Project managers are often regarded as task managers that are sticklers for scope, schedule and budget. A lesser known, but essential, role they also play is that of facilitators. Facilitation is one of the most important project management skills. All projects encounter challenges and project managers must leverage the strengths of their team to address them.

I learned more about creative problem solving as a project management approach at Leadership Techniques, LLC. Creative problem solving is a process and there are numerous processes out there, but most include the following steps:

  • Defining the problem (what is the “mess” you’re trying to solve?)
  • Determining the root cause (this is important so that you’re solving the “right” problem)
  • Generating possible solutions (this is where techniques such as brainstorming come in)
  • Picking the best solution (what can do the most good to solve the root cause?)
  • Implementing the solution (putting your solution to work)
  • Assessing the effectiveness of the solution (verifying the problem was solved)

Project managers can use a variety of techniques to drive teams to develop and implement creative solutions. Some of the key elements include facilitating both divergent (coming up with as many ideas as possible) and convergent thinking (narrowing down the list to arrive at the best solution). For example, multiple approaches to brainstorming exist. Depending on time and resource constraints, project managers can leverage a combination of approaches to get teams to generate creative solutions to business problems.

One important thing to keep in mind is we can all get better at creative thinking because it’s a skill we can exercise. Project managers should continue to look for ways to leverage their own creative thinking and that of the teams they manage.

Organizations can also work to create a work environment that supports creative problem solving. Company culture can be a key barrier to creative problem solving. Openness to new ideas (or lack of ideas) is essential to help promote creative thinking. While we are often expected to have a solution at hand for problems we raise, project managers can encourage their teams to come to them even if they don’t have solutions yet to offer.

The value of project managers extends far beyond keeping projects on task. Consider how you can encourage the “creative side” of project management at your organization and empower your facilitators to develop their approaches to creative problem solving.