CXO

Three minutes to effective issue management

Find out what old writing trick one project manager employs in issue review meetings to help manage time better and keep team members focused.

Project managers know it's useful to track and manage issues throughout a project. The real concern isn't how to track issues but how to effectively and efficiently review the issues log during a project review meeting.

A key meeting I conduct on all of my projects is an issue, risk, and detailed project schedule review meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to have one formal touch point throughout the week where we can review the current issue status and discuss next steps to resolve any open issues. The meeting is helpful because it allows team members who are not always co-located to connect and provide input on any potential impacts or dependencies.

The meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes, with the first half dedicated to reviewing the issues log. The majority of the team members are co-located in a dedicated conference room with plenty of wall space, power strips, and a projector to display desktops and share the issue log.

The team has everything they need to be productive, so imagine my surprise when the 30 minute agenda item to quickly review 12 issues expanded into a 90 minute discussion. The input the team contributed to the issues log was valuable, although several tangents were created that generated more discussion. An outside observer would say the project manager isn't effectively managing the meeting; however, I'm sure readers can relate to expanding discussions and tangent agenda items that can wreck a planned agenda.

Since that meeting, I implemented a new practical solution that was right in front of me — a kitchen timer. This is a writing trick that I learned to help keep myself on task and focused; you see how much you can within a 30 minute time limit. These are the new ground rules I use to manage time and the issues list:

  1. The issues list is sorted by Priority and Next Review date, so the project team can focus on the immediate issues impacting the project.
  2. Each issue gets a three-minute time limit for discussion. I suggest using a kitchen timer or a stopwatch to keep track of time.
  3. Team members need to quickly and succinctly communicate a description of the issue, actions in-progress to resolve the issue, and where the team member needs help.
  4. If the team member exceeds the time limit, it's encouraged that an additional conversation take place after the meeting.

This approach has helped reduce the number of tangent discussions and keep the team focused on the specific agenda item. If you don't want to use a kitchen timer, use the stopwatch function on your iPhone or download a stopwatch application for your smartphone.

By clarifying your expectations for the issues review meeting, you will find that you'll quickly cover your agenda items. Also, by sorting the issues list by priority and next review date, you get an immediate list of issues that need resolution rather than reviewing issues that have an impact later on in the project.

A Scrum-based approach using a daily stand up meeting will also help communicate issues throughout the week. Issue management and resolution should occur throughout the week and not just at the formal issue review meeting. If you have more than 10 open issues on your issues list, you should consider shortening the discussion time, prioritizing the list further, or expanding the meeting's duration.

Ding!

It may seem kind of hokey to bring a kitchen timer to a meeting, but it will help keep the discussion on track. I'd rather hear the ding of a kitchen timer or the chime of an iPhone than spend another hour and a half discussing issues. After all, we've got projects to deliver, and there are times when you need a little less talk and a little more action.

If you try this approach in your next meeting, let me know how it goes.

About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

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