The first step in managing risk is to identify the risks you need to manage. This is the most important step in risk management and something new project managers tend to struggle with. I will present some techniques that have over the years have worked well for me.
- What worries you? – You can ask this question to your project team members and stakeholders. Do this first individually, then in groups. Many do not understand the term “risk” as it applies to projects and may come up with a blank if you ask them about risks. Everyone can relate to the term “worry” and I have found this helpful. You may get answers such as “I don’t have enough resources” or “the timeline is too tight” or “I don’t have enough expertise on my team in this area”. These types of answers are a great start in risk identification.
- The “Pre-Mortem” – We are familiar with doing “lessons learned” and “post-mortems” on projects. Doing a “Pre-Mortem” can help identify risks. You ask the project team and stakeholders “It’s 9 months from now, the project is over and it was a disaster. What are the reasons?”. Your mind works better at identifying risk when looking backwards so this technique can be very effective. You may get responses like “The Sponsor wasn’t involved in decision making” or “We didn’t train the staff on the new tools”. These types of answers are risks that need to be managed. You can also ask the opposite question: “It’s 9 months from now, the project is over and it was wildly successful. Why?”. Responses like “Mary Jones was assigned as the technical lead” or “The Steering Committee made prompt decisions” will help you identify risks and mitigate them.
- Risk Breakdown Structure(RBS) – if you Google this term you will find many examples. An RBS is simply a hierarchy of areas in which risks can occur. You would present each of these areas to the team and brainstorm potential risks for each area. Here is a sample RBS:
- Complexity of Interfaces
- Performance and Reliability
- Dependencies on other projects
- Resistance to change
- Customer Satisfaction
- Project Management
You should state your risks in a consistent manner. A common way to phrase your identified risks are: “If (risk event occurs), then (impact to project in terms of scope, schedule, cost, quality)”
Here is an example: “If the vendor is late delivering Component X, then we may not be able to meet the project milestone for the first build”. Note that I stated “may” not “won’t”. Remember, risks are probabilities, not certainties. If it is a certainty, it is an issue, not a risk.
Note: Much more detail on Risk Management can be found in my Kindle book “Project Management For The Real World”, available at