How to Manage Issues

Problems are Opportunities

Problems = Issues

People often feel overwhelmed early in a strategic initiative.  The good news is that there are any number of ways to get things to make sense. One way is to identify issues, and start a process of systematically managing them.

Issues management is an important responsibility for the leader of a strategic initiative. See the nearby text box that emphasizes strong issue management as an important hiring criterion.

Issues are easily defined: Issues are problems to solve. If you keep in mind the cliché – a problem well defined is a problem half solved – you are well on the way to making progress at creating the opportunity-creating mindset that is essential for succeeding with strategic initiatives.

Issues exist in one of two states: open or closed.  The goal is to transform open issues into closed issues. We resolve issues through analysis, decisions, and actions.

  1. Clarify the issue, including its impact on project performance and impacts on stakeholders. 
  2. Generate options. You want to be resourceful and remove barriers recognize the limitations of the established ways
  3. Establish a preferred option

You will get the best results using a team-based approach. Anyone can raise issues. Issues can be raised in team meetings or during one-on-one conversations with the Strategic Initiative’s leader.

Rather than having the program/project manager own all issues, it is better to assign two kinds of responsibility: investigation responsibility and decision responsibility. Investigation responsibility simply means that the individual will collect information, perform analysis, and communicate findings and potential recommendations to the decision maker. For decision responsibility, we want to be able to identify a single individual who will be making the decision.

The issues log is an essential tool for the strategic initiative. 

Issues Logs are Common Program Management Tools for Strategic Initiatives

Here are a few more tips:

  • Keep track of closed issues. When enthusiasm starts to flag, you can use your closed issues lists as a tangible reminder of the progress made.
  • Prioritize with forced choice, which involves setting up a series of 1:1 comparisons of the issues. It results in a prioritized list.  This is also a good team building practice.
  • Make it a part of every team meeting and part of the roll up reporting to the executive council.

Finally, where do risks fit in?  My experience is that once the team feels comfortable with the issues process, they can be cajoled into a risk identification, quantification, and response planning. Because of the ambiguity that is present in strategic initiatives, you get more alignment and commitment when you have issues management in place early.

What are some of the fine points for mastering issues management?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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6 Responses to How to Manage Issues

  1. Pingback: How to use the “what about” technique | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  2. My experience has been that you first start with risk identification. Every risk needs to have a Trigger Date on which it becomes either an issue or a non-issue. So, when a risk becomes an issue then you can move it into the Issues Log and start working on the mitigation plan which now becomes a part of the Issues Management Plan.

    In my experience, it is also understood that the issues log is owned by the project manager and so all issues in turn are owned by the project manager. The Project Manager assigns the issue resolution to a team member/s and tracks the issue to closure. So, I have been using only one column “Assigned To” which has worked pretty well so far.

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