An Introduction to Problem Solving in Project Management

5 Steps to Identify and Eliminate Project-Halting Problems

Problem solving is a process for analysing a problem, and then developing and executing a solution. It is a task at which project managers must excel. There are many techniques that can be used for problem solving. The nature of the problem determines which is selected.

In this article, I describe a five-step process for problem solving that provides a systematic approach and helps improve the effectiveness of project management.

Step #1: Define the Problem

If you don’t understand the nature of the problem, then you cannot develop a sustainable solution.

For example, let’s say that a project team continuously misses deadlines. You may believe that the problem is caused by poor performance. On the other hand, the deadlines set may be too restrictive. The nature of the problem will determine the approach you take to solving it.

Step #2: Discover the Causes

Once you understand the problem, you can analyse it more deeply to discover the cause. The cause of a problem acts as a barrier to achieving your goals. Only by analysing the problem and determining the cause can you move to the next step in developing a solution.

It is important not to confuse cause with symptoms. If you only treat the symptoms, the underlying cause remains and will create more problems in the future.

Step #3: Develop Ideas for Solutions

Now it’s time to develop ideas to solve the problem. The wider the range of ideas, the more likely you are to choose a solution that is achievable and actionable.

This step is often achieved through a brainstorming process.

Step #4: Solution Selection

Of course, the point of developing a range of ideas for solutions is to ensure that the best is selected. One way to do this would be to conduct a trade-off analysis.

To do this, you must define the criteria for deciding which solution is best, usually as a series of weighted pros and cons. For each potential solution, the pros and cons are listed and its ranking is scored. The solution with the best ranking is the one that is selected.

Step #5: Put the Solution into Action

Having determined which is the solution of choice, the project manager should develop an action plan. This should include resources needed, budget, timetables, and all those involved. The solution is often run as a mini-project.


Despite PRINCE2’s framework and planning process – which seeks to anticipate risks and problems so that mitigating action can be taken ahead of potential problems becoming issues – all projects may suffer from unforeseen events and circumstances.

This five-step process for problem solving will increase a project manager’s capability to handle problems should they arise during a project – and project managers who react swiftly and decisively to problems have greater success in delivering expected project outcomes.

In our next article, I discuss several techniques which might be used to run effective problem-solving meetings in project management. In the meantime, for project management and project management training that motivates your employees, contact Your Project Manager:

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