Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PMP Protein: Information Gathering Techniques

By Ajanta Behera, PMP

In the PMP® examination, you can expect a number of questions on various information gathering technique. In this article, I’ve outlined a few of them.

The easy way to remember these techniques is to use an acronym.

As you can see above, the acronym used to remember is – BIRD. In fact, if you add another one, which is SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats), it becomes BIRDS!

Now, let us discuss in detail, 3 of the above ones – Brainstorming, Root Cause Analysis and Delphi Technique. 

I. Brainstorming 
This technique definitely makes its way for success for any problem at hand. Brainstorming is a technique used to generate and collect multiple ideas related to a project and product requirements.  This statement is taken from the PMBOK® Guide.  A frequent use of why a particular problem exists or how to resolve, what methods to apply, when to apply, who shall take the ownership of the resolution, Why a particular solution will work better than the other solutions will give a better understanding of the problem at hand.

Who should follow this technique?
This technique can be followed by anyone who has a problem at hand.  If there are two or more participants, this will be more useful.  But it does not exclude the situation where there is a single person and who wants to solve his own problem cannot use this technique. 

How does this work?
A team identifies a problem at hand, gets together in the room. A problem statement is stated and written down on the white board. The team starts a brainstorming session. The team starts giving the solution to the given problem. A project manager should be able to facilitate this session properly otherwise the session may not be effective.  The solution is written down on the white board.  It is discussed in detail as to why that solution must be chosen, what the benefits of that solution are. More solutions are thought of and put down on the board.  The solutions are prioritized, and the action point of who would own to work on the solutions would be discussed.  The team performs an iterative method of finding the solutions until the best solution is discovered. This technique can be applied to various phases of the project or product analysis. 

What are the benefits?
1- Greater productivity since the entire team member is participating in this activity. 
2- Better quality of products /services/results.
3- Better customer satisfaction
4- Greater bonding with the team 
5- Much effective results/products/services.
6- Lower project cost and better adherence to schedule.

Though the above technique is powerful enough to bring a lot of benefits mentioned above, if it is used in combination with Delphi technique or Root cause analysis, the results or outcomes would be more effective.

II. Delphi Technique 
The Delphi technique is a way to reach a consensus of experts. This statement is taken from the PMBOK guide. Here the project risk experts participate in this technique anonymously.  Mark the word anonymously.  A set of predetermined questions are distributed among the experts.  The responses are collected and summarized. This is done by a facilitator. After the responses are summarized, the responses are sent back to the experts for further comments. This is again an iterative process. This process helps to remove bias in the data and prevents the influence of the individual person on the outcome. 

How does this work?
A team identifies a problem at hand, gets together in the room. A problem statement is stated and written down on the sheet of paper and distributed among the participants. The team starts a rating process. Each participant is assigned a 100 token which has to be distributed among the various questions. A project manager usually facilitates this session.  There are chances that the experts may feel very strongly about a particular problem and they can give the 100 tokens to one particular problem. The ratings or responses are collected and shared among all the team members for further analysis. Another approach is to rate the items from highest to lowest priority. Now the team gets an opportunity to explain why they have chosen a particular response to the problem.   The facilitator calculates the mean, median, standard deviation.  Here the discussion is important because each member can explain why a particular rating is assigned to the problem. This is a time-consuming process. This process is repeated for much iteration until the standard deviation of the responses starts to converge and is within the acceptable range.

III. Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis is a specific technique used to identify a problem, discover the underlying causes that lead to it and develop preventive action. This is the definition mentioned in the PMBOK guide. Mostly this technique is used once there is a problem at hand. The solution discovered for the problem prevents the problem to recur. The solution may not be the permanent solution. Further analysis of the problem could help to develop the effective solution. 

How does this work?
A problem is identified. This would be a systematic analysis of the problem at hand. An individual or several of the team members would be finding the solution to the problem. The solution would be worked out to remove the problem at hand. In case the solution does not work other solutions are found. This is also an iterative process. It continues as long as the solution to the problem removes the problem. This is mostly a preventive method. Once the effective solution is found out, the solution must be included in the service/result/report. This may also be a time-consuming process.
The above three methods definitely would bring a greater success as much time is invested to find the solutions to the problems at hand. It would also increase the team binding as all of the team members would have come together to find out the solution.  Frequent use of these techniques can result in better outcomes. 

Written by Ajanta Behera:
Ajanta Behera is a software professional with 12 years of experience in variety of domains - Clinical, Insurance, and Finance. She is currently working as an Associate Project Manager with Standard Chartered Bank, India.

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