Those who manage projects must contend with many variables. They’ve got the entire project to think about, not just one small piece. So, the one skill construction managers can’t do without is problem solving. Every day presents a new series of challenges and problems to solve. Unfortunately, while solving problems, construction managers can inadvertently create new ones. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls of problem solving.
Solving the wrong problem
When you manage project schedules and resources, it’s easy to inadvertently solve a problem, only to find out later it was the wrong problem. Consider this scenario.
You need to get in-floor heating components installed before pouring the slab, but a common item is currently in a warehouse 300 miles away. So, instead of waiting for delivery, you decide to have someone rush out and pick up the material. In this case, your problem statement likely went like this: The material is 300 miles away.
But, is that really the problem? No. The actual problem was you didn’t have the tubing. Sending someone on a 600-mile trip to get it is potentially the wrong solution. There were other options at your disposal, including checking local sources of supply and checking if a trade partner had extra. These actions might have turned up the component. If not this part, perhaps a suitable substitute was available. Yes, you might still be on the hook for the cost of the component in the warehouse, but there are plenty of ways to recover most, if not all, of that cost.
At the start of addressing any problem, follow the advice of Charles Kettering, founder of Delco and the GM head of research for 27 years: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
Involving the wrong people
Everybody in construction has at least once attended a meeting regarding something that had nothing to do with them. When solving a problem, it’s crucial to include all the people with a vested interest in solving the problem. When you have a group of people solving a problem, they are the formal group. They are the ones who determine the problem statement and sort through the possible solutions and eventually decide which solution is best. So those in this group should have some sort of vested interest in fixing the problem.
However, there is another source of input and potential solutions that you could include informally. Those who might not have a vested interest or might not even have direct skills or knowledge related to the problem.
For example, suppose the problem is about carpentry, which involves joining disparate pieces of lumber together. In that case, a plumber might have helpful insights because they regularly join disparate pieces of pipe together. Novices and those not directly involved in the problem can add perspectives that people close to the problem might not consider. So involve them as a resource, but do so casually.
Relying on assumptions and anecdotal evidence
We all make assumptions because they make life much easier. If we can assume, then we don’t have to do anything else but wait for the assumption to play out. Unfortunately, in construction, there is far too much assumption going on.
From assuming sunny weather to assuming everybody showing up on time, every construction project manager has days full of unrealistic assumptions. But, when your assumptions come with just a limited amount of verification, they’re realistic assumptions. As you solve problems, ask yourself at every turn whether your assumptions are realistic.
Anecdotal evidence used in solving a construction problem often shows up when people look for the problem’s cause. Whenever there is potential blame to assign, you will find lots of anecdotal evidence thrown into the mix. When you learn to sort through third-party input and put aside unverifiable claims and statements, you maintain focus on the problem. You also keep more options open for solutions.
Solving the problem by starting with a solution
This is backward problem solving. You already have an existing solution, like a new tool or a new technology, and you decide to apply it to the problem without considering if it’s the best solution. Instead of having a problem searching for a solution, you have a solution searching for a problem. When you use this problem-solving tactic, you’re likely to miss better solutions.
Finally, just consider that every person has their own limitations based on their knowledge, skills, and experiences. They also have unique perspectives based on those same traits. As you go about solving the day’s problems, try to keep an open mind so you don’t miss morsels of brilliance that can make problems magically go away.