Business issues

One of the key challenges of issues management is to resolve the problem quickly and then move on, with as little impact to the project as possible. The framework provides a structure for making decisions when issues arise. Remember to consider your team’s needs as you develop the framework.

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Project Issue Management

In the life cycle of any project, there will almost always be unexpected problems and questions that crop up. When these issues arise, you have to be ready to deal with them – or they can potentially affect the project’s outcome.

Since most issues are, by their nature, unexpected, how do you make sure you’ll be able to deal with them quickly and effectively? Ideally, you need an issue resolution process in place before you start your project – to make sure that you stay on schedule, and meet your objectives.

Issue management is the process of identifying and resolving issues. Problems with staff or suppliers, technical failures, material shortages – these might all have a negative impact on your project. If the issue goes unresolved, you risk creating unnecessary conflicts, delays, or even failure to produce your deliverable.

Issues Versus Risks

Issues and risks are not quite the same thing. However, the exact nature of both is largely unknown before you begin. With risks, you usually have a general idea in advance that there’s a cause for concern. An issue tends to be less predictable; it can arise with no warning. For example, being unable to find qualified staff is an identifiable risk. However, when one of your staff is in a car accident, and hospitalized for three weeks, that becomes an issue!

It’s important to identify risks before the project begins. A Risk/Impact Probability Chart provides a useful framework to help you prioritize your risks. You can then develop a plan to manage those risks proactively with solutions that you’ve already thought through and prearranged. However, when it comes to issues, you have to deal with them as they happen. Issue management, therefore, is a planned process for dealing with an unexpected issue – whatever that issue may be – if and when one arises.

When you don’t identify and reduce risks at the beginning of a project, they can often become issues later on. Make sure you understand your risks early. Learn from previous projects, and benefit from the team’s past experiences. This way, you’ll have fewer issues to manage as you move forward.

Top Ten Problems Faced by Business

We never like to rely on one source to fuel our analyses of the problems facing business today, so we’ve integrated our own interviews with corporate CEOs along with other inputs, research and thinking to create this list of the top 10 problems for businesses to solve.

1. Uncertainty

All human beings, but it seems business leaders in particular, find great discomfort in uncertainty. Uncertainty in the global economy, uncertainty in the credit markets, uncertainty in how new regulations will affect business, uncertainty about what competitors are doing, and uncertainty about how new technology will affect the business—these are just the start of a never-ending list. The bottom line is that uncertainty leads to a short-term focus. Companies are shying away from long-term planning in favor of short-term results, with uncertainty often the excuse. While this might feel right, we believe that a failure to strategically plan five years into the future can end up destroying value. The problem to be solved, therefore, is to balance the need for a more reactive, short-term focus with the need for informed, long-term strategies.

2. Globalization

In interviews conducted by the Lean Methods Group, seven of 10 Fortune 500 CEOs cite the challenges of globalization as their top concern. Understanding foreign cultures is essential to everything from the ability to penetrate new markets with existing products and services, to designing new products and services for new customers, to recognizing emergent, disruptive competitors that only months earlier weren’t even known. The problem to be solved is to better understand international markets and cultures through better information gathering and analysis of what it all means.Similarly, the incredible degree of government intervention in nearly all major economies of the world is leading to much greater uncertainty (see No. 1 above) in the global marketplace, making international operations ever harder to manage.

3. Innovation

Interestingly, we haven’t found that many companies are looking to create more innovative cultures. At least not the big companies (Global 1000) anyway, though that changes some as companies get smaller. This finding was a big surprise when we did our first studies in 2009 and little has changed since. It seems big companies are struggling with innovation and a better innovation process is at the top of the agenda for most CEOs, but the idea of a more innovative culture appears too frightening to many. The problem to be solved is how to become more innovative while still maintaining a sense of control over the organization.

4. Government Policy & Regulation

A changing regulatory environment is always of concern in certain industries, but uncertain energy, environmental and financial policy is complicating the decision making for nearly all companies today. It’s true that things seem to have settled down over the past couple of years, but have they really? We find that they haven’t; it’s simply that dealing with an unknown regulatory environment is fast becoming the new normal and companies are deciding to get on with it—whatever “it” may be—despite the angst. Whether a demand from customers or shareholders to become more “green,” the threat of increased costs due to new carbon taxes, constant talk of changes to corporate tax rates, or the impending healthcare mandate for businesses in the US, much is unsettled. The problems to be solved are to understand the meaning of regulation and government policy in your industry, its implications for your business, and to develop the skills necessary to deal with it.

5. Technology

The pace of technological improvement is running at an exponentially increasing rate. While this has been true for several decades, the pace today makes capital investment in technology as much an asset as a handicap because a competitor may wait for the next-generation technology, which may only be a year away, and then use it to achieve an advantage. Of course waiting to be that competitor can be equally risky. What’s a CEO to do? Similarly, the ability for even the best of technologists to stay informed about emerging technology is in conflict with the need to master a company’s current technology. The problem to be solved is to develop a long-term technology strategy while remaining flexible enough to take advantage of unforeseen technology developments.

6. Diversity

A particular subset of human capital planning is found so often in our research that it is worth its own mention. Diversity brings many challenges, as it makes it far more likely that people do not agree, and the lack of agreement makes running a business very difficult. At the same time, the lack of diversity within many large company leadership teams leads to a narrow view of an ever-changing and diverse world—contributing to groupthink, stale culture and a tendency to live with the status quo for too long. The problem to be solved is to first define what diversity (and we’re not talking about satisfying government statisticians) really means in your company, then foster the expansion of differing ideas and viewpoints while ensuring a sufficiently cohesive environment that efficiently gets things done.

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