I had an uncomfortable situation one time on a project. We had an issue with a software application. I wasn’t sure how serious the issue was. I asked the team members to provide more information on it. They told me it would take about two days to investigate it and understand its consequences.
In the meantime, a manager within the application team spoke to my project sponsor, suggesting it was a show-stopper issue. He, in turn, came to me wondering why he hadn’t been informed by me. Why did he have to find out from an outside source?
I tried to explain to him that I had just known about it for two days and was gathering information to learn more about it. I didn’t even know the ramifications yet.
This presents an age old dilemma at just about any management level. Project managers maintain an issues log. All issues get logged to it. Smaller, less impactful issues get resolved. You don’t have to bother your next level of management with many of them.
Other issues are reported to upper management. Some require upper management’s input and decision making. Others are simply to keep the executive informed, just in case it grows to a larger issue.
Much like reporting Red-Amber-Green status, the PM walks a tightrope between taking up the manager’s time with unnecessary issues, and deceiving the project sponsor. There are a few things that a project manager can do to ensure that they are reporting the correct issues correctly to the project sponsor.
In the exploratory stage
If you have just been made aware of an issue, but have not been given all of the details, the issue is in limbo. You don’t know if it is a reportable issue. But you do know that it has potential to be.
In this case, you may want to send the manager an “FYI email.” Starting the email with “FYI” (For your information) tips them off that there is no involvement required by them. It is just to keep them informed. Explain that you are still investigating what the ramifications are and that you will provided an update if necessary.
This circumvents the sponsor learning about the issue from someone else. It also provides a heads-up if this becomes a major issue. Executives don’t like surprises. Providing an informative heads-up can eliminate a surprise on multiple fronts.
Find out the consequences
If the team tells you that it will take an extensive period of time to investigate the issue, find out why it will take so long. Pursue options that could accelerate the inquiry. If there is a risk of it being a major issue, it may be worth adding people to investigate or increasing the priority.
If the investigation cannot be sped up in any way, try to establish milestones in which you can check in with the team to get updates as it progresses.
If you establish that this is a major issue that needs to be brought to the executive’s attention, determine the appropriate communication path. If the executive is available and approachable, speak to them directly.
Many executives are so busy it is hard to get any personal time with them on the fly. A quick email or text may be appropriate to get the information out in a timely manner. You may also try to schedule a personal meeting with the appropriate people to provide additional insight.
It is best to take issues to executives armed with possible solutions. You may have two or three possible resolutions to the problem and a recommendation of which one you think would work best.
Additionally, the ramifications of the issue should be well understood. Those ramifications could be related to internal politics, technical problems, public relations concerns, or in many other areas. Be sure to consider all ramifications of the issue. Also, be sure to know the pros and cons of each resolution.
Know your sponsor
Knowing your sponsor and how he or she likes to be communicated to can help a lot. One executive may prefer to hear things in person, while another wants things in writing electronically.
Knowing the proper verbiage to use, and hot button items that they don’t like, are equally important. Some managers like to be provided updates on an hourly basis. Some may prefer it daily. Determine their need and fulfil it.
The goal is to inform them without unnecessarily worrying them. Make them feel like you are in control of the situation and want them to be informed, or want their input on the matter.
How do you report major issues to your boss?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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