Often within projects, people talk about specific risks or issues being “on their radar”. This normally means that they are aware of the risk or issue, are tracking it, but have made a conscious decision not to take any immediate action. On large and complex projects it can become increasingly challenging to keep track of everything that is a potential problem. It can be difficult to know which issues are material, and when to take action. Often things get forgotten, and something that is “on the radar” today, might cause a severe issue tomorrow if it isn’t addressed.
As Business Analysts, we play a crucial role in flagging and resolving issues throughout the project lifecycle. This might mean risks to the likely benefits that the project will deliver, or it might be a requirements conflict. We need to keep a firm eye on our radar screen! But how can we decide which issues are the most important, and which deserve our attention first?
You need a RADAR
In order to effectively track and manage the issues, we need to put some conscious thought into how we use our RADAR system. With all the pressures that come with our day-to-day duties, it is sometimes tempting to rely on memory alone. Don’t do this! Projects are complex, and sooner or later you’re bound to forget something. In the same way an air-traffic controller wouldn’t try to remember where all the planes under her control are located purely using memory, we shouldn’t try to remember every single issue without some form of record or memory aid.
Project level risks and issues should be recorded on a central issues log, and should be managed by the Project Manager. However, it is often useful to keep a less formal list of issues, risks, constraints, dependencies or problems which affect the BA deliverables. You might also want to keep an informal, personal RADAR of all the issues that are important to you.
Luckily, the BABOK gives us a useful suggestion on how we might create our radar (see section 9.20 “Problem Tracking”). Our RADAR could be as simple as an organised problem log:
But once we have our radar, how do we use it?
Using your RADAR effectively
1. Monitor proximity
On a RADAR screen, the distance of a particular item is important. An air-traffic controller will need to know how far away a particular airplane is to determine whether they need to take immediate or preventative action. In project, the significant thing is the proximity of the issue in terms of time. It’s fine to make a decision to “do nothing” right now, but it’s essential to record a date when the issue will need to be revisited.
2. Monitor direction
Another significant piece of information that can be gained from a radar screen is the direction each airplane is traveling – are they moving closer or further away? On projects, we need to know whether a risk or problem is becoming more or less likely. If circumstances have changed, and a risk is now much more likely, we might need to take immediate preventative action. So keeping an eye on the likelihood of an event occurring is important.
3. Monitor impact
The severity of potential impact is also an important consideration, as it will help to prioritise our responses. Clearly, if an air traffic controller had two airplanes heading for collision, that would take their absolute priority! In projects, we may occasionally find that an incident arises that is so urgent it could significantly affect the amount of business benefit that the project delivers (or it might even threaten the delivery of the whole project itself). These are the issues we should address first.
4. Monitor regularly and take action
A RADAR screen is only useful if somebody is looking at it. The same is true of any kind of risk, issue or problem log – if it isn’t being regularly revisited, then it has become a pure paperwork exercise. Having a team problem log and reviewing it regularly can be a great way to ensure that all the issues are surfaced and dealt with. You might not like what you see… but at least you’ll know!
>>Get Your Issues List Template
Laura’s issues list template, including embedded guidelines for managing the list effectively, is included in the Business Analyst Template Toolkit. The Toolkit also includes my requirements specification templates and business analyst planning and work aids. All of the templates in the Toolkit are fully editable and annotated, giving you a great starting point for your next project. And all come with accompanying work samples so you can see what a filled in template would look like.