What If Its A ‘Wicked Problem’?

Aug 9, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Professional Development, Project Management  //  No Comments

I’ve been doing business analysis and project management for a while now and sometimes you run into one of those project that you just can’t seem to get traction on.  Maybe it’s time to consider it a ‘Wicked Problem’.

From Wikipedia it states:

‘Wicked Problem’ is a phrase originally used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.

I know what you’re thinking…if you’re the Project Manager or Business Analyst you should be able to get to the real requirements and the real problem.  And I would normally agree with that, but read a little further about “Wicked Problems” and you’ll see it isn’t so straightforward.  It isn’t just about the requirements, but the difficulty in defining the problem and the goal, as well as the overall social and cultural aspects at play.  And if the organization and environment are constantly changing you can’t stick a stake in the ground and say “this is what it looks like”.  By the time you finish writing it down, it will have changed.

The people in the organization also contribute to the problem here.  If you have different aspects of the business that are unable to agree on the goals and vision you will never be able to come up with a solution using traditional methods.  Normally, this type of problem doesn’t apply to an organization, but more to societal and cultural issues.  However, the odd time, you run into a company and project where it exists.

I found a great blog post about this over on Charlie’s Diary written by Karl Schroeder.  I would advise you to go read it.

Lastly, have you ever run into a ‘Wicked Problem’ in an organization or project?

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