Posted by: kerrywills | January 9, 2010

Project Management is Issue Management

In my opinion and experience, projects are successful due to two main factors (1) Diligence in planning and (2) Rapid issue closure. For this article, I will ignore diligent planning and assume that all projects plan properly with the right assumptions, estimates, plan, etc (I know, I know, but bear with me).

With a good plan in place the key to successful execution then becomes all around how quickly issues are identified, raised and closed.  An issue can be with resources, stakeholders, code, logistics, or anything else that affects the project. Even the slightest issue can have implications on the project  – for example, not booking a conference room for a meeting may delay a critical meeting where decisions are needed and now the team’s productivity slows. I will touch on the main areas of Issue Management below.

Issue Identification – It is imperative that the Project Manager has a good pulse on the team and the operations of the project so that issues get identified early. Techniques such as Earned Value, status meetings, MBWA, and stand-ups are intended to facilitate information from the project to note risk areas and issues early.  PMs should be conscious that identifying issues is a critical part of their jobs – because usually they spend a significant amount of their time on issue closure which just perpetuates the loop (see my soccer article).

Issue Escalation –  A good issue escalation path must be in place for the project. This means that team members need to understand who they should raise something to and when they should raise it. PMs should have a culture of honesty, quick identification of issues and a focus on resolution (vs blame). People who get ‘punished’ for raising issues will not do that again, and by the time the issues are known they are much bigger.

Issue Closure/Prevention – Once issues are identified they need to be aggressively managed and closed. In my opinion, this is the primary job of the Project Manager during the course of the project. With the plan in place the PM should be looking at anything that could cause a delay to that plan and look to eliminate that as early as possible to keep the team moving. The PM should also consider ways of making sure that that same type of issue doesn’t happen again.

It's ok to admit it

Issue Management is about early identification which relies on a clear escalation path and rapid closure. If a Project Manager can stay on top of the issues and help the team to resolve them, then there is a greater chance of project success.


  1. Good topic to discuss Kerry. I think the most critical step in closing an issue is documenting the decision, the alternatives considered and the details on the issue resolution. Also, you need to ensure that PM’s and other members of the team refer to the issue log regularly. Too many times I have encountered scenarios where we re-visit the same issue over and over simply because people don’t refer back to the issue log. Make it available, easily accessible and searchable…regardless of the tool you use.
    Happy 2010, my friend.

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