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I've often heard the question asked, "What are the challenges and issues faced in implementing X technology?" or "What are the challenges and issues faced by X?". Do challenges and issues mean the same thing here, or do both need to be answered separately? (If both need to be answered separately then what is the difference between the two?)

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I suggest that a challenge is an obstacle to overcome. The challenge may be daunting, and its outcome uncertain, but it must nevertheless be faced and dealt with.

An issue, on the other hand, may not qualify as a challenge (though it might), but it needs to be addressed if there is to be a chance for a good outcome. Perhaps an illustration might help.

Let's say that the Board of Education in a given town has determined that every teacher and paraprofessional within its system be required to have an iPad while they are at work, but within the school system a fairly large majority of teachers and paraprofessionals are 50 years old or older! That means there will be a significant number of people who are not comfortable with what they consider to be "new" technology and would rather do without that new-fangled gadget called an iPad.

A challenge in implementing the Board's directive might be overcoming the objections of the older teachers who are not comfortable with the new technology and are content with the status quo. How can they be convinced it would be in their best interest to get on board with the iPad. Some possible tactics could include one or more of the following:

  • demonstrating how much easier their jobs would be with an iPad

  • making one-on-one tutoring available to those who request

  • calling a meeting of all teachers in every school (the principal would do this) and have a person who is 50+ give a testimony of how helpful the iPad can be in doing a variety of education-enhancing things

An issue, on the other hand, could involve any of the following, for example:

  • how to keep track of the iPads and what to do if a teacher loses one or breaks one (accidentally or otherwise!)

  • which model of iPad the school will provide

  • how many are needed, since some employees already have iPads

  • what rules will govern the use of iPads during the school day

  • how to install wireless capability in the schools which may not have it yet, and who will do the installation and what equipment will be used

In conclusion, a challenge denotes an obstacle to overcome, whereas an issue, generally speaking, denotes a protocol for addressing the challenge in bite-size pieces, so to speak, and determining which issue(s) will be addressed first, second, third, etc., in order of importance (and how to rank the issues in order of importance).

  • Your example doesn't hold up in real life: the result of giving 50-year-olds an iPad is that suddenly, people who vowed they could never learn email will be sending dozens of messages a day. :) – Marthaª Dec 21 '14 at 21:43
  • @Marthaª: I stand corrected! By the way, my dear wife, who is well over 50 years old (don't ask how well), has a history of fighting tooth and nail against the push for her to use a PC, an iPod, or any new-fangled electronic gadget. I'm thankful that in recent months there's been a bit of softening on her part. Who knows, maybe in a few years she'll be shooting off emails by the score every day! (I doubt it.) Don – rhetorician Dec 22 '14 at 2:44
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If one is specifically referring to the common jargon known as "Corporate B.S.", the word "challenge" means logistical problems - "How are we gonna get this done when the boss won't pay to have the proper software installed") and "issue" means political problems - "The only way to get this done is to leave Dept.X out of the loop - but what will we do when they find out we went around them."

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I run three corporations, and I can assure you that, in the real world, their meanings overlap significantly, but in the minds of many who use them, issue is more general than challenge.

Issue OED

NOUN

An important topic or problem for debate or discussion:

the issue of tipping waitresses

raising awareness of environmental issues

Challenge OED

NOUN

A task or situation that tests someone’s abilities:

the traverse of the ridge is a challenge for experienced climbers

he took up the challenge of organizing a sports afternoon

In the real world, people would likely consider all their challenges to be issues , but they would not necessarily consider all their issues to be challenges.

Hardware compatibility issues would usually be a challenge for a successful software developer. It is a subject to talk about and a problem to solve.

Revenue issues might not be a challenge for a successful software developer. It is an issue to talk about, but it is not a problem to be solved.

  • 1
    The assertion in the first sentence of your final paragraph does seem open to question. I tried substituting issue for challenge in your second set of OED citations, and ended up with "the traverse of the ridge is an issue for experienced climbers" and "he took up the issue of organizing a sports afternoon". Neither of those are completely wrong, but they do sound slightly off. In the second case, I think the meaning changes from "undertaking the practical tasks connected with organizing a sports afternoon" to "raising the topic of organizing a sports afternoon", e.g. in a staff meeting. – Erik Kowal Dec 20 '14 at 23:56
  • All assertions are open to question, @ErikKowal, but your examples did not demonstrate that my assertion was incorrect. In fact, your examples REINFORCED my argument, by showing how easily the word issue can replace the word challenge. I offered a clear example of an issue that would NOT necessarily be a challenge. Can you offer me a clear example of a challenge (in the pertinent sense a task or situation that tests someones abilities) that would NOT also fit the definition of issue: a topic or problem for that same someone? It is so easy to be illogical. – ScotM Dec 21 '14 at 20:26
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    I think @ErikKowal is spot on with his criticism. The substitution of issue for challenges is does not make the sentences incorrect, but does change the nuance. You quote the definitions, but of not take a good look at what makes them different. A "problem" has different connotations than a "task or challenge". Problems are things that should be resolved, often with a negative connotation, or something that is wrong; a task is something you work on that, though it maybe difficult, is not typically negative. – AlannaRose Dec 21 '14 at 21:11
  • In the corporate context of the question, every task is connected in some way to solving problems. One could also argue that every issue is connected in some way to solving problems. I understand the interest in arguing the nuance of words--that's why I'm here. As a corporate leader, who actually uses the expression, I am talking to you about real people in the real world using those words in that context. I like @rhetorician's answer, because it adds a helpful nuance to the use of a hackneyed phrase. You are welcome to reject my helpful nuance if you wish--your loss. – ScotM Dec 21 '14 at 21:31

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