Throughout any project, it’s wise to expect the unexpected. There will always be problems that arise, and the competent project manager will be prepared to deal with them. Those who aren’t risk project outcomes being adversely affected.
Project risks vs. project issues
Risks to projects can usually be anticipated. In our blog ‘The risks theme in PRINCE2’ we talk about risk as “a possible event that, were it to occur, would impact the project and its objectives. There are different types of risk: negative risks are termed as ‘threats’, and positive risks are deemed to be opportunities”.
An issue is less predictable. It can occur without warning. Examples include staffing problems (for example, if a key employee is absent because of illness for an extended period), shortages of materials, issues with suppliers, technical problems, and so on. If such issues continue without being resolved, then they can result in delays, conflicts, or, ultimately, failure of the project to deliver on its promise.
How do you project manage the unexpected?
Expecting the unexpected requires the project manager to be prepared for the unforeseen. This means being able to quickly identify issues and having a resolution process in place to deal with them effectively. Issues must be dealt with as they occur. Planning a process to manage and resolve issues is essential to ensure the smooth passage of a project from initial conception to delivery of project products.
The first step in doing so is to ensure that risks are identified before the project starts. These can then be planned for ahead of time. An unidentified risk often becomes an issue during the project lifecycle. The more risks you identify, the fewer issues you are likely to be burdened by.
Record issues when they occur
The project manager must maintain an Issues Register, in which issues are recorded as soon as they occur. This is an essential aid to report and communicate the nature of an issue. It enables the exact nature of the issue to be identified, and helps to resolve the issue efficiently.
Putting in place a system to manage project issues
There must be a system in place to manage issues as they occur. Central to this is the Issues Register. To ensure that the Issues Register is the tool that enables effective issue management, a framework for issue resolution should be created. This will answer questions such as:
- How do you assign responsibility for issue resolution?
- What are the criteria used when deciding if an issue should be escalated?
- How do you assess issue priority?
- Who (and how) sets the target resolution date?
- How are issues and resolution progression communicated to the project team?
- How are change orders/exception reports handled?
- If the resolution affects time/quality/cost of the project, how is this managed?
Now, with a framework in place, the Issues Register can be set up and prepared for use.
What details are included in the Issues Register?
When recording an issue, the following information should be detailed:
- The type of issue (for example, technical, process, resources, human, materials, supplier, etc.).
- Who identified the issue.
- When the issue was identified.
- A description of the issue (what happened and potential impact, and what parts of the project may be affected).
- Priority (how important is the issue to project success?).
- Assign responsibility for issue resolution. Note that this person may not be the one affecting the resolution, but is the one responsible for monitoring and management of resolving the issue.
- Target resolution date.
Keeping on top of issue resolution
In the Issues Register, it is important to track the process of resolving the identified issue. The project manager should do this by updating the status and actions taken in the resolution of the issue. For example:
Status may move through being:
- Open (the issue has been identified)
- Investigation (the issue and ideas for resolution are investigated)
- Implementation (the resolution process has been started)
- Escalation (the issue becomes highly critical, and is raised at a higher level for approval of resolution recommendations)
- Resolved (the resolution is successful)
Actions describe what is being done, by whom, and when. For example:
- March 12 – Issue identified, and assigned to Michael.
- March 15 – Tests to identify the source of the issue.
- March 16 – With the source identified, possible solutions are suggested and to be discussed at steering committee level.
- March 17 – Approval received for resolution implementation. Assigned to Evelyn.
- March 22 – Issue resolved.
The project manager should ensure that the issue and a description of actions taken to resolve the issue are included in lessons learned, to inform both the future of the current project and future projects.
Putting in place a process for managing project issues will help you identify issues as they happen, and handle them effectively. People will understand their responsibilities early in the process, and you will be able to assess impacts more easily.
An Issues Register will not only help to monitor progress on current issues, but also prove to be an essential tool in the learning process that will inform current and future project management.
Project success depends on being prepared for all eventualities that may occur during a project. Considering risks ahead of time, and ensuring a process is in place to manage issues as they occur, is essential to this project preparation. Contact Your Project Manager for any of your project management needs: