s well worth carrying out an audit to check whether what you have is fit for purpose and that there are no significant need gaps.

You’ll want tools that help facilitate collaboration and enable teams to align from anywhere – with easy access and efficient ways to both create and share new ideas.

It’s important that home workers and hybrid workers can contribute from anywhere at any time, and having an open channel of communication is vital if you want to be able to get things done seamlessly.

You may want to consider ways to reduceyour traditional meetings. This could mean taking a more asynchronous approach to the way your organization works, allowing colleagues to perform their tasks at different times to keep a project moving forward. Or it could simply mean keeping an eye on where your collective intelligence is challenged the most. In which situations do you struggle to find solutions to problems, and could your success ratio be improved by a few simple tweaks?

Another thing to consider is shifting your focus from more traditional workshop style problem-solving sessions to a design thinking approach. For the uninitiated, this may seem like a bit of a buzzword, but it’s also a great way to break away from the traditional obstacles that can hold project managers back from finding solutions to their most pressing problems, and it’s absolutely possible to facilitate design thinking sessions remotely or in hybrid mode.

Take a chance

Many of the difficulties project managers currently face with problem solving are ways of working that are really ingrained. They are often tied up with what is the ‘accepted norm’ and culturally, it can be tricky to do things differently.

Bringing tools together to leverage them in new ways can be a smart way to do this, but it only works if it starts at the very top, with business leaders empowering their people to use the tools at their disposal to find more effective and efficient ways of working.

But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’ve got no choice but to adapt to survive, and that often, trying something differently is when the magic happens!

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