It is difficult to find a good formal definition of an issue. An issue is basically anything that might affect the project meeting its goals.
It is perhaps easiest to explain the difference between issues and risks.
A risk is a potential occurrence whereas an issue is something that has actually occurred. Good risk management will of course prevent many risks from turning into real issues.
More of a grey area is the difference between an issue and a question. For example a stakeholder may ask of your project:
How are you involving lecturers in implementing the new VLE?
but what they are really saying is:
I don’t think lecturers have adequate involvement in the implementation of the VLE.
For this reason it is often worth recording questions and ensuring they are answered in order to prevent them turning into issues. A question usually has a straightforward factual answer eg ‘There is a focus group for lecturers who want to be involved in the project.’
An issue is something that cannot easily be resolved with a factual response eg a member of staff leaves unexpectedly or a key supplier goes into receivership.
Issues can present opportunities as well as threats. An issue could be of the ‘I don’t think you’re doing this very well but here’s a better suggestion …’ variety. In this way an issue could result in a proposed change to the project. This may affect the scope of your project but the change may be for the better.
Some issues might have been anticipated in your initial risk assessment whereas others arise unexpectedly. Mechanisms to record and deal with unanticipated issues include:
- Maintaining an issues log
- Ensuring that progress, project board and other meetings make time for discussion of issues
- Convening short-life working groups or focus groups if a large number of stakeholders are affected
The concept of an issue having an owner is crucial to effective issue management. The owner is someone within the project team who is responsible for ensuring the issue is resolved.
All members of the team should be encouraged to log issues as soon as they arise (often this occurs first in the course of informal discussions) and an appropriate owner should be determined. Generally ownership should be at the lowest level at which the issue could possibly be resolved. This can be done by the project manager giving the issue to someone as a work package (with its own time and cost tolerances).
The sooner an issue is logged and addressed the more likely it will be resolved without having a major impact on the project. You should however determine an escalation procedure in the event that a solution cannot be implemented within tolerance by the initial owner.
Normally the issue will be escalated through the line management framework of the project up to the project manager and, ultimately, the project board for a decision if it cannot be resolved within the current stage tolerance.