Whatever type of project you might be embarking on, from a small 2-person project for a start-up company to a global project for an international organisation, no project will be without its problems. No amount of proper planning and adherence to good project management standards will eliminate problems entirely. (Of course, they can be minimised and controlled with good practises). So instead of viewing problems as setbacks, another approach is to treat them as possible opportunities to learn something new and maybe create a new business opportunity from them. This might not happen on the current project but having to overcome difficulties could offer ways to improve the efficiency of future projects.
An experienced project manager can learn to exploit problems to the advantage of their company rather than simply viewing them as a potential cause of project failure. Problems typically are problems because they could not be predicted so are, therefore, something new that no one on the project team has encountered before, that in itself presents an opportunity to be innovative but it does require a change of mindset away from the approach of trying to fix the problem as quickly as possible.
Many project managers can see with hindsight, and once the pressure to deliver is off, that certain problems that occurred in a project could have been exploited to the benefit of the company, even if not the actual project itself. This suggests that business opportunities are being missed in many projects because of the focus on immediate success of the current project. This indicates that it is not only the mindset of the project manager but also that of the project sponsors and stakeholders that needs to change to turn problems to benefits.
But what type of problem might offer a potential opportunity and how can they be identified?
Clearly, some problems are just problems and there are no positives to be gained from them. Recent research in the Project Management Journal by Lechler, Edington & Gao suggests some categories for potential opportunities such as:
Technical Innovation – Look for technical solutions to overcome existing difficulties that will benefit the project through lowering costs or improving efficiency.
Implementation processes – Look for ways to simplify existing processes to cut costs both on current and future projects.
Future Projects – identification of new processes or products can add value to other projects by improving efficiency or reducing costs.
Problems in the project lifecycle can be caused by numerous different reasons depending on the type of project and the industry or business field; they can be caused by external factors such as legal or regulatory changes, changes in the priorities of either the customer or supplier, new technology or organisational change. Whatever the reason for the problems there can often be further benefits to be gained from the solution to the problem.
Should project managers take responsibility for assessing problems to see what future benefits could be gained from doing so? Have you ever experienced a problem that turned out to have a silver lining? Why not share your thoughts with us…