PM-Foundations – Managing Your Project Issues

To me the most annoying, and sometimes the most disruptive type of project churn is issue related churn. Open issues distract team members from the work at hand, and often slow progress to achieve project milestones. At its worse, more time can be spent talking about issues than project work. If the rate of identifying issues outpaces closing them, the project can be overwhelmed with issues. Projects are paralyzed by project issues when team members cannot complete tasks/deliverables because they are awaiting resolution of project issues.

Significant issue related churn is generally due to the project team not having the appropriate focus or urgency required to close issues. In some situations the team is not empowered to take actions or make decisions required to close issues. In either case, issues that do not close create “baggage” for the team, and eventually create roadblocks or challenges for the project.

Hopefully this blog gets you thinking about how to identify when issues are negatively impacting your project, and what you can do to get them under control. Issues are not a bad thing, as long as you are able to manage them, and not vice versa.

How Do Issues Overwhelm Projects?

Here are some of the common indications that issues may be overwhelming your project, or at minimum impeding progress.

  • Too many – The obvious indication of issue related churn is the number of open issues — especially if there are a significant number marked “high” priority. When there are so many issues that you do not know where to start to get them under control, you probably have too many. When the number of issues becomes significant, you start to see processes like “triage” introduced to identify the ones that “really matter”.
  • They bounce around – Some project teams do not seem to close issues, they just reassign them to someone who needs to have another meeting to discuss the issue. A good way to identify the inability to effectively close issues is to look at the history associated with the issues. When issues are owned by multiple people, and the source of multiple meetings, the team is probably not focusing on the right actions required to close the issue.
  • They keep coming back – One of the most annoying aspects of issue related churn is when closed issues are reopened. This occurs if the either the right people were not involved, or the correct actions were not taken to close the original issue. When this happens multiple times on a project I am not sure if I am more upset with the person that reopens the issues, or the person that did not close it properly in the first place.
  • They appear out of nowhere – Often times an issues is raised that makes you wonder, “I wonder why that was not raised before now?” The earlier a potential problem is identified in the project life cycle, the easier and less costly it is to resolve. Therefore, as issues are identified late in the project, the more disruptive issue resolution becomes. As the project manager, you need to strike a good balance between aggressively managing issue resolution and encouraging team members to identify them. The last thing you want is to have team members keep issues to themselves because they think it will be viewed as a “bad thing” to raise a new issue.

6 Tips to Managing Your Project Issues

  1. Capture – My first tip is pretty obvious. Make sure that as issues are identified they are captured. This means that processes and tools must be established early on in the project to enable identification and tracking of issues. In addition, it is important as the project manager to create an environment where people feel “safe” to raise an issue. Having said that, I do encourage the team to be thinking about ways to address the issue at the time they raise it. The old adage “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” definitely describes some team members.
  2. Accountability – In my opinion the most important element of effectively managing issues is establishing a single person that truly feels accountable for resolving the issue. Issues are best assigned to people that have something “at stake” in the outcome of resolving the issue. The issues should either have an impact on the component of the project they are responsible for, or have an impact on the component of the product they are responsible for.
  3. Action – When team members are providing updates on issues, the focus should be on what actions have been identified to close the issue. I do not necessarily consider “we have a meeting set up to discuss this issue” to be a very effective next step. The more appropriate action items are focused on what decisions need to be made, analysis performed, or requirements defined to determine how to move forward and resolve the issue.
  4. Measure – As is the case in most project management processes, it is important to have the appropriate metrics in place to manage issues. To establish a high degree of focus and sense of urgency, I prefer to measure and communicate high priority issues in the form of absolute numbers. Metrics like net change and average age are best managed through trend analysis. In addition, it is important to keep track of the overall impact of issues on the project. This metric can be tracked within the change control process.
  5. Close – Ensure that the issue management process includes a step to validate that the issue is actually closed. This step can be as simple as a quick review of the recently closed issues in your core team meetings. It is important that team members agree that the appropriate actions have been taken to permanently solve the problem.
  6. Timeout – If an issue, a group of issues, or the issues in aggregate are truly overwhelming your project it is sometimes appropriate to bite the bullet and call a timeout. This happens when issues are causing the project to miss significant milestones, and corrective actions are not in place to formalize the impact and get the project “back on track”. During the timeout, focused effort should be placed on resolving the high impact issues, reducing the overall number of issues, formalizing the impact of the issues, and rebaselining the plan. I also recommend a quick lessons learned process to identify the source of the problems, and adjustments required to prevent the project team returning to the same place during a future phase of the project.
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4 Tips to Using SharePoint Lists to Improve Project Delivery

A SharePoint list represents a great tool to capture and maintain project information in a very structured manner. In addition, the information maintained in the list is more accessible to the team than information maintained “off-line” in tools such as Excel. The most powerful aspect of creating SharePoint lists to enable project delivery processes is that the data captured and displayed in the list can be tailored to meet the specific needs of your project environment by YOU. Creating and maintaining SharePoint lists requires an understanding of how to manage your project site, but does not require deep technical skills (I am your average technical project manager – not a SharePoint architect).

Since I receive so many comments and questions on my blog about how to create and maintain SharePoint lists, I decided to write a blog post that provides more tactical information about how to use SharePoint lists to meet the specific needs of your project. This post provides four pretty basic tips about creating and using SharePoint lists in a manner that makes your project teams more effective or efficient.

TIP #1: Custom vs. Standard Lists

In many of my SharePoint blogs I talk about “starting from a custom list”. The term “custom list” tends to scare people because they relate the term to customization (e.g., requires a programmer to perform the function). Selecting a “custom list” as your starting point just means that you are starting from a blank list that you can add your own columns and views to. SharePoint provides several different preconfigured list templates to use as the starting point to create a new list. I use the following standard SharePoint lists on my project sites to support specific project delivery functions:

  • Contacts – Great for the project team roster. I usually add columns to identify team members that are on the core team and the steering committee.
  • Tasks – This list is best for tracking action items within your project meeting workspaces.
  • Issue Tracking – I tailor this list to track risks and issues (my post on risks and issues provides a lot of detail on this list type).
  • Status List – This is a very unique list that is used to define and display project metrics (my post on measuring project performance provides more details on this type of list).
  • Links – This list is used to provide links to project resources (external or internal sites that are directly or indirectly applicable to your project work).

There are several project processes that I find it easier to start from a blank list than a predefined list available within SharePoint. The roles and responsibilities (RACI), change request tracking, and milestone tracking are all examples of lists that are unique to project delivery best practices, and best to create from a custom list and add the columns required to support the specific process.

TIP #2: Streamlining Data Capture Process

You want to make it as easy as possible for team members to add and update information in the list. The most important aspect of making a list easy to use is that you capture the data that is relevant to the process (and only the data that is relevant to the process). If there are columns in the standard SharePoint list that are not relevant to your specific process, delete them. In addition, it is helpful to order the columns in a sequence that is logical and meaningful to your project teams.

The other aspect of making it easy for project teams to use the list is minimizing the amount of information they are required to type into the form. There are specific column types available that ensure that data is captured in a consistent manner, and reduces the amount of “free form” data entered into the form.

Choices: Provides the ability to capture information from a predefined list of options (using a drop down, radio buttons, or checkboxes). This is used when you want to control the values that are entered by team members. Below is an example of the use of a “choice” type column to capture project phases.

Look-up: The look-up feature is used to access information maintained in a specific field in another list. In this example below, I created a list for project roles and access the list to select the project role within the roles and responsibilities list.

Below is another example of using the look-up feature. I am accessing the project team roster list to assign the specific person within the roles and responsibilities list. In this example, I selected the option to allow multiple values to be selected, providing the ability for multiple team members to be assigned to the deliverable.

Date: For date related information (e.g., completion date, target date, due date), utilize the date and time column type. I will generally set-up the field to capture only the date.


Calculated: Calculations can be used to derive values within the list from other columns maintained in the list. This function is commonly used with dates maintained in the list (e.g., number of days past due). In this example, I use the feature to calculate the overall risk ranking by multiplying the probability times the magnitude (impact) for the risk.


TIP #3: Using Views to Target Stakeholders

Views represent the “window” into the information maintained in your list. It is important to create views that provide the information required for specific stakeholder groups. What your core team member needs to review and update risks on an on-going basis, is different than what your sponsor needs to understand the project’s overall risk profile. The first consideration for creating views for target audiences is related to the columns that are displayed within the view. When creating a view you can select the columns to be displayed, as well as the order in which they are displayed.

SharePoint provides several other features to tailor the list view to meet the needs of your target audience. Below are the features that I utilize the most frequently.

Filtering: This feature provides the ability to limit the items displayed based upon specific columns values. I will frequently utilize filtering to limit the items displayed to “active” or “high priority” items.


Sorting: This feature provides the ability to define the sequence that list items are displayed within the view (providing a primary and secondary sort).


Totals: This feature provides the ability to show a count of list items within the view, or display the sum of specific columns within the view.

TIP #4: Use of Templates

It is a best practice to tailor lists to meet the needs of your project environment “one time”, and then save your new list as a template. As a new project is initiated, you access your organization’s project templates to create the new project site. The definition and creation of templates makes it very easy to create project sites that are preconfigured to meet the needs of your project environment, and also ensures that your project management best practices are enabled in a consistent manner from project to project. Some organizations allow project teams to modify the lists based upon the needs of their specific project, but most organizations “lock down” the templates to limit the project specific tailoring to modifying values captured within columns (and not adding or deleting columns within the list). In addition, a standard set of list views is saved with the template, but most organizations allow project teams to create and modify views to meet their team’s needs.

Within the list settings for the specific list, you will find the ability to save the list as a template.

Below is an example of the information captured when you save a list as a template. Note that you have the ability to save the list with or without the list content. This feature provides the ability to create a template from a project site that is already using the list.