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PM Ideas to Manage Project Risks

As a project team member, functional lead, or project manager you should always be concerned about risks in your project. Corporate, stage-gate, and project guidelines will typically require a risk workshop to be conducted in order to populate a risk register and obtain funding for your project. In my experience, risk sessions are usually well attended by team members but sometimes carry a negative undertone. After all, the discussion revolves around areas of the project that could go wrong and expose us to negative occurrences. Oftentimes, the opportunities time on the agenda is last and usually cut short. If the project is important for a company, there must be more opportunities to potentially offset some of the risks.

The project itself is an opportunity to satisfy a business need or other requirement.

Per the PMBOK® Guide—Fourth edition (PMI, 2008a, p. 434), a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique project service or result.” No matter the reason, duration, and budget for a project, it will always carry risks and opportunities. Duration and budget are not necessarily linked to the number and severity of risks. A two-month project that is poorly planned and using 1st of a kind technology may be far riskier than a perfectly planned twelve-month-long project. This uniqueness in project work is the reason why some of us love project work so much and have chosen it as a career.

Project risks come in many forms and varieties. Almost all risk registers that you review will have the typical weather, labor availability, and bad productivity line items. In my opinion, time is better spent on what makes the project unique. Seek out inputs, issues, and concerns that have been produced before the risk workshop to facilitate the session. A classic example is a list of community concerns raised during the environmental impact statement (EIS) process. I highly recommend the following when scheduling a risk workshop:

  1. Set the expectations via a guidance document. Many people come with different experiences and expectations.

  2. Develop pre-work or pre-reads so that people are prepared.

  3. Invite those who are knowledgeable about the project, but also consider independent outsiders with experience in the area. Project leads sometimes operate with blinders and become too focused on individual components or details.

  4. Give plenty of notice for a risk workshop so those involved can complete the pre-work.

  5. Solicit recent and historical feedback from vendors, other projects in progress, and colleagues from your inner circle.

  6. Look at what possible world events are occurring and could occur throughout your project.

  7. Pre-populate all the typical risks that we see on every project on the risk list.

  8. Allow plenty of time to discuss all the risks and opportunities.

  9. Cycle between risks and opportunities to give equal importance. Follow up after some time. Post-meeting, people may have thought of something new.

Like the project schedule, the risk register should be considered a living document. This is where many companies and project managers fail. All too many times, the risk register is developed and issued one time, then placed in the archive. As a project manager, I want to review the risk & opportunities register every month with the team. If some significant event occurs, the risk register should be reviewed shortly after the event is resolved. Questions to raise in the monthly meeting:

  • What new risks are not captured?

  • Can any risks be closed?

  • Have any of the mitigations changed?

  • Are there new opportunities to exploit?

  • Are there “knock-on” consequences from an event?

  • Are we seeing impacts in one functional area that may affect another?

  • Do we need to meet more frequently on a specific risk?

  • People mobilize and de-mobilize during the project. Do new team members have any fresh ideas?

In some risk registers, a frequency tag can also be placed against the respective item to flag that it needs to be reviewed periodically. Another idea is to send out a periodic memo or bulletin via e-mail to the project team about a specific risk on the risk register. Develop a forum to actively solicit comments and concerns about new risks and opportunities. It can be via a confidential form if team members don’t want to cause rifts between departments. Delegate a risk champion to summarize data, make reports, and ensure risks are updated with the most current information. In closing, dust off your old risk registers and make it a habit to review them periodically with the team. Risks will change over the course of the project. Manage your risks before they manage you.


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