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How to Manage Issues Visually with an Impact/Control Matrix

As a project manager, mitigating risk and managing issues is one of your duties. As a business analyst, you need to manage and resolve issues too. So what do you do when there are so many issues that there is no clear path forward? You categorize them, prioritize them, rank them, and assess the degree of control that you have over the issues and then plot them on an impact/control matrix.

Although the BABOK® does not provide a description for the management of issues other than the basic technique item tracking, the PMBOK® does speak about risk categorization and performing a qualitative assessment on each risk to determine the probability and impact of each risk. A similar technique can be applied to the management of issues.

Below are the step by step instructions to help you prepare an impact/control matrix that will help you identify and communicate high priority issues in a visually compelling and concise manner.

A Sample Issue Log

The following is a sample issue log for an IT project. It includes the issue ID, the issue title, the date the issue was identified, the set of activities that have been performed to mitigate and manage the issue to date and the individual that has been identified as the owner or prime person responsible for resolving the issue. When the list is presented in black and white, it is difficult to make inferences or conclusions about the types or severity of the issues affecting the project.

ID Title Date Identified Activities Owner
50 Requirements not signed off Sept 15 <text> Bill
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Dec 12 <text> Bill
67 Financial system down Dec 15 <text> Bill
68 Hardware shipment is delayed at the border Dec 20 <text> Susan
69 MKS library is corrupt Jan 1 <text> Usha
70 Culture change Jan 5 <text> Ying
75 Contract resources not available Jan 20 <text> Ying
76 Presenter could not obtain visa Jan 22 <text> Ying
77 Presentation materials delayed at border Jan 22 <text> Susan
78 New financial process for recording foreign transactions Jan 23 <text> Bill
80 Extra groups identified for training Jan 23 <text> Ying

Step 1: Categorize the Issues

Creating a risk breakdown structure is a technique commonly used by risk managers. A similar technique may be used to classify issues into set of similar issues. For some organizations, a classification into people, process and tools may be sufficient. For other organizations, a classification into procurement, legal and funding may be more appropriate. Identify choose a set of categories that is meaningful in the context of your business or your project, but limit the set to 3-6 categories. A smaller set will not provide sufficient variation. A larger set becomes difficult to present in a discernible and persuasive manner.

Review the issues in your issue log and identify the category of each issue. Some will appreciate the use of color to help them identify issues of a certain category. Categorizing the issues presented in the sample issue log, results in the following presentation. For presentation purposes, nonessential columns have been removed.

ID Title Category
50 Requirements not signed off Process
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Tools
67 Financial system down Tools
68 Hardware shipment is delayed at the border Procurement
69 MKS library is corrupt Tools
70 Culture change People
75 Contract resources not available People
76 Presenter could not obtain visa People
77 Presentation materials delayed at border Procurement
78 New financial process for recording foreign transactions Process
80 Extra groups identified for training People

Based upon this categorization, the following image is a simple yet compelling illustration of the different forces on a project.

 image001

Variations on this mage may change the size the box to present the number of issues associated with each category or a include number inside the box to illustrate the number of issues in each category.  A visual presentation such as these make it easy to see and understand the forces acting on the project.

 image003  image005

Step 2: Provide a Qualitative Assessment of the Impact of the Issue

After categorizing each issue, provide a qualitative analysis of the impact that the issue is having on your project. For each issue, ask yourself if the issue could have a high, medium, or low impact on the success of the project.   The qualitative assessment for the issue may be the same as the impact assessment use in the risk log or it may be different.

When the impact of each issue is assessed, the issue log may look like this. Color is used to help identify the significance of the issue. In this instance, issues that are of high significance are colored red to denote the relative importance. Issues that are low significance are colored green to denote their low priority.

ID Title Category Impact
50 Requirements not signed off Process High
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Tools High
67 Financial system down Tools Medium
68 Hardware shipment is delayed at the border Procurement Medium
69 MKS library is corrupt Tools High
70 Culture change People High
75 Contract resources not available People Medium
76 Presenter could not obtain visa People Low
77 Presentation materials delayed at border Procurement Low
78 New financial process for recording foreign transactions Process Low
80 Extra groups identified for training People Medium

Step 3: Prioritize the Issues based upon Impact to Delivery of your Project

After you have performed a qualitative assessment on the impact of the issues, take a moment to review the issues associated with one category and rank the issues according to the significance of the impact. The most significant issue will be receive a rank of 1. The next issue will be ranked 2. The issue that is having the least significant impact will fall to the bottom of the list. Each category of issues should be prioritized independently.

In our example, a review of the People issues deemed the relative rank or priority of the issues to be:

ID Title Category Impact Rank
70 Culture change People High 1
80 Extra groups identified for training People Medium 2
75 Contract resources not available People Medium 3
76 Presenter could not obtain visa People Low 4

A review of the Tools issues deemed the relative rank to be:

ID Title Category Impact Rank
69 MKS library is corrupt Tools High 1
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Tools High 3
67 Financial system down Tools Medium 2

When the entire issue log is prioritized by category, it look like this:

ID Title Category Impact Rank
50 Requirements not signed off Process High 1
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Tools High 2
67 Financial system down Tools Medium 3
68 Hardware shipment is delayed at the border Procurement Medium 1
69 MKS library is corrupt Tools High 1
70 Culture change People High 1
75 Contract resources not available People Medium 3
76 Presenter could not obtain visa People Low 4
77 Presentation materials delayed at border Procurement Low 2
78 New financial process for recording foreign transactions Process Low 2
80 Extra groups identified for training People Medium 2

Step 4: Identify the Degree of Control/Influence that you have over the Issue

After you have ranked the issues, determine the amount of influence or control you have over the issue. Some issues are within your span of control and may be quickly resolved with a decision, statement, or action. Other issues are within the span of control of the project sponsor or senior management. Other issues may require changes to be made by your supplier or partner and may not be easily influenced. Other issues are in the environment and are outside your control and that of your senior management (e.g. changes in currency exchange rate).

Depending the culture of your organization you may describe the degree of control as high, medium, or low or you may describe it in terms of organizational rank of the responsible party (project manager, senior manager, outside).

As before, some will appreciate the use of color to help them identify issues of a certain degree of control.   In this instance, issues that are within the span of control of the project manager, or issues over which there is a high degree of control, are colored green to denote the relative ease within which they may be addressed. Issues that have a low degree of control are colored red to denote the difficulty to resolve the issue.

ID Title Category Impact Rank Control
50 Requirements not signed off Process High 1 High
65 Test Hardware received with wrong OS Tools High 2 Medium
67 Financial system down Tools Medium 3 Medium
68 Hardware shipment is delayed at the border Procurement Medium 1 Low
69 MKS library is corrupt Tools High 1 Medium
70 Culture change People High 1 High
75 Contract resources not available People Medium 3 Medium
76 Presenter could not obtain visa People Low 4 Low
77 Presentation materials delayed at border Procurement Low 2 Low
78 New financial process for recording foreign transactions Process Low 2 Medium
80 Extra groups identified for training People Medium 2 Medium

Step 5: Plot Issues on the Impact/Control Matrix

Project managers are familiar with the Probability/Impact Matrix that is used to help focus the attention of stakeholders on the risks that have the highest probability and highest impact on the project. The concept of the Impact/Control Matrix is similar.

The matrix is presented as a 3×3 grid with the issues that are of high significance and high degree of control presented in the top right cell. These are the issues that the project manager and project executive should focus on resolving first because they will have the most significant impact on the success of the project. The issues that are identified as High-Medium and Medium-High should be the next priority. And so on through the matrix.

Impact Degree of Control
Low Medium High
High 3 2 1
Medium 4 3 2
Low 5 4 3

After the basic 3×3 matrix is drawn, insert an additional level of detail based upon the categories identified for the issues.

Impact Degree of Control
Low Medium High
High People People People
Process Process Process
Tools Tools Tools
Procure Procure Procure
Medium People People People
Process Process Process
Tools Tools Tools
Procure Procure Procure
Low People People People
Process Process Process
Tools Tools Tools
Procure Procure Procure

Based upon the significance of impact, the degree of control, and the category identified in the previous steps, place each issue in the appropriate cell. When placing the text in the matrix, be sure to include both the rank and issue id to make it easier for you to correlate the information in the matrix with the details in your issue log.  If multiple items appear in the same cell, they should be presented in descending order with the highest ranking issue on top.

 Impact Degree of Control
Low Medium High
High People People People 1.70 Culture change
Process Process Process 1.50 Requirements not signed off
Tools Tools

1.69 MKS library corrupt

2.65. Test Hardware received wrong OS

Tools
Procure Procure Procure
Medium People People People

2.80 Extra groups for training

3.75 Contract resources not available

Process Process Process
Tools Tools 3.67 Financial system Down Tools
Procure 1.68 Hardware shipment delayed Procure Procure
Low People 4.76 Presenter could not obtain visa People People
Process Process 2.78 New financial process Process
Tools Tools Tools
Procure 2.77 Presentation materials delayed Procure Procure

The last step is to remove any cells that do not have any issues associated with them. This will enable the reader to focus on the key details and make observations about the frequency and distribution of issues.

Impact Degree of Control
Low Medium High
High   Tools

1.69 MKS library corrupt

2.65. Test Hardware received wrong OS

People 1.70 Culture change
Process 1.50 Requirements not signed off
Medium Procure 1.68 Hardware shipment delayed Tools 3.67 Financial system Down People

2.80 Extra groups for training

3.75 Contract resources not available

Low People 4.76 Presenter could not obtain visa Process 2.78 New financial process  
Procure 2.77 Presentation materials delayed

You are your management teams should be actively working to resolve those issue with a high significance of impact and a high degree of control. Then turn your attention to the issues that are identified as Medium-High and High-Medium. For those issues that are identified with a low degree of control, develop and execute contingency plans. It is highly unlikely that these issues will be resolved in a timely manner and there is very little control or influence that you can exercise over the resolution of these issues.

In Closing

As a project manager or business analyst, managing issues is one of your duties; however, looking at a long list of issues does not enable you to make observations about the frequency and distribution of issues.   If you categorize, prioritize, rank, and assess the degree of control that you have over the issues and then plot the data on a matrix, you will have a visually compelling presentation that enables you and your senior management to gain valuable insight into the nature of the issues so that effort can be spent addressing those that will bring the most significant benefit.