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In the fast-paced world of Project Management Offices (PMOs), effective problem-solving is a key skill that PMO Analysts and PMO Managers must master. From aligning projects with strategic objectives to ensuring smooth operational workflows, problem-solving skills are used daily in the PMOs, in projects, and when managing portfolios. In this post, we’ll explore why it’s a critical skill for PMO managers and analysts and discuss some effective techniques and mindsets that can enhance your problem-solving capabilities.

Why Problem-Solving Matters in PMO

Problem-solving in PMO goes beyond fixing immediate issues; it’s about identifying and addressing the root causes of challenges to prevent recurrence and drive continuous improvement. In a strategic sense, it ensures that projects align with the organization’s broader goals, enabling better resource allocation and risk management. And when it comes to running and operating the PMO, problem-solving skills are used to refine methodologies, improve team dynamics, and swiftly adapt to changes – crucial in today’s dynamic project and agile environments.

Four Effective Techniques for PMO Problem-Solving

Here are four of our favourite, road-tested techniques for solving problems in the PMO. Too much reading? Scroll to the bottom of the page, and we have a handy video digest for you!

Red Stop sign

1: The STOP Method

Quick and efficient, the STOP method stands for:

  • Stop: Don’t react impulsively. Pause and assess the situation.
  • Think: Consider the problem and potential causes briefly.
  • Options: Brainstorm possible solutions quickly.
  • Proceed: Choose the most suitable option and act on it.

The STOP method is perfect for immediate response to unforeseen challenges in project management.

Image of an A3 Analysis sheet

2: The A3 Process

Originating from Lean methodology, the A3 process is a structured approach to problem-solving. It involves:

  • Defining the problem and the current situation.
  • Setting realistic goals.
  • Performing root cause analysis.
  • Developing countermeasures.
  • Implementing a plan and following up. A3 encourages a thorough examination of problems and fosters a systematic approach to solving them.

Learn more about A3 Analysis here: 

A visual representation of an Ishikawa Diagram, also known as a fishbone diagram.

3: Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa Diagram):

  • This technique, developed by Kaoru Ishikawa, helps identify a problem’s root causes. It visually maps out the various causes leading to an effect (the problem) and categorizes them, often into factors like People, Processes, Policies, and Environment.
  • It’s particularly useful for complex problems where multiple contributing factors must be understood and addressed.

4: Empathy Mapping:

  • Empathy Mapping is a tool for gaining insight into stakeholders or customers. It involves creating a visual map articulating what a specific group or individual thinks, feels, sees, and does. This understanding can lead to better problem-solving by aligning solutions more closely with stakeholder needs and experiences.
  • It’s particularly useful in PMO for understanding the perspectives of project stakeholders, ensuring that solutions are not just technically sound but also empathically aligned with user needs and expectations.

Thinking Hats

5: Thinking Hats

Created by Edward de Bono, the Thinking Hat technique is great for helping everyone see a problem from the same perspective. It is also a great way of avoiding time lost in conflict. The thinking hat approach encourages everyone in the problem-solving team to wear different perspectives or hats one after the other. This method is particularly effective in group discussions and brainstorming sessions, allowing team members to shift their thinking and consider issues from multiple angles.

  • White Hat: Focuses on data and facts. Used for objective analysis and neutral information gathering.
  • Red Hat: This hat represents feelings, intuition, and emotions. It encourages the expression of emotions and gut reactions without justification.
  • Black Hat: Concerned with caution and risk assessment. It helps identify potential barriers, weaknesses, or risks in a plan or decision.
  • Yellow Hat: This hat symbolizes optimism and the exploration of positives. It is used to identify benefits and value in ideas and situations.
  • Green Hat: This hat stands for creativity and new ideas. It encourages thinking outside the box and seeking alternative solutions.
  • Blue Hat: Represents process control and organization. Used for managing the thinking process, summarizing insights, and outlining next steps.

Cultivating a Problem-Solving Mindset

Understanding the Problem-Solving Mindset

Solving problems is more than a skill; it’s a way of thinking that enables individuals to approach challenges with confidence, creativity, and efficiency. This mindset is characterized by a proactive approach, where problems are seen as opportunities to improve and innovate rather than mere obstacles to overcome. It involves thinking ahead, anticipating potential issues, and being prepared with strategies to mitigate them. In the dynamic environment of PMO, where projects are complex and ever-changing, such a mindset is invaluable.

The Importance of a Problem-Solving Mindset in PMO

The importance of a problem-solving mindset cannot be overstated in PMO roles. It’s essential for aligning projects with strategic goals, ensuring efficient execution, and adapting to new challenges. This mindset allows PMO professionals to break down complex problems into manageable components, assess them logically, and devise effective solutions. It’s not just about finding any solution but about finding the right one that aligns with the project’s objectives and the organization’s strategic direction.

Characteristics of a Problem-Solving Mindset

Those with a problem-solving mindset tend to be adaptable, resilient, and open-minded. They view challenges through a lens of curiosity, asking questions to understand the problem deeply before jumping to solutions. They are collaborative, recognizing that diverse perspectives can lead to more innovative solutions. Critical thinking is a cornerstone of this mindset; it involves evaluating situations objectively, questioning assumptions, and considering various solutions before deciding. Additionally, a problem-solving mindset is marked by a focus on continuous learning and development, understanding that skills and strategies must evolve to meet the changing demands of the project management landscape.

Nurturing Your Problem-Solving Mindset

Developing a problem-solving mindset is a journey of personal and professional growth. It starts with a willingness to embrace challenges and a commitment to continuous learning. This means staying updated with new PMO methodologies, learning from successes and setbacks and being open to feedback. It also involves cultivating resilience so that when faced with challenges, you can recover quickly and maintain a positive, solution-focused attitude. Mindfulness and stress management techniques can help maintain clarity of thought, especially in high-pressure situations. Finally, nurturing a problem-solving mindset involves embracing collaboration and empathy and understanding that effective solutions often come from understanding the needs and perspectives of all stakeholders involved.

Solving PMO problems at PMO HotHouse

PMO Hothouse is a monthly magazine show we deliver in partnership with the House of PMO team. In January 2024, we discussed problem-solving in the PMO – and we recorded it for you! Check it out below:


Problem-solving is a skill that can be developed and refined over time. It’s about more than just techniques; it’s about cultivating a mindset that embraces challenges as opportunities for growth. For PMO analysts and managers alike, mastering this skill means driving project success and contributing to their organization’s strategic achievements. For PMO Administrators, this is an essential skill you will need to hone if you are pursuing a promotion to Analyst in the future. Here are your homework tasks:

  • The STOP method is quick to master and can be used in problem-solving, from negotiating with angry toddlers in the home environment to getting key projects back on track at work. Learn the STOP technique and practice it in everyday problem-solving challenges. Practice until it becomes second nature.
  • Expand your problem-solving toolbox with other techniques from the list above.
  • Nurture your problem-solving mindset, recognize when to shift mentally, and bring your problem-solving strengths to the foreground.

Remember, in the world of PMO, every problem is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, adaptability, and value. Enhancing your problem-solving skills and mindset makes you a key asset in any project management scenario.

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