Managing complex problems

By Raeleen  |  25 August 2015

A complex problem has arisen at work, and it’s up to you to solve it. Do you:

  1. Identify the complex problem and initiate the complex problem toolkit procedure
  2. Quietly freak out but figure you’ll work your way through it; even if you have to work extra hours to get it done, it will be a learning experience
  3. Pull it apart and break it down into smaller, doable tasks – write a plan, draw a picture, whatever it takes to get it straight in your brain
  4. Ask for help or talk it through with your boss or a colleague.

One common issue people have when managing complex problems is making A their default reaction any time a problem that requires some creative thought comes up. Immediately, there is an element of fear and overwhelm that comes as part and parcel with the complex problem. But the fact is, you solve a complex problem like you solve any other problem – and the same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time. Overwhelm is a wasted emotion and does not serve you in any way.

And as much as we’re all tempted to go with B sometimes, I think we all know it’s not the way to go. Treating complex issues as a learning experience is fraught with problems. Sure, it’s great to learn new skills, but tackling an unfamiliar problem on your own is probably not the most effective way to learn.

Is there someone in the office who can teach you? Would asking for help be more effective? Is this even a skill the business will need you to use again any time soon?

Learning experiences are great, if they can help the business, but if you’re just out to learn a new skill for personal development, or to make yourself marketable the next time you’re looking for a job, you might want to think again. Add to that, if your time is billable, and this ‘learning experience’ is going to blow out the project, that’s a decision you cannot make on your own. Ask the boss – they’re the ones that have to account for the budget.

Sometimes you just have to solve complex problems on your own, and that’s fine. Option C is a good one. Just keep working at it until it’s done.

But often, you’ll find there will be someone who can help. That’s where option comes into play. Maybe your boss can provide direction. Maybe someone in your office has the skills you lack that can help you tick this problem off your list. Or maybe just talking it through with someone – even if they have no skills that are practically useful – will help you work it out in your head a little, so the problem doesn’t seem quite so big.

And there will be times when, although this problem has landed in your lap, you aren’t the best person to solve it after all. That’s when you need to speak up and say, “I’m not the best person for this job.” That takes guts but it’s the right thing to do for the business.

“Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them.”
– Laurence J. Peter

Written by Raeleen  |  25 August 2015

Hi, I'm Raels, I’m a working mum juggling two beautiful boys and a demanding business. I have been a digital marketing specialist and graphic designer for 26 years. And I’ve run my own digital agency Mettro for 14. I’m thrilled to share with you my straight up business talk.