Topic 3.4: Identifying options
After all, good ideas often come to us as well-formed project solutions.
For example, we might know that the best way to recognise and reward high performing project managers is to give them a cash bonus.
Yet is this really the best way to achieve our intended outcomes – outcomes we defined in our project concept canvas?
Is it the most cost-effective solution? And if it is, how do we know?
How do we prove it?
Before we start digging holes or writing code or booking talent, our project solution needs to be critically evaluated against a range of options.
It is also arrogant to assume that yours is the only mind that can turn to this problem. Given the same time and money, someone else may arrive at a more elegant solution.
And even if they don’t, they may believe their solution is better, unless you can prove otherwise.
This is why we engage our community of stakeholders as early as possible in a project’s life.
Remember what we said earlier: the cost of change increases significantly the further you get into a project.
Discovering when a project is half-built that there was a better way to achieve our outcomes is not only embarrassing, but expensive.
Even when acting under a contract for services or just following the boss’s direction, you should always aim to identify and consider a range of options that maximise the project’s potential benefits.
The cash bonus will be the output (or deliverable) of our proposed project, but what are we really trying to achieve here?
As we saw in our concept canvas, the actual outcome we are aiming for is to incentivise our teams to be more productive.
This should fulfil our corporate objective of having a more productive workforce.
So is there another way to achieve the same outcome?
Well, if all we want to do is incentivise project managers to be more productive, we could also:
Give them an additional week of paid leave
Take them on a corporate team building day
Host a project management awards night
Make a charitable donation in their name
Send them and their families to Richard Branson's Island for a holiday
Within these options are a number of additional project possibilities:
Do we award the top 5%, 10% or 20% of project managers?
What do we mean by 'high performance'? Is it performance against the project plan, or peer votes, or client satisfaction, or something else?
Do we deliver the project in-house or outsource it to experts?
For every outcome – and each opportunity will have multiple intended outcomes – there can be literally hundreds of (project) paths to completion.
If we are insufficiently creative, we might miss genuine opportunities to save time and money or add value; whereas if we are not critical enough, we can waste effort or increase the risk of (expensive) error.
Creative thinking is the process of generating and organising our ideas (options) in a way that is meaningful and can be acted on.
Let’s look first at different ways we can generate ideas.
All of these techniques emphasise direct stakeholder consultation as our primary source of ideas and information.
It is nonetheless important that we do not overlook secondary sources of data, such as industry publications, authoritative reports, cases, reviews of like projects and good old Google to inform our decision-making.
The chances are that someone out there has solved this problem before you, and you should look to benefit from their experience, even (or especially) when they are not part of your circle of immediate stakeholders.
In the next topic, we will introduce ways to think critically about the options you have generated.
An approach to creative thinking that is becoming increasingly popular is design thinking.
The video that follows introduces its five (5) recognised stages:
- Prototype, and
Can you see potential for the application of design thinking in project management?