Issues happen on projects all the time. An issue is a problem. It’s something that you have to deal with and it pulls you away from the ‘normal’ work of managing the project. You might have seen it coming – for example it might have been identified as a risk and then – oof – one day it really happens.

However, often issues spring from nowhere and you didn’t, and couldn’t, have seen them coming.

Here are some examples of things that could be issues for project managers:

  • A supplier company going out of business
  • A change in manager at a contractor firm meaning your project is now less of a priority for the contractor
  • New regulation or standards applied to your industry (you can see this one coming)
  • A key resource being taken suddenly ill
  • Another project pulling resources/budget away from your work
  • Uncovering something in project testing that you weren’t aware of e.g. big software bugs, security vulnerabilities.

Basically, project issues could be anything. The way we deal with them, however, follows a similar process regardless of the issue.

Step #1: Identify the issue

Find out everything you can about the problem and how it has happened. You want to understand the issue and log it.

Record the headlines in your project management software, in particular:

  • Assign the issue a number
  • Assign the issue an owner
  • Add a description
  • Add today’s date as the date it was raised.

Step #2: Identify the Impact

Look at what impact this problem is having on the project.

You might not know straightaway. For example, if a supplier has gone into liquidation, there may still be some arrangement whereby they’ll deliver the supplies you were expecting. Your goods might not turn up, but they might. In certain circumstances, you can be in the dark as to what the exact implications of an issue would be.

Generally, though, you’ll be able to assess what impact the issue will have on the project. Categorize the impact as High, Medium or Low, and log that in your issue tracker as well.

Step #3: Review possible actions

There are often several ways you can tackle an issue, so you need to think about what strategies to deploy. You might want to take several courses of action in parallel. Or there might be one clear thing to do to mitigate the scenario.

Work with your team to run through several options and work out what you could do.

Then slim down the list to your top recommendation. This is the action plan you will now follow. If you need to get the actions or approach approved, now is the time to do it.

Step #4: Take action

Next, deliver on your action plan. Carry out the actions you identified as a team. Rely on your subject matter experts to do their actions and report back to you.

Work through your action plan and log all your activities in the issue tracker so you know where you are up to.

Step #5: Monitor and review

Finally, monitor and review how successful your actions have been. Ultimately, you want to resolve the issue. That might mean finding a new supplier, getting in short term resource or something else. When you feel that the issue has passed, you can close the issue on the tracker. At this point, I would also update anyone who needs to know including your project sponsor, so they don’t unduly worry. You can also report what you’ve done on your monthly project report.

Issues happen on every project so don’t worry about it if you hit a problem with your work. It’s all part of project management. Use this process to review and take action on issues and you’ll soon be able to get your project back on track.


The article is written by Elizabeth Harrin.