How Technology Allows Us to Solve Problems Better and Faster

By Devyn Colson                                                                                       April 6, 2021
technology blog post

From the very first wheel to the latest cognitive computer, technology has helped humans solve problems and expand horizons. Today, technology is an increasingly important problem-solving tool for project professionals. Devyn Colson, PMI’s Director of IT Operations, discusses the role technology can play in tackling tougher and more complex project management challenges.

At its root, project management is about solving problems. Therefore, it stands to reason that the more tools we have for problem solving, the more effective we will be in achieving successful outcomes.

Today, most of our problem-solving tools are technology related. Indeed, it’s fair to say that technology is the water we swim in on the job. It surrounds us, supports us and touches just about every aspect of our professional lives. 

That truth really hit home during the pandemic. Technology suddenly became the lifeline that kept many of us tethered to our jobs. It addressed the problem of how organizations would function when it was no longer possible to be physically present in the workplace.

Our experience at PMI offers a great example. We had started using Microsoft Office 365 even before COVID but hadn’t yet maximized its true potential. The pandemic, however, forced us to accelerate full deployment of the software suite. Within a week, our associates were working effectively from home—using Microsoft Teams for file sharing, video meetings and more. 

Technologies like Teams have a leveling effect on organizations. They give employees access to a greater range of products that are available in the cloud. These include tools like Trello and Miro that foster shared visualization and virtual collaboration and that can be embedded directly into staff workflows to generate more problem-solving ideas. 

At PMI, we’re also encouraging project professionals to use low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools for faster problem-solving application and software development. In fact, PMI has introduced PMI Citizen Developer, the industry’s first, platform-agnostic educational resources around low-code/no-code practices. Microsoft estimates that of the 500 million new apps expected to be developed over the next five years, 450 million of them—90 percent—will be built using low-code tools.

Giving project professionals the technology tools to solve problems themselves not only leads to better solutions, but also drives employee engagement, satisfaction and, ultimately, retention. And there are more and more tools available to project professionals to help in problem solving. Agile, Scrum and Disciplined Agile are all widely used toolsets. And the PMBOK® Guide is a virtual toolbox containing a multitude of resources that can help project professionals solve problems and do their jobs better and faster.

But what if you’re up against a difficult problem—one whose scale and complexity are truly daunting? Working with Tom Wujec, author and tech pioneer, PMI has developed an online course and toolkit for solving such “wicked problems.” Tom likes to say that Wicked Problem Solving serves as a shared operating system for solving problems and fostering greater collaboration. It’s based on cognitive science and incorporates elements of design thinking and lean and agile practices. And once we know how to tame a wicked problem, we can use the same scalable principles and practical methods to address virtually any type of problem that comes our way. In fact, when the pandemic hit, PMI trained 120 of its staffers in Wicked Problem Solving—helping our organization work through a myriad of issues and weather the crisis better than anyone thought possible.

Technology tools like Disciplined Agile and citizen development allow us to break new ground as project professionals and problem solvers. At the end of the day, however, they can’t replace one aspect of problem solving which remains a uniquely human capability: defining and framing the problem.

In many ways, this is often the hardest part of problem solving—requiring deep study of the problem and the context surrounding it. That’s why we start all problem solving with root cause analysis—to get at the real problem we want to solve and to frame it in a way that leads to a solution.

That solution, of course, often involves technology and one of the many technology tools available today. I’ve personally been coding since second or third grade and have devoted much of my life to using technology to get work done and achieve personal goals—which requires that I continuously learn and gain new capabilities. As project management evolves as a profession, technology will continue to be the lifeline we draw upon to solve problems and do our jobs in the most effective way possible.

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