Hello, readers, and welcome back to our project management series. Today we will be exploring an interesting area of project management called “issue management.”

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Issues occur throughout the lifespan of a project and it is the responsibility of the project manager to find the solution to an issue whenever it occurs. When these issues occur, the two things that should come to mind are: (I) In what way can it affect the output of our project and (ii) What processes do we have on ground to tackle the issues.

The biggest problem when tackling issues is that they are unpredictable. The project manager therefore has to be alert to spot issues before they occur or as soon as they do occur. Also, identified issues that are not resolved on time would have a negative effect on the project.

Definition: According to PMI, an issue is a point or matter that is unsettled or in dispute and it is under discussion mostly having opposing views. Prince2, on the other hand, explained issue as a term used to cover any concern, query, request for change, suggestion, or off-specification raised during the project. They can be about anything to do with the project. From these definitions, we can deduce that issues are current (present) challenges that are happening to a project and has to be dealt with instantly.

Risk vs. Issue: Issues are often confused with risk. While they might have some similarities, they are two different concepts. Before we go on, let’s take some time out in analyzing the difference between risk and issues.

Issues and risks are often confused with each other because the exact nature of each is largely unpredictable. A risk, however, can be properly accounted for during the planning phase of a project. Issues, on the other hand, are often unpredictable and do occur with no warning or sign. For example, while we can identify a risk of losing project data and therefore create a backup, we cannot know that one of the IT professionals would sabotage the company by deleting the files and the backup. That becomes an issue and must be dealt with as soon as it occurs

Although issues are largely unpredictable, it is still our responsibility as project managers to provide solutions to these issues when they occur. Issues are also best resolved as soon as possible. A failure to resolve an issue increases the probability of a project’s failure. The planned process of dealing with these issues if and when they occur is what we refer to as issue management.

It is important to mention that, while there is no issue-free project, the number of issues on a project can be reduced drastically by conducting an effective risk assessment before project implementation. It is important that we identify risks and eliminate them as early as possible in a project, as unidentified risks will often become issues during project implementation.

A series of research findings have shown, that in order to successfully manage a project issue, the following are the processes that must be followed by the project manager.

  1. Issue identification
  2. Issue analysis
  3. Evaluation
  4. Action
  5. Monitor and review

Source: Google Image

As we can see from the image above, the issue management process consists of five stages. In this article, we will discuss each of the stages and the function of the project manager at the various stages.

Issue Identification

This is the first and most important part of issue management. This stage goes beyond identifying existing challenges but involves the project manager being proactive. While issues that have already occurred are easy to spot, issues yet to occur are more difficult to identify. It is the project manager’s duty to identify emerging issues and proffer solutions before they arise, where possible.

For issues that have already occurred, the issue log is a great way of identifying issues. As earlier mentioned, issues are unplanned, unforeseen challenges that occur during the course of a project, so the issue log is used to record all issues as they occur. Any stakeholder can identify an issue; therefore relevant stakeholders should be trained on how to enter issues into the log. Once issues have been logged, it then becomes the responsibility of the project to analyze the identified issue.

In large organizations, there is always an issue manager. The issue manager is often experienced in the field and it is his/her duty to identify and ensure that all issues are effectively documented. The issue manager is responsible for taking ownership of all issues that occurred during the project.

Analysis

Once an issue has been identified, the next step is to carry out a detailed analysis of the identified issue. It is important to know that an effective analysis is focused on identifying the root cause of an issue.

Since issues are unplanned/unforeseen and can hardly be preplanned against, it therefore becomes your responsibility as the project manager to solve the issues before they get out of control. It is not uncommon for project managers to begin proffering solutions once the issue has been identified. However, this is the wrong first step, as it often results in project managers solving the wrong problems.

An issue can be likened to a fever, which can be caused by a lot of reasons. A fever is a symptom for a lot of diseases and treating a fever without understanding the cause of the fever can be catastrophic. The same thing happens when an issue is solved without understanding the root cause.

Evaluation

Once an issue has been identified and the root cause is known, the next step is evaluation. Evaluation is simply the process of identifying and selecting the best issue resolution technique for a project manager to use. Here the project manager and his/her team come up with various solutions based on the amount of information gathered about the issue and the strategy of the project/project organization.

For an identified issue, there are often various ways of solving it. For example, recruitment, internal reshuffling, or working overtime can solve the death of a staff member. The project manager and his/her team therefore identify all the ways an issue can be resolved and evaluate the methods to determine the best and most effective approach that should be adapted. Some of the factors to consider during evaluating are cost, ease of technology, deployment time, required skill set, etc. Once the best option has been identified and selected, it is then passed to the relevant stakeholders for approval and implementation.

Action
This phase is also referred to as the implementation phase. It involves a conscious effort by the project manager and his/her team to implement the preferred plan from those that were evaluated.

It is not uncommon for an issue to be treated as a smaller project and then project management methodology can be applied to it on a smaller scale. This is also called a “project within the project.” This helps in ensuring an efficient and effective implementation process during issue resolution.

Depending on the kind of issue, the action phase might involve setting new policies, employment of new staff, invitation of expatriates, or layoff of workers. What is most important is that the action solves the issue at hand in the most effective and economical way. In a situation where the issue resolution involves external contractors/persons, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that satisfactory work is carried out.

Monitor and review

This is the final stage of the issue resolution process. At this stage, the issue resolution action has been carried out and the issue is supposedly resolved. However, there is the need for feedback and this is the function of the monitor and review phase.

The monitor and review phase of the issue management process checks the effect of the implemented issue changes on the original project as a whole.

Conclusion

Issues are unforeseeable challenges that are bound to occur during the life cycle of a project. The unpredictable nature of issues makes them a nightmare for project managers; therefore, for the ease of management, an issue management process was developed.

The issue management process identifies a set of methodological steps that a project manager must follow in order to quickly resolve the issue in the most effective manner. These steps not only focus on issue resolution; they also identify ways of preventing the same issue from occurring twice through an effective monitoring and control system.

Thank you for joining us in our project management class today. As usual, if you have any questions or comments, do leave us a message in the comment box and we will be sure to respond.