If a problem arises that the project manager and the team can resolve, it's just one of the many fires that will ignite and be put out in a given week. However, an "issue" arises if outside help is needed.
An issue is defined as a problem that will impede the progress of the project and cannot be totally resolved by the project manager and project team without outside help.
You would not expect that small projects will have many (if any) issues. There just is not enough time to get into many large problems. However, the larger your project is, the more likely you will encounter issues. Very large projects, for instance, may have a dedicated person that does nothing but help to identify, document and expedite problem resolution.
A formal process for managing issues will ensure that the problems are identified and resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. Consider the following process as a way to formally manage these project issues.
- Solicit potential issues from any project stakeholder, including the project team, clients, sponsors, etc. The issue can be surfaced through verbal or written means, but it must be formally documented using an Issues Form. (This may seem a burden, but an issue must be formally defined before it can be communicated and resolved effectively. If an issue cannot be documented, there is no way it can be resolved.)
- The project manager determines whether the problem can be resolved without outside help or whether it should be classified as a formal issue.
- Enter the issue into the Issues Log. The Issues Log contains one entry per issue and is used for tracking purposes.
- Assign the issue to a project team member for investigation. (The project manager could assign it to herself.) The project manager should also determine who needs to be involved in the decision making process.
- The team member will investigate options that are available to resolve the issue. For each option, she should also estimate the impact to the project in terms of budget, schedule and scope.
- The various alternatives and impacts on schedule and budget are documented on the Issues Form. The project manager should take the issue, alternatives and project impact to the people that need to be involved in the issue resolution (from step 4).
- If resolving the issue will involve changing the scope of the project, close the issue now and use the scope change management procedures instead to manage the resolution.
- Document the resolution or course of action on the Issues Form.
- Document the issue resolution briefly on the Issues Log.
- Add the appropriate corrective activities to the workplan to ensure the issue is resolved.
- If the resolution of an issue causes the budget or duration of the project to change, the current Project Definition should be updated.
- Communicate issue status and resolutions to project team members and other appropriate stakeholders through the project Status Report, status meetings and other appropriate communication means.
Having this type of issues resolution process defined ahead of time will allow you to calmly and effectively work through a problem resolution process whenever issues arise.