The following is adapted from The Irreverent Guide to Project Management.
Problems are inevitable in every project. Something is going to make you slow down, miss deadlines, shift gears, change the scope of the project, or spend more money than you expected. The trick is to solve these problems in a way that enables you to keep on time and on budget.
When these impediments arise, it’s best to inspect the problem, adapt, and respond to the changes, but the best way to do that is not always clear. At my firm, we’ve learned that when challenges arise, the best way to handle them is to tackle them with what I call the “Rule of 10.” Read on to learn how the rule works and how it can get you out of tricky spots in your projects.
The Origin of the Rule
Years ago, I was attending a skills workshop for CEOs billed as “The Power of Team Member Engagement.” The facilitator split us up into groups of four. He gave each group a card with a description of a problem and asked us to come up with ten possible solutions. He didn’t tell us the purpose of the exercise; he just gave us the assignment with a ten-minute deadline and started the clock.
I am sure that you can guess that we had four possible solutions immediately because CEOs have all the answers! The fifth and sixth solution took a little longer, but seven through ten took most of our time. Each subsequent solution took longer and required more thought and discussion from the group.
At the end of the ten minutes, we were told to stop. The instructor asked us to raise our hands if we came up with ten solutions. It was easy to see that most of the groups in the room did. Then the instructor gave us two minutes to decide as a group which of the solutions was the best. At the end of the two minutes, the instructor asked us to raise our hands if the best solution was one of the first five, and nobody raised their hands.
Forcing us to come up with more than the first few obvious solutions required us to think harder and to collaborate more with the other members of the group. In every case, the result was that the best solution fell between six and ten on the list.
That’s the Rule of 10. When a project team is working to define the best possible strategy for solving a problem, they have to come up with at least 10 solutions.
Why It Works
Studies show that, when developing solutions, the first few come quickly and are based on our past experiences. This is called “anchoring” or “focalism.” The problem with basing solutions for a current impediment on a past impediment is that the situation is never exactly the same.
The Rule of 10 ensures that a team has identified and assessed all the obvious answers to a problem and then some! In other words, they’ve performed their “due diligence,” and the client (or the executive on the hook) won’t be able to catch the team off guard when asking questions about the viability of their solution. The team will have thought through the problem thoroughly.
Plus, if a team is able to identify ten viable solutions, then they can confidently defend what they’ve decided is the “best” solution. The shortcomings of all the other options will quickly become evident, and they will have already articulated the strengths of the chosen approach.
Finally, if the scenario changes again, they have a bucket full of options ready to go. If Plan A, B, and C don’t pan out, then maybe D, E, F, G, H, I, or J will work.
Ten may sound like a lot of options, but in fact, it’s just right for working through all possible permutations and complications. Since I learned it, the Rule of 10 has never let me down.
For more advice on problem-solving, you can find The Irreverent Guide to Project Management on Amazon.
From the start of his career spent jumping out of helicopters in the United States Navy, J. Scott has a long history of leadership, servanthood, and bearing witness to the transformative power of getting shit done. Since starting 120VC he's personally overseen the global transformational efforts within organizations such as DirecTV, Trader Joe's, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Mattel, and others. His team's unique, irreverent approach to change has generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, J. Scott is a devoted husband and father and author of "It's Never Just Business: It's About People," and "The Irreverent Guide to Project Management," both available on Amazon.com.