How to successfully report an urgent issue?


There was a software development project. The project was to develop an online shopping system. One day the project team needed to extend and modify the shopping cart function of the online system.

Project Manager

Keywords: project management, PMBOK, report meeting, urgent issue, problem management

At first, the development department thought it was a very simple task and it should take no more than three days. But once the team moved on to the execution part, they found that the shopping cart function involved too many other perspectives of the system. For example, the complicated relations between all the old purchase orders and the shopping cart function created a complicated affair. In fact, this modification should take at least two weeks.

But the problem was, this modification task happened to be a part of the key path of the project. If this task postponed, then the entire project would be behind schedule. And what’s more important is that the boss of the project manager had emphasized that the project could not be postponed because this product determined the most important KPI of the year. In this very urgent situation, if you were the project manager, what would you do?

In the process of project management, the project manager would encounter various urgent issues or situations. In those scenarios, effective communications and reporting to key stakeholders are very essential. In this article, we would discuss how to successfully report an urgent issue to key stakeholders, especially to our boss.

1 Confront the problem:

Many junior project managers would consider project management as a personal job, which means they do not want other people to get involved or ask questions about their projects. To this kind of project manager, if some problem occurred in the project, they would try to solve the problem by themselves and hope that would get the project back on track. The worst thing is that they would not expose the problem until the last minute. As a result, the project would probably fall behind schedule by a significant deviation.

To admit “I need help” when some problem occurred sometimes is a very difficult thing, especially for those project managers who have the thought of “If I could solve the problem all by myself, the boss would certainly be impressive”.

As a professional project manager, if the problem was obviously out of your control, the first thing you should do is confront the problem. That means you should faithfully reveal the problem to your superior. Your sincerity and honesty would be precious to the entire project.

2 How to write a good urgent report:

An urgent report is a real-time report when an urgent issue occurred or the status of some important risk had a significant change. The purpose of an urgent report is to communicate the urgent issues and situations to the project team and key stakeholders in time and to coordinate corresponding resources for resolving the problem.

Due to the urgency of the situation, the urgent reports need not get restricted in concrete form. The key is to deliver the message briefly, and furthermore develop the follow-up actions accordingly. Normally, there are five basic factors of a good urgent report:

1. Description of the situation,

2. Impact results,

3. Follow-up analysis,

4. Response measurements (includes person responsible and timeline),

5. Support needed.

 Now, let’s see how to write a good urgent report based on a practical case. For example, let’s go back to the beginning case of this article.

Description of the situation: The modification task of “shopping cart function” would cause a high risk of postponing the entire project.

Impact results: Because the modification task was on the key path of the project, it could cause the entire project to be behind schedule by two weeks.

Follow-up analysis: The modification of the shopping cart function is partially connected to the bottom-layer ordering system which has a lot of legacy codes and those codes have not been maintained for a very long time. At first, the project team did not thoroughly evaluate the technical risks of this modification, but at this point, we all realize that the technical risk is very high. It could affect the stability of the entire ordering system. The detailed and specific impacts still need to be analyzed.

Response measurements: We would do our best to finish the thorough technical evaluation. A detailed timeline of evaluation tasks would be developed within this week. In the meantime, the production staff would take part in the project and investigate and research the feasibility of modifying the shopping cart function without touching the old ordering system. A detailed conclusion of the investigation would be presented within this week.

Support needed: Senior developers who are familiar with the old ordering system and a box of Red Bull.

After the project manager submitted this brief urgent report, the project sponsor would notice the issue right away. Meanwhile, the sponsor would also notice that the project team is currently trying to solve the problem, and furthermore notice what the current solution is at the moment, what kind of help the project team needs. Of course, except for writing a written urgent report, as a project manager, you could also talk to the sponsor face-to-face right away, which would be a more effective way.

Back to the former case, in the end, the development team and the product staff together altered the logic of the product, and successfully avoided any high risk of product launching.

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