Risks and issues
There are two big problems with most risks and issues registers:
- They’re difficult to read
- They’re difficult to maintain.
Let’s start with the readability. Usually, they’re a lifeless grid in a tiny font with lots of columns and, depending on your project/programme, lots of rows. There is nothing to distinguish between the rows other than the contents of the eight-point type in each of the cells. Risk or issue titles are unnecessarily verbose, and it’s often not clear what an item represents by reading it.
To solve this problem, include a Headline column in 14-point bold. Maximum of ten words to give a high-level description of what the row is all about. People will read it and say “Ah, yes. I know that one”. And make sure all of the columns are absolutely necessary. Nugatory columns are a pain to fill in, and deflect from the important columns when viewed.
Use 90° text alignment for the short fields like who raised it and assignee to save width for the columns containing important textual information.
Now some pointers to make your registers more manageable.
Don’t hive off closed items. Just close them in the status field. It’s important that you keep them for posterity and completeness, but use Excel’s Custom Views to make sure you don’t see them unless you have to.
Have a single register to house both risks and issues. This is a biggie that I can’t stress enough (or indeed too much). Although some of the columns for each register are subtly different, there are quite a few that are consistent between the two. Keep two registers and your reference numbers get cumbersome, and cutting and pasting from one to another when risks come to fruition is a right pain.
If a column for risks is sufficiently similar in nature to an issues column, then combine the two. Have three heading rows, one for risks, one for issues and one for a combined view. Again, use Custom Views to hide the two title rows that are redundant for a particular view. If you’re showing risks, hide the issues and combined titles, for example.
If columns are being used to determine the Custom View via filtering (e.g. Status: Open; Type: Risk), then hide these two columns in that view—they’re redundant. Instead, include a cell above the title row saying “Open risks” that can be displayed for that view. For each view, have a dedicated row above the title rows purely for this function, summarising the view. This can be printed on every sheet through repeated titles. And if you want, you can succeed it with the number of such records.
A few other points worth making.
- Unless you’re using some shared web interface, use Excel. Don’t consider anything else.
- For the risk or issue titles, word your items as statements of fact. Risks should be phrased as if they’ve happened. Issues similarly, because they have. “There is no environment available for performance testing,” for example
- Keep update summaries brief, and archive old updates into a separate, hidden column in four-point. This is for audit purposes and is rarely referenced. Its font can be increased as and when you need to read it
- By combining your risks and issues, you can have generic reference numbers that support both
- Build Custom Views for: open risks; open issues; open items; all items. You can add more complex views if necessary, such as: imminent risks; high-impact issues; escalated items
- Use conditional formatting to work out how to colour items, but only colour the rating cell and make it narrow
Boring post, but necessary. Comments welcome.
Here’s an example, btw. Risks and issues.