How to: Handling Open Items Files

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Photo credit Gordon Wrigley

Photo credit Gordon Wrigley

We are living in an ocean of information. Always on the edge, laying out new stuff, still having to consider everything for the end result to be in the realm of real, useful and reliable. But how do you cope with that afflux of information, how do you grasp all it’s its intricacies and interconnection. How do you fund out what’s conflicting or missing? Can you hold everything inside your head?

I cannot! And that’s why I need a tool to help. Something that can help organizing and managing  every finding of the entire team, and self. Why I found to be very helpful and reliable is, of course not rocket science again, but a simple list containing all open items. It’s an open document that’s being shared among all team members to collect questions or point out unclarities or mistakes.

How to use open items lists

The most simple, and in my opinion effective, approach is to create an excel sheet and store it on the network as a shareable collaborative file. The file the should contain the following columns, or fields:

  • Item Id, though this is not so important as you can use the row number as identifier,
  • Item reference, field pointing to the source of uncertainty (document / chapter, requirement Id, page number from somewhere …),
  • Item initiator name, the name of the one asking. This field is useful for later discussion and clarification on the question. The responsible this way knows whom to contact,
  • The Question / item description, should be filled by anyone asking for clarification,
  • Responsible, if applicable when there are several people sharing responsibility. Should be filled with the name of the one in charge of responding,
  • Due date, again optional, if applicable. By which time the item should be clarified,
  • Answer, the answer to the open item,
  • Item Status, a dropbox containing values “open“, “done“, “closed“, “not relevant“. Helpful for items management and filtering.

Why is it important

Communication shouldn’t  be an one direction enterprise. All the time it was confirmed to me that having a short conversation is a lot quicker way to clarify anything. It doesn’t mater how clear and straightforward you are in your writing, there is always the possibility that you miss or bend something. And this simple tool is giving you and your team the possibility to make it right. A lot of times you find questions, problems you haven’t even thought about. So you now have the chance to work it out.

Plenty of templates are available for this, even though you might use a company specific layout. Below, it’s just an example (click on the picture to go to the page):

Open Items


It is during development when real needs and questions show up. Working only can you see what’s missing and that you had a shortsighted view before. You cannot foresee everything from the beginning, but the development process is a living one, though allowing you continuously refine what you’re building. It all stands in your will to make use of it, and as efficiently as possible.

How about you? Do you use open item lists?

Image credit: Gordon Wrigley