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A temporal approach to project issue management

Guy Wilmington
May 29, 2014

Within the industry there is a common understanding that an issue is a realised risk. That is, it is an event that was previously a risk to a project, whether identified or not, that negatively impacts on the successful delivery of the project.

While this is a generally accepted view, what is only now being understood is that an issue may be a realised risk whose impact is yet to be felt by the project and for which there is still time to address it before the issue begins to impact the project. That is, an issue may be not only an event that is (current tense) impacting on a project, but may also be an event that will (future tense) impact on a project. Put simply, an issue is a risk with a 100% probability/likelihood of occurring.

If one accepts the above premise, one might ask whether all issues should be ranked or prioritised in the same manner. That is should use the same approach be used for issues that are (current tense) impacting a project as those issues that are yet to (future tense) impact the project.

Firstly, let’s not forget that an issue is a realised risk. Accordingly an issue should have the same consequence (or impact) rating as the risk from which it was realised. That is, a risk that had a consequence rating of severe, once realised should become an issue with an impact rating of severe.

Secondly, we need to be mindful that when managing issues we become fixated on issues with more significant impact ratings (e.g. severe) even though they will not impact the project for some time, and forget the issues with less significant impact ratings that are impacting the project right now.

I propose the use of an issue matrix, not dissimilar to the traditional risk matrix, to provide an overall issue rating that takes into account the temporal nature of risks. This matrix (below), retains the consequence or impact ratings we are familiar with from our risk matrices. However, instead of likelihood, the rows now relate to ranges of time in which the issue needs to be resolved before the impact actually negatively affects the success of the project.

Guy Wilmington Temporal Issue Management Matrix

As a default position, one could use the following definitions for the different temporal ranges:

Resolution needed in next 5 working days otherwise:

  • range of resolution options will be diminished
  • cost of resolution options will increase; and/or
  • impact on project success will occur

Resolution needed in next 10 working days otherwise:

  • range of resolution options will be diminished;
  • cost of resolution options will increase; and/or
  • impact on project success will occur

Decision needed in the next month, otherwise:

  • range of resolution options will be diminished
  • cost of resolution options will increase; and/or
  • impact on project success will occur

Decision needed in the next month, otherwise uncertainty over resolution will disrupt other actions and/or considerations.

Decision not needed for more than one month.

The above matrix and definitions will ensure that minor and moderate impact issues that need immediate resolution may receive the same issue rating, and hence the same level of attention, as major or severe impact issues that do not need to be resolved for a month or more.

Furthermore, if an issue is left unresolved it would automatically advance up the rows, from convenient to immediate, as the date on which resolution is required approaches. This ensures that issues that were initially assessed as having a low ranking due to their lack of proximity to the current date are not forgotten.

In this way, the temporal aspects of issues can be managed so that a balanced approach/prioritisation of issues can occur and that resources are efficiently allocated to their resolution.

Guy Wilmington
Guy Wilmington is a leading portfolio, program and project manager dedicated not only to meeting his clients' needs through P3 Management Services, but also to building the profession by sharing his insights on various topics. He has twice been awarded the title of ACT Project Director of the Year by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM).
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