The Secret Life of Issue Lists (Part 2): Issues and GTD

[Update 22-Apr-2009 Links to the mind map file, free Mind Manager Viewer and same in pdf format added. Apparently IE can’t render the embedded viewer either. Kudos to Hans Henrik Krohn for pointing this out.]

This is the second part of a discussion on the secret life of issue lists in our project lifestyles.

In Part 1 I opened the discussion by looking at why issues are such slippery things to manage. I then got perspectives on managing issues from various colleagues who know a thing or two about them.

In this post I’ll see how some of the latest thinking in personal productivity intersects with issue management in projects.

Issue Management and GTD

I compared my colleagues’ perspectives on issue lists and issue management to some of the concepts outlined in the action management method "Getting Things Done” (GTD) developed by David Allen.

Basically this method rests on the principle that a person needs to move tasks out of their mind by recording them somewhere.

That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks.  Hmmm…sounds like the projects lifestyle to me…

Two things distinguish GTD from other time- or action-management systems.

GTD is not about prioritizing up front.  It is about dealing with things as the come using a standard workflow.

Secondly GTD the idea of grouping tasks by the context (defined as a place or set of available resources) in which they are to be performed.

Really I wanted to see what would happen by applying GTD workflow to the project context and the issue process in particular. 

Here is a MindMap I built to document the steps in the workflow. You can grab this file directly from the link and view using the free MindManager Viewer.

You will need to view this in IE or install the excellent IE Tab plugin for Firefox to view this embedded MindMap Viewer.

For the truly afflicted you can grab the mind map as a pdf file.


Built by Mindjet LLC

The biggest thing really is the concept of collecting issues out of the minds of project team members and users and getting them recorded.

Issues running around in the wild are the dangerous ones.

Once you capture them, you can tame and manage them.

So doing, you exercise a lot more control over the unknowns in your project.

In the next and final post I will examine how better management of issues may have an overall impact on project outcomes by referring to Tipping Point theory.


Hello, this sounds very interesting; I'd dearly like to know more about systems meant to facilitate getting issues described and dealt with. My own current system is a series of wordpad documents; not very much, but better than the Remedy based push-things-around system being "used" (in quotes) by my co-workers.

Unfortunately I cannot see the MindMap you write about, Internet Explorer 8 denies installing the since it isn't digitally signed. Perhaps you could make the MindMap as a .png or (worse) a .pdf in stead?

Best regards,
Hans Henrik Krohn

[AS: Thanks for the heads up! I will update with a link to the mmap file and the viewer (so you can install it) and a pdf. GTD makes a point of being technology agnostic - its all about the workflow of capturing and cranking through your open issues - or open loops as Dave Allen calls them.]

Posted by Hans Henrik Krohn on April 21, 2009 at 05:36 PM CEST #

Hello Andrew,

Interesting topic, since are in the era of globalization of services.
Doing the things right can be sometimes a challenge.

We need to look at the valuestream and see where efficiency can be gained.

Warm regards,

Posted by Victor Chang on April 23, 2009 at 02:14 AM CEST #

Great article.

For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

Posted by Dan on May 20, 2009 at 05:14 AM CEST #

Hello Andrew, a very good and important topic, thanks for bringing this to our attention. One thing I have learned is to make issues visible. We all tend to hide issues as long as they don't hurt much. We also tend to leave an issue rather by the person who seams to be the best to handle (although she/he might not have the bandwidth right now). Making issues visible to the team will ask implicitly for help/input. Someone might have a spontaneous idea to help. One more important point to mention: the person who has raised the issue might still be effected in his daily work. Making issues visible helps everyone and will finally improve the team effectiveness. Lastly, putting an issue into an issue management tool is good, but is not always the same as visibility. Some of us might say: "I have registered my issue in the issue system, I was not aware that I have to follow up on that!". As a method example, Scrum has adapted such visibility elements in the daily Scrum meeting, right? Best Regards Volker Eckardt

Posted by Volker Eckardt on June 03, 2011 at 10:17 AM CEST #

Hi Volker I think your comment raises several good threads. First - the PM needs to explicitly create the work environment where it is OK that issues be raised rather than covered up. Everyone is ionvolved in raising & capturing issues This does mean that everyone is also actively part of the process of solving the issues too. Second - that making an issue visible and capturing it in some system are parts of the story - as is making sure that everyone is clear on who has the next action step in working on the issue. If you get situation where people people think it is enough just to plug their particular problem into a system (making it somebody else's problem) then see step one...

Posted by Andrew on June 06, 2011 at 02:04 AM CEST #

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