“A plan never survives contact with the enemy.” If you are using Microsoft Project and things do not go as planned, your project has “issues”. You can track these issues as tasks in the project schedule. This allows you to easily capture the impact on schedule and costs. This is also useful to explain the reasons for variance from the plan in a way that can be quantified. It can also be used during the lessons learned session after the project or phase is completed discuss with the team how they could have been avoided or predicted better. This would then lead to better planning in the future.
An issue is a problem that prevents a task from being done. It may be related to a risk that was previously identified or it may be completely unexpected. These come up all the time in projects, especially IT projects. They are typically tracked in an issues log. In the issues log the problem is stated and an action item to resolve it is described along with a due date. The task being affected should be indicated, but often isn’t. Each action taken to resolve it is logged until the issue is resolved. The task being affected can then be finished unless there is another issue that prevents it (an all too common occurrence). This usually results in schedule slippage and perhaps additional cost, which is often not captured in the issues log.
How do you do this in MS Project? When an issue is identified, a task would be added to the project schedule. The task description would identify it as an issue with a brief title and perhaps an identifying number from the issue log. This issue task would then be linked to the task that can be completed using a finish-to-start or a finish-to-finish dependency. The start date would be the date it was identified. When is the finish date? It depends on whether the resolution is known at the time it is identified. If it is, you can make the finish date be the date it will be resolved. Here is an example using the Example MS Office Project 2007 template for Security Infrastructure Improvement Plan from Microsoft Office:
The pricing information needed for task 29 is not available because the contact person is not available until next week. For this example, we are assuming that the contact person is irreplaceable for that week. You will notice that this change has caused both the issue and the task that it is linked to become critical (red) and will delay the entire project by 3 working days.
Sometimes the resolution is not known right away. There is always a next action however. In this case create another task as a subtask of the issue. The start date would be the same as the issue start date, and the finish date is the due date of this action item. If this action does not resolve the issue, it is marked as complete and the next action is added as a subtask of the issue with a finish-to-start link to the previous action item. This continues until the issue is resolved. The advantage of this is that you can show progress toward resolution as completed action items (tasks in MS Project) and capture the impact of each action and the entire issue accurately. Continuing with the previous example:
Here task 43, “Solution Implementation” cannot be completed because a software module was discovered on some of the client workstations that is incompatible with the solution being implemented. Not all client workstations are affected however so the team decided to implement the solution on those while finding a solution for the ones affected. We have put a finish-to-finish dependency between the issue and the task affected with a lag of 3 days because the team has determined that they can implement the solution on the affected machines about 3 days after a solution to the incompatibility is implemented. The critical path is not affected yet.
After a week of analyzing the problem, the team has found that an upgrade of the client software to version 1.2.2 will solve the problem. It will take a week to upgrade these so we add another subtask to the issue for this.
Now the critical path has been affected and caused a delay of 2 more working days to the project schedule. This is why the Gantt bar for this task is now red. It also shows that the solution implementation is 50% complete in spite of the issue, because we continued working on the unaffected workstations.
If progress is reported weekly, this will show that analysis of the problem was completed and what the impact of the problem is to the plan overall. You can also track labor and perhaps software license costs to the issue to know the cost impact of the problem. If root cause analysis is done, this information can be used to determine what corrective action is worthwhile.
This is just one example of how tracking issues as tasks in MS Project can help you and those you report to make better decisions.