How to Analyze and Correct Problems in Projects

project corrective action planIn order to ensure success, project managers have to juggle requirements and resources throughout the entire project implementation life-cycle to ensure compliance of the required deliverables with the baseline parameters (scope, cost, time, quality). A corrective action process appears to be the major tool that helps comply with the project baseline. In this article, I’m going to describe key steps of the process to help project managers analyze and correct problems.

When Managing Risks is Too Late

It is a best practice approach to carry out the risk management process to minimize or eliminate problems (risks) affecting a project. As a rule, such a process falls into three major stages, including:

  • Analysis. The first stage is to analyze and assess risks at the project planning phase in order to create a risk reduction strategy that could allow responding to the identified problems and risks.
  • Monitoring. The second stage is to track and assess the risks throughout the project to ensure the risk reduction strategy is being implemented effectively and identified problems are being solved.
  • Lessons Learned. The third stage is to analyze the results of the risk management process at the project closure phase, to review the problems solved, and to document lessons learned.

These three stages of the risk management process cover identified and acceptable problems and risks. However, for sudden and unforeseen problems that occur throughout a project, implementing the process appears to be too late because those problems are not captured at the analysis stage, not assessed at the monitoring stage, and not documented at the lessons learned stage.

So, in case managing risks is too late, project managers should carry out a corrective action process to effectively deal with ad-hoc problems and risks occurring during their projects.

Two Stages of Corrective Action

There are the following two stages in the correction action process:

  • Identification. The first stage is to perform an investigation of current project situation to identify the root causes of the problem.
  • Elimination. The second stage is to develop and apply a solution to eliminate the causes, thus preventing their recurrence.

During the Identification stage, project managers use root cause analysis to understand why their projects encounter the problem and diagnose the causes. At the Elimination stage, they identify possible solutions, select the best one, apply it, and then evaluate the results.

Analyze and Correct in 10 Steps

A more detailed breakdown of the corrective action process is provided below. The process can be divided into 10 steps (the steps from 1st to 5th refer to the Identification stage, while the steps from 6th to 10th refer to the Elimination stage).

  • Identify Problem. The project manager needs to identify the reason for non-conformance and to define the problem that negatively impacts the project. The problem should be clearly described (What, when, and where has happened? How does it impact the project?).
  • Understand Problem. The project manager needs to investigate the problem consecutively to understand what process steps should have been taken prior the problem occurred. It will help identify possible causes and find “gaps” in the project plan.
  • Analyze Possible Causes. The manager needs to find out what processes could occur if the preferred process was not carried out. A detailed root cause analysis will help identify and understand possible causes of the issue.
  • Collect Data. By collecting the information regarding the problem the project manager can understand which of the possible causes actually occurred in a way that would initiate the problem.
  • Analyze Data. By analyzing the collected data the manager can explore which of the possible causes did or did not contribute to problem occurrence.
  • Identify Possible Solutions. The manager should figure out the causes initiated the problem and determine what changes to the project might could prevent those causes from reoccurring in the future. Each solution would have a set of corrective actions that could ensure desirable outcome.
  • Select Solution. By analyzing the possible solutions the manager needs to determine which of the solution is the most viable and suitable.
  • Implement Solution. Now it is time to apply the solution. The manager needs to develop a plan that implements the solution and ensures that correction action is applied to the problem.
  • Measure Results. Key performance indicators should be used to measure the outcome of the correction action process and to find out if the selected solution has addressed the problem.
  • Update Documentation. After the solution has been implemented and the problem is solved, the project manager needs to update project documentation to ensure that all further activities within the project will be carried out in alignment with the improved process.

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