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Problem-Solving Success Tip: Use Your Project Management Skills

Solving a big problem is a project: you're far more likely to solve it successfully if you treat it like one. That means you'll need to identify tasks, make and adjust assignments, and keep track of what is due when.

Get on the right track immediately by starting a task list as soon as you start working on the problem. Every time you think of something that needs to be done, put it on your task list along with the owner, due date and completion criteria (how you're going to know the task is successfully completed). That way, you won't have to worry about forgetting important details, or waste time constantly reconstructing the list in your mind.

Once the problem is defined, you can lay out a project schedule and estimate the resources you'll need. At the very least, you'll need access to key people who have knowledge of the problem. Some of them may need to be released from other responsibilities to work on your problem-solving team. You may also need money for travel, special equipment, exclusive use of a conference room, etc. Figuring this out in advance and making sure it is allocated will help you run your project smoothly.

In addition to the tasks to analyze and solve the problem itself, you'll also need a communication plan and a contingency plan. The communication plan will identify who needs what information about your problem solving effort, when they need it and how you are going to provide it. The contingency plan identifies the things that could stop you from solving the problem and specifies what you are going to do about it. Add the appropriate tasks to implement your communication and contingency plans to your task list.

HINT: Orient tasks to deliverables. Each task should result in something tangible, which will help you make sure the tasks actually accomplish something.

copyright 2005. Jeanne Sawyer. All Rights Reserved.

Jeanne Sawyer is an author, consultant, trainer and coach who helps her clients solve expensive, chronic problems, such as those that cause operational disruptions and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. These tips are excerpted from her book, When Stuff Happens: A Practical Guide to Solving Problems Permanently. Find out about it, and get more free information on problem solving at her web site:

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