Problem-solving methods: Effective strategies for finding successful solutions

A project already involves a new and complex task, which then has to cope with additional challenges, unplanned events and crises. The project manager and the project team need to identify complicated issues and, ideally, come up with sustainable solutions. All challenges can first be broken down into smaller work areas, e.g. phases or work packages, to reduce complexity. An appropriate tool and process can then be selected for each work area to achieve a solution.
A solved magic cube.


What are problem-solving methods?

Problem-solving methods are systematic approaches and strategies used to solve problems. They provide structured frameworks and procedures for effectively addressing challenges and finding solutions. These methods can be applied in a variety of settings and situations, including personal or professional, scientific, technical, or everyday project management. Problem solving methods make it possible to break down complex problems into smaller, manageable units and work systematically to solve them. They provide a clear structure and help to organise and optimise the problem-solving process. By providing proven techniques and tools, problem-solving methods help us to work out solutions more efficiently, creatively and purposefully.

Why problem-solving methods are important in project management

Problem-solving methods play a crucial role in project management because projects often face challenges and problems that need to be solved in order to achieve the project's goals. The use of problem-solving methods enables project managers and their teams to work in a structured and systematic way to identify, analyse and solve problems. By using appropriate problem-solving methods, project managers can identify potential risks early, develop solutions and effectively manage the progress of the project. Problem-solving methodologies also provide clear guidance and help project teams to collaborate on solutions and improve communication and collaboration. They also enable continuous monitoring and adjustment of project performance to ensure that the project stays on track and that obstacles are overcome efficiently. Problem-solving methods in project management thus help to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of projects and to achieve successful results.

What distinguishes good and effective problem-solving methods

Good problem-solving methods provide a clear and structured approach that enables the project manager and the team to systematically analyse problems and develop effective and sustainable solutions. They enable collaboration across spatial and temporal boundaries and ensure that the problem-solving process can be seamlessly resumed after extended breaks or interruptions. While all this promotes flexibility and efficiency in problem-solving, it also makes it essential to provide clearly traceable and documented partial solutions or partial results.
Effective problem-solving methods 
  • are characterised by their flexible and versatile applicability to different types and categories of problems,
  • support the entire problem-solving process,
  • promote individual as well as team work in problem solving,
  • create space for creativity and innovation,
  • help to keep the focus on the problem.

Roles in problem solving

If the problem owner is not the decision-maker in a personal capacity, there needs to be a responsible person who can decide on the final solution and provide the necessary resources. 
In general, problem solving can be done individually or in a team. If the problem is to be solved in a team, this can broaden the perspective and encourage creativity through the exchange of different perspectives and experiences. The team should be composed of people who have the knowledge and skills to analyse the problem and contribute ideas for possible solutions. In order to effectively manage and control the teamwork and the problem-solving process, different roles need to be assigned to the team. These roles are
  • Problem owner
  • Technical expert 
  • Moderator 
The problem owner plays a central role because they have identified the problem and formulated the task. As they may be directly affected by the problem, they often have extensive knowledge of the background, environment and impact of the existing problem. In the absence of a higher-level decision-maker, they are ultimately responsible for selecting and implementing the solution. 
The technical expert may bring specific knowledge and experience to bear on particular aspects of the problem.
To ensure that all relevant aspects of the problem are addressed, the moderator is responsible for organising and structuring the meeting. They guide the problem-solving process, facilitate communication and encourage teamwork. However, they also help to ensure that all participants are able to contribute actively and that the discussion is kept on track. This requires them to slow down 'talkative' participants and make room for 'quieter' team members to speak.

Problem-solving process

An effective problem-solving process is based on valuable information, which may come from studies, statistics, testimonials, interviews or questionnaires with experts or stakeholders, observation of processes or situations, and forecasts (made intuitively, e.g. through surveys, or analytically through simulations or extrapolations).

Three basic approaches are distinguished for the problem-solving process:
  • sequential phase models,
  • problem-solving cycle and
  • form-based systems. 
Sequential phase models divide the process into successive phases, e.g. the phase of: 
  • Problem identification, 
  • problem analysis, 
  • solution development and 
  • solution implementation.  
In this way, they provide a structured approach and allow participants to go through the process step by step.

The problem-solving cycle is a concept that relies on a repetitive process cycle. A problem is identified, analysed and solved. Whereby the solution found leads to an improved product or system. Now the reduced problem or a new problem is identified, analysed and solved and so on. The problem-solving cycle enables an iterative and learning way of working, where experience can be continuously gained and solutions optimised.
form-based system uses standardised forms or checklists to structure the process. It provides a clear work instruction and thus ensures that all important steps and information are taken into account. The efficiency and quality of problem solving can be improved, especially for recurring problems or standardised processes.


With the right steps and methods, complex problems can be tackled efficiently and the desired results achieved. Regardless of the approach chosen, a systematic problem-solving process is crucial to successfully address challenges and achieve sustainable solutions.

Problem-solving methods - the author
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Problem solving methods

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