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It’s Not My Problem
By Meade Rubenstein

One of the major challenges of a project manager, or any manager, is determining who owns the problem. By default, the problem is owned by the person with the biggest guilt complex (aka me)…and not the person who can actually address the problem. No matter how hard the current problem owner tries to get others to help resolve the issue, the problem tends to bounce right back, as if it was attached like a paddleball. The end result: the problem is not effectively addressed and blame and future problems have a greater tendency to be associated with me.

Ok, rant over, now some definitions:

  • The problem – anything that went wrong
  • me – the person who always seems to be working through the teams problems

Without trying to over-define everything, let’s just say that the problem is something that needs to be corrected, is understood enough to know who it should be assigned to and is of a severity enough that it needs to take priority. Any additional information is…well…nice to know.

An effective process would be:

  • Centralizing problem reporting – an excel sheet to some sophisticated bug tracker
  • Problem Triage – someone (me) needs to determine how severe the issue is and who the person is that is most associated with it and can resolve it
  • Assign (you need authority) to the person
  • Follow up and make sure the problem gets attention and resolved

Seems simple, but if you assume people understand the process and will voluntarily follow it…well let’s just not assume, let’s communicate to the team and to management and let us assume that we have the authority to push the problem to the right person… As difficult as assigning to the right person is, the actual resolution is based on the person’s focus and attention to the problem. The easiest way I’ve found for this to happen is to send out a daily/weekly report of all active problems, who they are assigned to, and how long they’ve been out standing. Peer pressure/management pressure can then take its course.

Meade Rubenstein has over 20 years of IT experience. He is currently the COO of Gráfica Group. Meade’s website can be found at http://www.itprojectguide.com/ and his personal blog can be found at http://www.itprojectguide.blogspot.com/.

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