Thinking models and techniques for project management

Sometimes, the best explanation for the failure of a project is not the processes that managers use to guide employees, but the quality of the thinking that team members used at each stage in the design and fulfilment phases.ย  Thinking ultimately determines all aspects of a project, including how team members interact and communicate with one another, how they make decisions, and how they solve the problems and challenges that will inevitably arise.

Meta-cognition and modelling

One important thinking technique that can help team members to better establish methods for meeting the goals of the project is meta-cognition, which basically boils down to ‘thinking about thinking’.ย  A skilled team manager can guide his or her staff in exercises that demonstrate the thinking that underlies a particular decision.

For example, many people make decisions based on background knowledge, but they may not be aware that a lifetime of context is the basis for their ‘intuition’.ย  By doing his or her thinking out loud, a manager can model for team members how experiences on recent projects are guiding decisions being undertaken on the current one.ย  The next step in a meta-cognition thinking exercise is to allow team members to ‘think out loud’ to a co-worker regarding a relatively simple decision that must be made.ย  This technique will ground team members in the habit of examining their own thought processes, which can help them understand when their intuition is spot on and when it is actually a negative force in their decision-making process.


Another important thinking technique that can help when tough challenges present themselves during a project is synergy.ย  This refers to the fact โ€“ well-documented in empirical research โ€“ that when it comes to creative solution-building, a whole group really is more than the sum of its individual parts.ย  Three or four team members working together to overcome a challenge are far more likely to produce a viable approach than the same individuals working on their own for a comparable amount of time.

Synergy works because, in some contexts, thinking is best done in groups.ย  One person’s half-formed, unworkable idea may actually be the stimulus that leads another team member to a viable solution โ€“ one that would never have been generated without that all-important stimulus.

A project managment team that makes a practice of expanding their thinking techniques through the overt use of such models will be more likely to make sound decisions and access the kind of creativity that causes some companies to stand head and shoulders above their competitors.

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