Critical Thinking

What is critical thinking?

Put simply, critical thinking is a thought process that leads to a deep and accurate understanding — whether it's of a topic, situation, problem, opportunity. Critical thinking uses a logical process.

The framework for critical thinking is as follows-

Figure 1

What works against critical thinking?

Not everyone agrees on what is important and logical. People that work in organisations know that decisions are rarely made in isolation on the full, accurate and timely information. Stakeholders often have varying agendas and weightings on priorities.

It is important to make space to critically think in order to make the right decisions. Often, a typical day that is over scheduled, with a constant flood of incoming emails, phone calls as well as conference calls can make this very challenging. Furthermore dealing with competing agendas, shifting priorities, limited resources, stress, bias and emotion, imperfect information and communication glitches work against logic and reason.

Ensuring there is enough time for you to allow yourself to go through the framework will enable better decisions.

Using critical thinking within projects.

It is the Project Manager's job to get project teams on the same page and working together efficiently over the life of the project. In reality that includes managing stakeholders, risk, scope creep, change control, etc.

Some issues are common within projects.

  • Misinterpretation. When meetings are conducted via phone or videoconference, there is greater likelihood of misunderstanding.

  • Assumptions. As the project takes shape and the details get fleshed out, it becomes clear that people can have very different mental images of what the end result would look like and how it will be achieved.

  • Emotions. When team members care about the outcome and are highly engaged, emotion is bound to enter the picture. Emotions like anger, fear, or frustration — as well as enthusiasm and passion — can impair objectivity and judgment.

  • Conclusion bias. People in the same situation, faced with the same data often come to different conclusions. People believe their decision makes sense and is correct – and perhaps it is. It's also possible that there are unintended consequences that haven't been considered.

  • Distracted. Team meetings with virtual members from around the globe mean lengthy videoconferences and opportunities for multi-tasking, like checking emails.

Critical thinking tools and techniques can rectify most of these problems. Teams are generally very receptive to systematic, logical approaches that also give people an opportunity to voice disagreement, productively “push back” or offer an unpopular point of view.

The first stage in the agile critical thinking framework is to clarify the situation. One of the tools used to assess the situation is called “clarifying the question" which will solve some of the issues stated above. This should be used as early in the project as possible and should be continued throughout. The breakdown is as follows -

Figure 2

Working through this model will allow you understand the issues that are faced. Ensure that topics go granular enough to remove assumptions & misinterpretations. Clarifying the question is the small cog in a bigger wheel, it helps in understanding and piece together the overall picture.

Once everyone is on the same page, the overall breakdown that can help project teams to be more effective, reduce time, and work collaboratively are:

Figure 3

Critical thinking techniques help cross-functional teams accurately assess the situation, consider the evidence, and take action. It is particularly useful for cross-functional, diverse teams dealing with complexity, continual and rapid change, uncertainty, imperfect information and competing stakeholder agendas. Starting out with a structure that incorporates agile thinking into the current process goes a long way toward better decisions.

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