It goes without saying that now, more than ever, we need to think beyond the bounds of the usual solutions and engage in much more creative problem-solving together. If you are hoping the world is going to come out of lockdown basically the same, all signs indicate that you are wrong — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, how can we use this experience positively? What can creative problem-solving and an agile mindset offer us now and in whatever comes next?

Creative problem-solving typically involves four key stages:

    1. Identifying a goal or vision.
    2. Interrogating the problem and defining some hypotheses.
    3. Prototyping ideas.
    4. Implementation, which usually involving iterative testing and user feedback.

When matched with agile project management approaches, we can use creative problem-solving to quickly test ideas with end users, iterate and move on. To do so well, there are two important mindset principles. The first is belief: You have to believe there is a solution out there somewhere. The second is optimism, which will help you approach the challenge with a willingness to embrace options you might have rejected or not seen before.

When we hear of pubs and restaurants changing their operations to online delivery, of F1 factories making ventilators, of school labs using 3D printers for protective masks, we are seeing creative problem-solving optimism at work. In all these instances, there is a belief in the pursuit of available solutions and an optimism in trying something new.

Alignment Is Key

Agile working practices are rigorous about goal-setting and team alignment. Everyone needs to know the goal of the project in times of crisis; for example, fighting COVID-19 is a great example of a unifying goal. With this type of goal, all team members can play their part and reflect on how they might make a contribution (even if that contribution involves staying inside).

As staff are furloughed, production lines suspended and operations shut down, organizational leaders face important questions about uncertain futures. When faced with seemingly enormous challenges, it helps to be able to break them down and define a more manageable set of clear goals and directions for new ideas. Leaders are working out where else and how else they might deploy their people so they can add value and make a contribution. As they do so, focusing on clearly articulated challenges, one at a time, is helpful.

Once you break your problem down into a set of goals, you can use creative problem-solving approaches, coupled with agile project management, to work systematically through how you might find new solutions.

Agile Can Work Remotely

We could all take a leaf out of the agile project management playbook right now; agile was designed for colocation but can work remotely, too. Align your team around a clear goal; run short daily check-ins for 10 to 15 minutes; and schedule regular, longer project progress meetings to review progress or make the decisions needed to move the project forward.

Be ruthless in focusing on what needs to happen now and next. Allocating roles to keep a project on track is also useful; for example, designate a “time lord” to make sure your team meets its deadlines. Remember to iterate based on what is working and change what isn’t.

Pay Attention to Engagement and Team Dynamics

Remember that the rules of effective teamwork don’t evaporate with virtual agile work. It is still important to focus on communication, engagement and understanding. Think about how to stand up an agile team remotely. Recognize the challenges of home working arrangements, individual mental health, and the need for social and downtime together. Creative thinking requires us to unlock different parts of our brain, so project leaders need to work hard at creating the right space virtually to do so.

The Right Tools for the Job

There are some fantastic creative problem-solving tools to try, from the basics of a conference call whiteboard to creative boards and project planners, many of which are effective tools for virtual brainstorming and idea-sharing. Prepare an online creative session with the same thought you would give to a face-to-face creative session:

    • Is everyone in the right frame of mind?
    • Have you provided a good stimulus to help people engage with the problem in an insightful way?
    • Have you chosen some energizers to ensure everyone can be his or her best creative selves?

Experimenting with the plethora of online options is worth an hour or two of your time. You will find inspiration for your teams to help foster creativity and collaboration in the virtual space.