In the history of projects, has there ever been one that has been issue-free? All projects have risks and issues – all projects experience bumps in the road that need to be addressed. If a project manager tells you that they aren’t managing issues on their project because there are none, they are likely either in denial or have no control over their own project.
The key to proper issue management is to already have a plan in place to recognize, document, and respond to those issues and risks as your project progresses through its normal project life cycle. Good issue handling is just good sense and it can definitely make the difference between a successful project outcome and a miserable and expensive failure.
During my experience as a project manager, I’ve usually tried to follow some variation of the following four steps to successfully manage and resolve issues as they arise on the projects that I lead:
Collect and document detailed information about the issue. The key to issue management on the project is to actually track the issues on an ongoing basis. This must be done throughout the engagement and reviewed on a weekly basis. You can use a specialized issue management tool, but you can also use a simple spreadsheet as well – just so long as you are using something that will capture the information you need and so that you actually do get it done. Use your chosen tool to document as much information about the issue as possible and leave room for determining courses of actions and assignment that you’ll cover in the next steps.
Bring the team together to discuss and evaluate the issue. As issues arise, if possible, discuss them with your team before taking them to the customer. When presenting the customer with a problem or issue, it’s always best to also have a possible resolution determined. It’s a great confidence builder for the customer. Never keep issues from the customer though – they are part of the project and can work to help resolve the issue as well – they’re take may make the difference on a swift and successful resolution.
Determine – as a team – the proper action to take. Work with the customer and the project delivery team to determine the best course of action to take to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and for the best benefit of the project. This may require some cost benefit analysis planning as well if there are multiple potential resolution actions that can be taken. Determining what is in the best interest of the project long term and what will have the least impact on the project budget and timeline is a critical part of the planning process.
Assess the outcome. When working to resolving issues, not all actions end successfully. It’s important to assess with your team – and the customer as well – how things turned out on the issue resolution actions taken. It is also critical to review the outcome to ensure that the issue has been fully resolved and that no further action is needed. Any remaining loose ends can potentially cause even more issues on the project.
Every project requires issue management and tracking. The level of detail and effort you put into it on a $10,000 project vs. a $1 million dollar engagement may differ a little, but it still has to happen. Having a step-by-step process to follow like the four steps described above is critical to keeping issues in check and to keeping the project moving forward toward a successful implementation and closeout.