Problems crop up in projects all the time. But after years of dealing with challenges, teams sometimes struggle to come up with innovative ways to solve issues. Time pressures, the fatigue of a lengthy initiative, frustration, ingrained habits, and plain old mental blocks make it difficult to look at problems in fresh ways.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome all these barriers. If your team is stuck in a problem-solving rut, consider some exercises that can help amp up their creativity to find new solutions.
1. Promote experimentation.
Encouraging your team to think outside the box requires an environment where people feel they can safely take risks without the fear of penalties or punishment. That doesn’t mean the project group has a free-for-all during problem-solving sessions, it just means that suggestions don’t need to be bulletproof to be presented for discussion. Encourage ideas that are half-formed or still have some holes. These seeds can be further shaped and improved by the team to see if they’re viable fixes for the challenge at hand. This exercise enables you to elicit more potential solutions for every problem you encounter, and team members benefit by building up their troubleshooting muscles along the way.
2. Seek out diverse perspectives.
Your project team members probably share a lot of background experiences. For example, most of the people in your group may have spent their careers in your current industry. That focused expertise can be hugely advantageous, but it may also create unexpected gaps when it comes to finding creative solutions to project challenges. Survey your team to determine who can bring a new perspective to the problem. Someone with a different background—perhaps they worked in a different sector before joining your organization, or their previous employer was much larger or smaller than your company—may have fresh ideas about solving problems. It’s even better if you can pull together a mix of many different viewpoints and backgrounds, so you can pick and choose the very best suggestion to address the current issue.
3. Embrace constraints.
Every project has its own set of hard boundaries, and challenges are often tied to one or more of these constraints. Instead of viewing a problem through the lens of your project’s parameters, ask your team to reframe the issue. Take one of the constraints, such as a critical deadline or lean funding, and eliminate it. What steps would your team implement to solve this problem if the project had unlimited funds? How would your team fix this issue if there were no cutoff dates? The resulting suggestions may need some tweaking to be workable in the real world, but by reframing the box around the problem you just might jostle new ideas loose that can help address the challenge in front of you.
4. Glean new insights from previous projects.
Post-mortem reports are typically prepared soon after a project is complete. These highly useful look-backs assess multiple facets of a project, including when and where problems arose, the effectiveness of the resolutions that were implemented, and how closely the final outcomes aligned with the original project scope and expectations. But though they’re often compiled and reviewed soon after a project is complete, the real power of post-mortem reviews may be their usefulness in future projects. If your team is facing a difficult challenge, don’t hesitate to reach back into the past and review the post-mortem reports from your previous efforts. What didn’t appear to be an important lesson at the time may get your team’s creative juices flowing to fix the problem you face now.