No matter what you do, no matter how well you plan, no matter how experienced you are and no matter how hard you try, you will never ever run a project that does not experience some issues along the way that must be documented and managed.  Issues can be big or small, but if they are left unmanaged they will almost always become problematic and threaten to bring the project down.  The experienced and prepared project manager will proactively document and manage project issues and assign them just like tasks in a project schedule.  And they will also review them and track them just like anything else on the ongoing project status report.  Let’s look further at how to document and manage project issues throughout the life of the project.

The first thing you’ll want to do as part of the issues management process is to create an issues list. This list will capture any issues that need resolution or any actions that need to be completed that cannot be captured in the project schedule, which you’ll develop later during the planning phase. The issues list is set up and managed by the project manager and can generally look something like this (see below) though you should tailor yours to however it works best for you to manage it and disseminate the information to your team and customer.

Issues list template

The first column is the issue number. Each issue should be given a unique, consecutive number. If you use a spreadsheet program to track your issues, you can have it number the issues for you.

In the next column write a brief description of the issue or action item required. What exactly must be resolved? Next, who is it that needs the issue resolved? Whose problem is it? Then record the name of the person on the team who is accountable to resolve the issue. He or she may or may not resolve the issue alone, but he or she needs to get the issue resolved. (Because we need someone from the team – delivery or customer team – to be responsible, the person whose job it is to get the issue resolved must be on the team.) Next, when is the resolution needed? Set a date. The last two columns are filled in after the issue has been resolved

Proper Use of the Issues List

The issues list is maintained by the project manager and is updated at each project team meeting. It is not a replacement for a project schedule. It is used during the planning phase, before a schedule is created, to track any planning tasks that must be completed. It is also used during execution to track issues or action items that are not significant enough to put on the schedule. It should not be used to track the deliverables or tasks that must be completed during the execution phase - the real work of creating the final deliverable. That is what the schedule is for.

Monitoring the Issues List

The issues list should be monitored and updated at every team meeting. Review the current issues with the team, asking for a status update on the issues due for resolution. Were they resolved? If so, how? When? If they were not resolved, what will be required to get them resolved and when will that happen? Ideally, the project manager should be notified as soon as the person assigned to the issue knows that he will not be able to resolve the issue or when he needs help getting the issue resolved on time. This allows the project manager to be proactive before the issue is overdue. If necessary, enlist the help of the sponsor, if the project team can’t get an issue resolved on its own. Before the project team meeting is adjourned, review any items that should be resolved before the next team meeting, so that everyone is clear about which pending issues are scheduled for resolution.