What is an issue log? How to track problems step-by-step

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

No matter how successfully a project runs, problems inevitably arise that can affect the project's delivery. An issue log is a standard way of tracking these problems and the solutions that the team develops to address them. If you're in the process of managing a large project that involves many processes and systems, keeping an issue log may help you keep an accurate record of the project's progress. In this article, we answer the question 'What is an issue log?', define issue logs with a list of examples and give a step-by-step guide to keeping your own issue log for a project.

What is an issue log?

To answer the question 'What is an issue log?', an issue log is a written record that accounts for the problems that arise during a project and how professionals resolve them. These logs are essential for later reference since project managers can consult them to establish if an issue occurred previously and if there was a solution. They're also useful for post-project evaluations and making adjustments and updates to a project post-release. Some software companies also keep public issue logs or lists of 'bug fixes' with each update to keep users aware of potential issues.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

How do you define an 'issue'?

An issue is any accidental or unintended result that affects a project, its performance or its delivery. 'Issues' differ from 'risks' in that issues have already occurred, whereas risks are potential issues that haven't yet happened. For example, a common issue with websites during development is when a webpage fails to load, or the page's layout is incorrect. A performance 'issue' might include when a webpage takes too long to load. An issue that slows down a project's delivery could include a department's inability to work on the project due to a backlog.

Related: How to write a problem statement (with an example)

How to keep an issue log

Keeping an issue log is simple once you've set up the necessary templates to keep the information all in one place. Here's a step-by-step guide to building a spreadsheet to log issues:

1. Create a spreadsheet or document

The first step to creating an issue log is to decide on your format and create the base document. For some smaller projects with only a few key details to record, a simple table in a word document may be ideal since the file size is small, and the format is readable on most devices. Alternatively, larger projects logging a lot of information at once may benefit from a full spreadsheet, since they allow you to handle and control their data with greater flexibility. Create either a spreadsheet or document for the issue log and ensure it's widely accessible.

2. Create a table or sheet with relevant column headings

In this document, make a table or sheet based on themed column headings and descending rows of data. Decide what data to record in your issue log and make a column heading for each type of data, for example, Issue No., Employee Name and Issue Description. Keeping a consistent body of data for each new issue helps to demonstrate trends in issues and identify potential causes. It also facilitates contacting the people and departments involved with the issues.

3. Assign actions to deal with the issues

Depending on the scale of your project, you can use an issue log to assign issues to different employees, who then examine and resolve these issues. Consider adding an additional column titled Assigned To that can indicate who is responsible for investigating this issue. Some issue logs may be useful purely for the sake of record and not necessarily call for actions, since wider processes may resolve these issues. Alternatively, your project may benefit from using this assignment functionality to help make a clear strategy for managing the problems that arise and dealing with them procedurally.

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4. Approve solutions to issues

A further mechanic you can implement in this process is an approval system. Add another two column headings, such as Approval By and Approved Date, to list who's responsible for acknowledging an issue, approving its solution and recording when the issue is fully resolved. This system helps to ensure that employees use the issue log and keep it under consistent monitoring. Consider also arranging a quarterly or yearly audit or evaluation of the issue log to check that the data is correct and to help identify the most persistent issues of the project.

5. Monitor the issue log

Continuously monitoring the log at regularly scheduled intervals is important for keeping it useful. Monitoring the log refers to not only updating it with new data but also to reviewing past data and evaluating the project's progress against these issues. Ensure that employees complete their assigned actions and that unresolved issues aren't building up. Check if certain issues are persisting despite updates to the project. In this case, call a meeting or consult relevant team members to discuss how to devote more attention to resolving these issues.

Example fields for an issue log

An issue log is a flexible concept that you can adapt to suit the particular needs of your project with different types of data, graphs and column headings. Here are some example fields you can use to organise the data in your issue log:

Issue Number

It's easier to track issues and their resolutions by assigning numbers to each issue that arises for the sake of reference. Add a column for this type that logs each new entry sequentially. This becomes most relevant if you want to refer to specific issues in an evaluation or filter the issues in a sheet.

Status

Add this column to keep track of the stage of resolution an entry is sitting at. A drop-down menu including options such as 'Open', 'In Progress', 'Done' or 'Pending Review' makes filtering this data easier. Consider also colour coding this column to make it easier to understand visually.

3. Priority

Closely linked to 'Status', a field listing an issue's 'Priority' can help employees manage their time and establish the order in which to resolve issues. Like status, consider a drop-down menu offering a choice between 'High', 'Medium', 'Low' and 'Negligible'. You could colour code this column heading as well.

Related: What is prioritising?

4. Issue Type

Consider naming groups of issues to categorise entries by what processes they affect, what's causing the issue or what department is responsible for it. For example, if you're a web developer, try categorising issues by where they arise or what they affect, such as 'Menu', 'Homepage', 'Slider', 'Images', 'Performance' and 'Links'.

5. Issue Description

Add a column to briefly describe the character of the issue and how it affects the project. With these fields, anybody consulting the table can grasp the basic problem and see if it relates to what they're investigating. Keep these descriptions simple, but offer enough detail beyond the Issue Type to establish whether this case is unique or part of a wider body of problems.

6. Raised by/Assigned to

These column headings indicate who's responsible for raising the issue and who's responsible for resolving them. Consider using initials for employees rather than full names to stop the table from becoming overcrowded. This is important so that the person resolving the issue knows who to contact for more information and so that project managers know who's resolving the task.

7. Open date/close date

Indicate when the issue was logged with a column heading of 'Open Date' and a second column listing its 'Close Date'. Make sure these dates are in the same format and that this format is consistent across all entries for data filtering. This field is essential for keeping track of how long it takes to resolve issues.

8. Approved by/approval date

Add columns for who approves an issue's resolution and when the approval is completed. This avoids confusion when there are multiple project managers within the same project and ensures that issues and resolutions don't escape their notice in the long term. These fields can also be replaced by a simple 'Approval' tick box for more informal and simple projects.

9. Comments

A column for additional comments that don't fit well in other columns can also be useful for project management. This is particularly helpful for flagging whether the issue relates to others on the table or if certain factors contributed to the issue. Make sure this column is at the end of your table or sheet so that it doesn't make the rest of the data hard to read.

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