5 Steps to Disciplined Problem Solving

Hurricane Irene spun through New England this weekend. It was a tropical storm by the time it arrived but still wrecked havoc. Many people had to make adjustments or completely change their plans. Many businesses had to close and those that stayed open suffered losses.

Similarly, unexpected events can wreck havoc on software development projects. When (not if) your project gets into trouble, here are a few ideas to guide you:

  1. Focus on solving the problem. There will be plenty of time to identify the cause and assign blame later. All of your attention and energy needs to be directed at finding and implementing a solution as quickly as possible.
  2. Challenge all assumptions. Test the validity of the facts, theories, beliefs and assumptions being articulated. Don’t blindly accept anything as true unless it can substantiated. You need to know that the team is focused on solving the right problem in the right way.
  3. Preserve a positive outlook. It’s okay to disagree. Do it without being disagreeable. Maintaining positive relationships with those around you is important. Once the problem is solved, and it will be, you’ll need to continue working with the team. Keep in mind, and remind others, that no one created the problem intentionally.
  4. Turn your attention to preventing future occurrences. Once the problem is solved, consider small adjustments or additional monitoring that may help avoid a repeat event.
  5. Assess how decisions are made by the team. Now that the problem is solved and avoidable, seek out a root cause. How did the situation that allowed the problem to occur develop? What could have been done differently?

You can’t prevent every problem but you can solve them by following a disciplined process. Perhaps more importantly, you can learn from the experience and stay agile.

Updated: August 28, 2011 — 10:48 pm