We have all been there at least once in our careers. One day everything is going smoothly on a project, then wham! an unexpected issue knocks us off course. We find ourselves scrambling for the reason why, trying to communicate it to the sponsor and ultimately spending more time on the how it happened than on correcting the issue. Projects are complex, living things and need to have some amount of flexibility to succeed. How you handle the issues can make all the difference in the ultimate outcome, project success or failure.

Plan ahead

When you start your project, meet with your team. Give them an open forum to discuss concerns and potential risks. While some of their feedback may seem like grumbling to avoid another project, these discussions will often shed light on risks that have a high possibility of occurring. Develop a matrix, include risks like resource and budget constraints, new technologies and schedule impacts. Also include mitigation strategies, how will the team handle any risks if they become reality. Meet regularly with your team, review the risks and discuss any new risks that may have presented themselves during the project.

Understand the issue

This is, unfortunately, an area where teams can quickly devolve into finger pointing. While it will eventually be necessary to understand who and what led to the issue and make process changes, table that discussion for when the project isn’t in firefighting mode. Your immediate course should be to talk with the team to get a handle on the issue. Work to document the issue in its entirety, what are the effects on the project and define the overall impact. You may need to add in time to the project or pull in additional resources to assist with defining the parameters.

Develop solutions

Now that you understand the issue, your team can begin to offer up solutions. Brainstorm potential options, let the team know that you support them and are open to any possible solutions, short term and long term. Understand the impact of each solution to the project and elicit recommendations on the best course of action. Take the time to document the facts: the issue, recommendations to correct and the impact of each. Review the project plan, identify any float, possible reallocation of resources or removing deliverables in the project to pinpoint ways of reducing the overall impact of the issue on the project.


This is always a tough conversation, but issues do arise and you have to communicate these to your sponsors and clients. It is best to focus on the issue and the recommendations that you and your team have developed. Inform them of the pros and cons of each solution. Empower them with the information to make informed decisions on what course is best. Many times, what you feel may be an undesirable approach may be perfectly acceptable to your client. Work to communicate this information as quickly as possible. Most people are understanding if they get the information quickly and not weeks later.

Move forward

Once you have a path forward to deal with the issue and implement the solution, continue with the project. Don’t let the issue overtake you or your team’s life. Confidently lead the team and remind them that while issues arise, you must continue to move on with other project tasks. Reinforce the positives in the project so that the team feels that their hard work has been appreciated. Once you begin moving forward, spend time understanding how your issue happened and developing lessons learned so that you can be better prepared in the future!

Morae’s Project Managers can help keep your projects on time and on budget.