This post offers some advice that is useful for everybody in a team, but is very relevant for those people who work for a role such as a Program Manager or a Project Manager, or the leads of team; essentially everybody who works in a role where they keep track of items rather than being almost completely involved in a development or testing role. When you are working in such a role, there will be a number of items that are ongoing, and that too in different areas.
Speaking from my experience, a lot of my work was just involved in making sure that the project was on track, which meant that I was tracking the various items items that were ongoing, looking at risks as they emerged, as well as keeping track of where we were with respect to the several third party vendors and internal teams with whom we used to coordinate. These items helped keep the project on track, since I always knew where there was a potential problem, and also helped isolate the top most items that could be flagged for a status report. Such status reports help let other stakeholders know about the problems that the team is facing, or is likely to face. On a self note, if something blows up, and you had already flagged it, it can do a lot to ensure that the finger is not only pointed at you.
So what do you do ? Well, I tried various items such as using a Notepad to track these items (both the physical one where I marked these items in a paper based notepad, as well as in the Windows based Notepad app), using a few specialist apps to try and track those, even using little Post-It items to keep a mark of the more critical ones. But in the end, I came back to marking such items in Excel, and having a couple of columns to organize these items. So, I would start off by”
1. Categorizing issues according to the areas (these could be installer, could be related to tools, third party components, Schedule, Tracking reports such as defect numbers, etc), this categorization helps in ensuring that I can quickly list up the items by each area. So, for example, if there is a discussion that I need to have with the manager of an external team, I can quickly call up the items that I am tracking related to that third party, and use those.
2. Capturing the actual issues in a column. In this column, I would capture the actual issue and any recent developments, while ensuring that the text does not become too large, it needs to be succinct so that I can quickly call upon the issue.
3. Another couple of columns that track when the issue was started, and when the last update was made. Through these columns, I get an idea of how old the issue was, as well as the last time that I actually looked at this issue. When an issue gets very old, it is time to look at the issue to see whether it is still relevant. If it is not relevant, then one can remove the issue (or rather, mark it is an old issue to not look at it again).
4. 2 more columns that track the date by which this issue needs to be resolved, and the current status of the issue. These columns can be very important in the entire sheet, since the status determines how much time I would need to spend on this issue, and the date by which the issue needs to be resolved determines the urgency of looking at the issue as well (if the issue is some time off and not critical, it can be put on the slow burner)/
5. One final column where I would track who raised the issue. This was my name most of the time, but from time to time, I would get instances of an issue raised by somebody else, either in a meeting, or in an email sent to me. Over a period of time, this also helped in generating information of which person most likely had a feel for issues that were likely to impact the project, and ensured that I would be in regular contact with them.
Overall, these issues could cover anything – for example, they could an external component coming late, some feature development work being of low quality, some team member having to go an emergency leave and the hole on the schedule to be calculated, the need to prepare for a Beta release, and so on. This system also works if you add items to the sheet as and when you see them (and if they cannot be immediately dismissed), and tracking them in this manner also ensures that you can send the sheet to somebody if you have to leave suddenly for any emergency. And you can pick and choose items from this one for your status report.