Issue management is the process of identifying and resolving project issues and is designed to minimise the negative effects of issues on project performance.
How to Manage Project Issues
Sooner or later a project risk is going to materialise… and you will have an issue to deal with. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to deal with issues. And to find a suitable resolution.
Fire-fighters are well-drilled and know exactly what they’re doing.
Resolving project issues is not about reacting to events. It’s about a measured response. We often — incorrectly — use the term “fire-fighting” to describe the lack of planning and poor response to an unexpected event. In truth, fire-fighters are well-drilled and know exactly what they’re doing when dealing with an emergency. This too is how project managers should behave when confronting an issue.
Issue resolution is the process for recording and handling any event or problem which has happened and threatens the success of your project. Sometimes, events may represent an opportunity to be exploited and should also be dealt with using the project issue resolution process.
However, I’m going to focus on the times when things go wrong.
Since many project issues are likely to arise at the beginning of the project when stakeholders seek clarification on the topics they are concerned with it is a very good idea to discuss issues during project initiation. For instance, project issues are likely to be aired during the risk workshop and are best captured at that time on a flip chart.
When recording project issues make sure you keep to the facts (not opinions) and concentrate on the topic — don’t get embroiled in unnecessary debate during a workshop! Only later, record all the issues in the issue log.
Recording Project Issues
At some point during the project risks will materialise and you have an issue. When an issue is identified record it in the issue log and decide who owns it and is accountable for managing the issue to resolution.
The Issue Log
The issue log will help you to focus on finding a solution to a problem. Use these tips to make the most of this useful project tool.
- Record all project issues in the issue log — even if you don’t have time to deal with them straight-away.
- Always assign a priority level to an issue.
- Assign project issue resolution to the person best equipped to deal with it — this can be someone outside the project team. However, if you do refer it outside the team make sure they know what they are agreeing to do!
- Regularly check the issue log and update the progress commentary section.
- Report on significant project issues in your regular progress (highlight) reports and escalate high priority issues to the project board — communication is key.
- If an issue is resolved close it. Indicate its status by using shading, strike-through, or transfer to the closed issues log (another tab on the spreadsheet.)
- If an issue requires some amendment to project benefit viability — time, cost, and scope — deal with this using the project change management process.
- Make sure the issue log can be seen by your key stakeholders.
- Ensure all entries are factual — avoid being personal.
- Cross reference with risks and other project issues.
Managing Project Issues
As ever, the Project Manager is responsible for the management and resolution of project issues and should carefully consider the following when confronted with a — critical — issue.
- First, declare that you have an issue. Actively tell everyone who could have an impact on resolving the issue. For example, if it happens during deployment involve colleagues from operations. And make sure you do tell those you would prefer not to tell!
- Second, stop all activities. You need to stay calm and call everything around the issue to a halt. You are the project manager and in control of the situation. So be measured, don’t react, and don’t attempt to fix the problem — really!
- Next, decide exactly what is the issue. Ask the following questions and establish the facts
- What did or did not happen?
- When did it happen?
- Record the issue in the issue log, assign to the person best placed to resolve it, and set a date for resolution.
- Now decide what commitments are being thwarted and how this should be resolved. Take stock and ask the following questions
- How will the issue prevent the occurrence, realisation, or attainment of a project objective or deliverable? If necessary, refer to the business case.
- What would a breakthrough make possible?
- What would the resolution of the issue look like?
- What would it make possible? What do you need?
- Is it really worth resolving the issue?
- What’s missing, that if present, would allow the project to move forward? Likewise what’s present and standing in the way of progress?
- What possible actions could you take to resolve the issue and deliver your commitments?
- What actions will you take?
- Create a list of possible actions and / or options that could offer the breakthrough you’re seeking. Then narrow down your list and select those options most likely to resolve the issue.
- Finally recommend a direction and seek agreement to continue from the project board.
As with risk, project issues vary in importance and impact and should be prioritised accordingly. The objective of issue management is to reduce the negative effect of project issues.
Creative Commons image courtesy Thomas Wanhoff.