How to Strengthen your Strategic Thinking Skills

Have you been told that you need to be more strategic? Being told that you aren’t strategic enough really stings. Worse is when you try to clarify what more strategic would look like and get few tangible suggestions.  Everyone has an opportunity to think more strategically. Being more strategic doesn’t just mean making decisions that … Read more

How to deliver a solution addressing transport challenges

Effective delivery requires carefully designing the approach to deliver a solution to address transport challenges. This includes consultation, coordination, and subsequently evaluating the results achieved.  Transport projects fail because they either experience program failure, which means could not be implemented as designed, or theory failure that is executed as designed but did not produce the desired result. The focus … Read more

How to get resources to address transport challenges?

In previous articles, I outlined the steps in addressing transport challenges: Role of strategy in solving everyday transport challenges A systematic approach to analysing complex transport challenges How to select a solution to solve transport challenges The next step is getting a decision on resourcing – a systematic approach to evaluating transport proposals and presenting … Read more

How to select a solution to solve transport challenges

Selecting the most appropriate intervention or option to address a transport challenge is the next step after defining the problem, determining the strategy and desired outcomes and analysing the challenges. Usually, there is more than one way to address any transport challenge. Different options have unique contributions, key stakeholders, resourcing and risk profiles. A package … Read more

How to use a systematic approach to analysing complex transport challenges

Analysis of transport challenges means identifying and describing the specific problem or problems being faced and getting an understanding of the underlying cause-and-effect relationships. Avoid Mistakes The article “How can you avoid transport policy mistakes?” discussed some of the key mistakes that transport professionals experience when solving complex challenges: Problem-Solution Thinking   Forgetting key stakeholder perspectives … Read more

Role of strategy in solving everyday transport challenges

Let us start with defining strategy. What is strategy? A strategy is a longer term direction to achieve a particular goal.  For example, the vision for road safety is ‘No person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads’ and the strategy to achieve that includes ‘adopting the safe system approach – safe roads, safe speeds, safe … Read more

How to Define and Scope a Transport Problem

Being able to thoughtfully define a transport problem is key to success. Don’t fall into the trap many professionals do by jumping to a solution, without fully understanding what the problem really is. Before a transport solution can be developed to tackle a pressing issue, the problem must be carefully defined and scoped. Transport problems are seldom … Read more

How to avoid three common transport planning mistakes

Solving complex policy issues, such as improving travel time reliability, are challenges facing transport professionals. Problem analysis, however, is not a common skill among transport professionals.

Transport Problems are Complex

Transport problems are complex and dynamic, making them difficult to comprehend fully. They usually don’t have a simple solution, and dealing with them may require a combination of solutions to resolve effectively. Consider three common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1. Problem-Solution Thinking

As professionals, we often have our preferred solution for specific transport problems – what I call ‘problem-solution’ thinking. This is the first mistake – jumping to the solution immediately after the issue is raised and then vigorously defending it, not leaving open the opportunity to consider other viable options.

For example, the way to solve traffic congestion is … “to build more lanes”; or “provide more public transport services”. All of these may be an option, but not necessarily the only or best solution.

To avoid this mistake, the first step is to make the problem explicit, disconnect it from potential solutions and describe cause and effect. For example, consider the major causes of congestion, the root cause could be not enough employment opportunities in the vicinity of a new residential area; hence people have to travel.

Mistake #2. Forgetting Key Stakeholders

When considering traffic congestion, for example, the focus is usually on cars, while freight interests may not be given adequate consideration. This is the second mistake, forgetting key stakeholders.

So, identify the key stakeholders and identify what they each want to achieve. Focus on the key stakeholders or those who have a significant interest in the problem or may have significant influence to help solve the problem.

The stakeholders you actively engage with should be able to contribute to the solution. Others may have strong views, and if they have significant influence with politicians or the media, then it would be smart to hear their views at least.

Each key stakeholder will have their specific objective for an issue, but this may conflict with others’ objectives. By going through the process of detailing each stakeholder’s views, you have a much better chance of understanding the complexity of the problem and identifying opportunities to find complementary parts to a solution.

Mistake #3. Downside Not Explicit

A well-defined problem statement has three elements: (1) the undesired situation, (2) the future desired situation, and (3) in getting from one to the other or the gap; there are downsides.

To illustrate, traffic congestion is an undesired situation, and more reliable traffic flow is a future desired situation, so the difference is the gap; however, as there are competing interests for travel along a corridor, the downside means some lose out.

For example, the priority for road freight transport can be the best use of limited road space. However, this means cars and buses have less capacity.

Every problem statement should consider both a gap and a downside, which is usually why the problem isn’t easily solved. A common mistake is that the downside is not made explicit.

This can result in not knowing what the problem really is from different stakeholder perspectives and can result in a simplistic or unrealistic ‘solution’. Many politicians deliberately downplay the downside and ‘appear’ to be solving the problem.

Key Concepts

  • focus thinking on the problem rather than a preferred solution
  • engage key stakeholders
  • makes the downside explicit.

Developing solutions to complex transport issues is not a simple task, and as transport professionals, we need to avoid the traps and mistakes that can lead to poor results.

Get a free copy of the Addressing Transport Challenges Quick Guide and Scorecard to self-assess your capability, plus a series of emails providing additional information on the various steps in addressing transport challenges.