“To save all we must risk all”, Friedrich Schiller once said. If he were a project manager today, he might say, “To save all we must manage all risks”. Books, journals, corporate websites, YouTube, and discussion forums burst of information on risk management, because risk is inherent to every project just like uncertainty is inherent to any risk. Risk management is essential if you want your project to succeed. This article answers five questions on project risk management:
- What is the best definition of project risk?
- What’s the difference between a risk and an issue?
- How do you identify risks?
- How many risks should be on your risk log and for how long?
- How do you manage project risks?
1. What is the best definition of project risk?
One of Oxford Dictionary’s 1000 most frequently used words, risk refers to the possibility of something unpleasant, dangerous, or harmful occurring. This negative connotation of risk is so deeply rooted in many people’s minds that it takes some effort to get used to the project management definition of risk: “an uncertain event or condition that, if occurs, has an effect on at least one project objective,” according to the PMBOK.
Risk can be any uncertain event that, if it happens, will be good or bad for the project. Negative risks become threats to the project, while positive risks become opportunities. Risk management should address both types of risks, minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities.
Project risk is something you can control. You must manage risks if you want your project to succeed. However, be aware that there are risks called black swans that you cannot include in your risk analyses. I’ve explained why these risks are special and what you can do to minimize their consequences in another article.
2. What’s the difference between a risk and an issue?
A risk is something uncertain, so it will happen or not during your project. An issue is an event that has happened or that you know for sure it will happen, even though you might not know when. A risk that occurs becomes an issue. This might be bad news or good news for you and your project, depending if the risk is negative or, respectively, positive. A positive risk becomes an opportunity for your project—for example, the opportunity to finish earlier than scheduled, or below budget, or anything that you might otherwise consider “lucky”. Both risks and issues have causes and consequences. Risk management is the way to deal with risks while problem solving is the way to deal with issues.
3. How do you identify risks?
Risk identification is the first step in risk management. Brainstorming is perhaps the most popular risk identification technique, along with interviewing, Delphi technique, root cause analysis and SWOT analysis. Identify risks as early as possible in a project, before defining budgets and schedules, and update the risk log continuously during the project, as things move along, changes to your project are approved, or risks occur. When identifying risks, involve the whole project team, along with the sponsor and the key stakeholders.
(To be continued…)
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