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Project Plan Issues

Project Management for Small Business XII

One of my colleagues says:

“You have issues and I have tissues.”

As any project proceeds, there will invariably be issues that have to be addressed, and dealing with issues is where a good project manager can really shine. Some project managers choose to not tackle the thornier issues, and hope that big problems will disappear.  Sometimes, the project succeeds despite a bad project manager. Sometimes, the project will fail.  Ignoring a problem is never a solution; a good project manager will face the tough issues, and resolve them.

In order for issues to be properly surfaced and addressed, the right tone needs to be set with the team at the start of the project. The first project meeting is a great place for the project manager to display a willingness to resolve issues in front of their team.  It’s very important that all members of your team understand the tone of the project culture. The team needs to be open and honest. The project manager should ask the entire team two questions at this meeting:

Does everyone agree to be open and honest with me and with fellow team members about issues that are presenting obstacles to successfully completing this project?

If another team member identifies an issue with you or your work, do you agree to accept open and honest feedback and commit to addressing the issue for the best interest of the project?

Open Project Manager screenshot - velocity

Open Project Manager screenshot – velocity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These questions might seem too obvious, but it’s my experience that asking these questions is a great way to set the cultural tone for a project where issues can be meaningfully addressed. If a strict standard is not set, team members will feel reluctant to bring up issues and accept criticism if they are part of a problem. Team members may be reluctant to raise an issue that they know is hurting the project since they fear hurting someone’s feelings or causing resentment. By gaining agreement from team members from the outset to raise issues and solve problems, the team and the project manager has the license to tackle issues that are getting in the way.

All projects should have a running issue list:

  • Short description of the issue
  • Impact of issue to the project if not addressed
  • Date the issue opened
  • Date the issue needs to be resolved by
  • Owner of the issue

Recording when the issue was first identified is very important. This will expose chronic issues which are not getting addressed. The longer an issue is open without getting addressed, the more detrimental it is to a project.

Once you have your issues identified, focus on solving them. Here are the recommended best practices for resolving issues:

  • Make sure the root cause issue is identified. Sometimes, the issue may reflect a symptom. For example, the issue may be that the scope is not complete. The underlying issue may be that the team member working on the scope does not fully understand the domain of the project.
  • Be sure that you have first hand information on all issues.
  • Review the issue list at each weekly status meeting.
  • Focus on the issues in priority order. Those with greatest impact on the project should be addressed first.
  • Encourage dissension. Sometimes the unconventional thinking leads to a better solution; sometimes it doesn’t. It’s my experience that unconventional thinking is always worth hearing.
  • Issues cannot always be solved by consensus. The project manager may have to take unpopular positions at times which are in the best interest of the project.
  • If an issue is discussed multiple times by the project team without resolution, the issue should be escalated. The project stakeholder(s) should get involved.
  • Once the solution is identified, document the resolution clearly. Often team members can take away slightly different understandings of what was agreed. Make sure the resolution is written down and sent to all team members so that nothing is murky.

As a final recommendation, avoid the drama. Some issues are greater than others. If an issue exists but is not impacting the project, it might not need to be addressed. When issues do impact your project, following these guidelines should remove obstacles and clear a path to project success.