Issue Management 2: Eight Disciplines

In Part 1, I took up the challenge to tackle issue management in a way that tackles one reader’s dismay at issues being “incorrectly logged, escalated, allocated severity, given owners, tracked, date and time committed, and closed properly”.

Now we move on to the substance of my suggested process, based closely on the Eight Disciplines method, widely used for problem solving in the manufacturing industries.

The Eight (+1) Disciplines

D1: Mobilise the Team

Get your issue resolving team together and brief them on the outcome of your triage, what they need to do, and any administrative matters like leadership and reporting.  Also secure the resources that they will need, and assign any individual responsibilities.  At this stage, you will also need to define the escalation route – from the team to you and upwards to your project director, sponsor, boss or client.  Update your issue log with the responsibilities and authorities you have agreed.

D2: Define the problem

During triage (see Part 1) you will have sought to understand the nature of the issue.  Now the team must investigate more deeply to understand rout causes and consequences.  There is a range of tools available – maybe later…
Again, update your log and report on findings.  Stakeholders may need to know what is happening and, even if they don’t need to know, rumour control may require that you let them know anyway!  Update your issue log with your new knowledge.

D3: Containment

You may find that the problem will deteriorate if not contained, so apply any temporary fixes that you need to buy the team time to search for a definitive resolution.  Update your issue log with the new status.

D4: Find the Root Causes

Now it is time to start on resolving the issue for once and for all, so investigate back through the chain of cause and effect to trace back as far as you can to the root causes.  Be careful to avoid being seduced by correlations that are not causal – now is the time to evaluate and test rigorously to ensure your understanding is robust, because this will be the basis for…

D5: Plan Permanent Corrective Actions

In this step, I advocate looking at multiple options for correcting the issue, where they exist, and evaluating which is the most cost-effective.  It is likely that you may need to make compromises between different solutions, none of which is perfect.  Use your project’s documented goal and objectives as the basis for your decision, and escalate your decision as necessary.  Once you have selected your solution, develop a plan to the level of detail that allows you to be confident that implementation will succeed. Update your issue log with your decision and document your plan if it is substantive or requires change authorisation..

D6: Implement Permanent Corrective Actions

I would include monitoring and review in this discipline.  In a changeable project environment, it is dangerous to assume that the resolution you planned yesterday will be equally applicable tomorrow.  Update your issue log with the new status.  Close the issue if testing shows it to no longer threaten your project.

D7: Prevent Recurrence

The Japanese have a term that is transliterated into English as “Poka-yoke” and means mistake-proof.  An example of poka-yoke engineering is in the wiring looms of modern cars, where each circuit’s plug/socket pairs are different.  Another is the asymmetry of a SIM card or SD card, making it impossible to put them into their slot incorrectly and hence make the wrong electrical contacts.  Older readers will recall the break-off lugs on VHS and audio cassettes that prevent over-recording.  If you can find a way to prevent the issue ever recurring, this is a real bonus – although D7 is clearly more relevant in a process environment than a project context.  If you need to make a change, take it through your normal change control process.

D8: Celebrate your Team’s Success

… or at least recognise their effort!  Acknowledge what your team has achieved collectively and individually, share it publicly as appropriate and fin ways to consolidate any lessons learned both personally and institutionally.

The “so what?”

The Eight Disciplines approach to problem solving – adapted suitably and combined with a triage at the start makes an excellent process for project issue management.  It is not the only process that can work, by far, but a good process is better than none at all, and a flaky set of notes in an ill-maintained issue log, and no follow up nor sense of responsibility.

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