OnPoint, LLC

Don’t let a good issue go bad

Issue management is the lifeblood of project management. With effective issue management, project managers can employ their listening and negotiating skills to help the team avoid obstacles and prevent long-term problems. Ideally, issues should be resolved at the team level and escalation should be employed only when other measures prove unsuccessful.

All too frequently, project team members undermine effective issue resolution processes, and they do so with the assistance of senior management. Here’s how it works. John is assigned by Ann, his VP, to work on a project team. John observes a potential problem with the project and raises his concern to Ann. Ann is surprised about this problem, and expresses her disappointment to Tom’s boss, Frank. Frank calls Tom into his office and demands an explanation as to why he has allowed this problem to linger. Tom now needs to work with three people to resolve an issue that could have been handled quickly had it been dealt with directly. Tom also must stifle his urge to choke John.

Once the issue is resolved, Tom should use this as a “teachable moment” for his boss, Frank. He should counsel Frank that when issues are escalated in the future, he should ask the “escalator” what steps have been taken to resolve the issue at the team level with the project manager. Unless there is evidence that the issue cannot be solved with the project manager, Frank should send the escalator packing.

Why do executives allow improper issue escalation? Perhaps they do not receive enough short-term gratification by doing their own jobs. They enjoy going home at the end of the day feeling that they accomplished something by fixing another mess. Of course, they ignore the fact that they have just set the stage for future messes.

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