The Project Charter – Risks & Assumptions

Initiation

In upcoming posts I will discuss Risk Identification and Management in detail. For now, you just need to know that a risk is an uncertain future event that can have a negative impact on your project’s schedule, scope, budget or quality. The event has a probability of occurring less than 100% and greater than 0%. If the probability is 100%, then you have an issue, not a risk. Some risks can have a positive impact but we will not discuss that here.

You state the risk as follows:

  • If <risk event> occurs, then <state the outcome that affects your project> causing the project  to be impacted in the following specific ways <scope, schedule, budget, quality>.

At the Project Charter level, you are interested in identifying only the highest impact risks so that your risk management strategies can be accounted for in the scope and schedule.

Some Project Charters will list “Assumptions” in its own section. I have eliminated assumptions from my own charter template as I feel if you have assumptions that can impact your project, then that is just another form of risk. I now include any assumptions in my risk section.

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The Project Health Scorecard Part 6: Risk

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

Here is the suggested guidance for the status of the Project Risk Health:

Your Risk Health is Green if:

  • Issues and risks are documented in a central repository
  • Risks have triggers, mitigation and contingency plans for high-exposure and high-impact risks
  • Risks are reviewed on a regular basis by the project manager and risk/issue owners;

Your Risk Health is Yellow if:

  • Issues and risks are defined in a central repository but not reviewed on a regular basis by the project manager and risk/issue owners AND/OR…
  • Risks have no mitigation and contingency plans associated with the high-exposure items

Your Risk Health is Red if:

  • Issues and risks are not documented in a central repository
  • Risks are not formally managed.

Risk Management Deeper Dive Part 7: Risk Monitoring

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

In this final part of “Risk Management Deeper Dive” I will briefly discuss “Risk Monitoring”. Monitoring your risks involves the following:

  • Conducting regular meetings (as outlined in the Project Management Plan) where the risks and risk plans are reviewed. I recommend every week or every other week depending on the levels of risk exposure.
  • The Risk Owners, the Project Sponsor(s) and the Project Manager(s), at a minimum, should be present at the meetings.
  • In the meetings you should review the risks in order of risk exposure, with the highest exposure risks addressed first. In case your meeting time is limited, this ensures the most important risks are discussed.
  • The risk probabilities and impacts are reviewed and changed as needed.
  • The risk triggers are reviewed to ensure reliable monitors are in place. Any triggers tied to a near-term upcoming date are reviewed in detail.
  • Risk mitigation plans are reviewed to confirm the plans are being executed.
  • Risk contingency plans are reviewed to verify the plans are still valid.
  • New risks are raised and discussed. You can continue to use the Risk Hierarchy chart to help identify new risks.

After each meeting, the updated risk plan should be posted to the project repository. Open high-exposure risks should be highlighted in the project status report.

Risk Management Deeper Dive Part 6: Risk Ownership

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

A Risk Owner must be assigned to each risk. The Risk Owner for each specific risk is responsible for identifying and executing all parts of the Risk Management Plan related to that risk. It is the Project Manager’s responsibility to regularly review the risk with the Risk Owner and update the plan with new information. The Project Manager should also make suggestions and act as a “sounding board” to assist the Risk Owner.

Here are some questions to ask the Risk Owner:

  • Probability/Impact/Exposure – Have the mitigation plans reduced the probability and or impact? Have other conditions changed that have raised or lowered the probability and or impact?
  • Trigger – Has the Risk Owner assigned someone to monitor the risk trigger? Is the method of monitoring adequate? Will the risk be detected in time to react?
  • Mitigation Plans – Are these plans still adequate? Has the Risk Owner started execution of some or all of these plans? Are there additional plans that can be added?
  • Contingency Plans – Are these plans still adequate? Are there additional plans that can be added?

It is important that the Risk Owner understands their role. Some may assume the Project Manager is taking care of it for them. Make sure the roles and responsibilities are clear to all parties.

Risk Management Deeper Dive Part 5: Contingency Plans

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

In the prior post I discussed risk mitigation strategies, which can reduce the potential impact of risks that haven’t occurred yet. In contrast, risk contingency plans are meant to deal with risks after they have occurred. It is sometimes amusingly referred to as “Plan B” (and “C”, “D”, etc if necessary). Contingency plans answer the question “What will we do if …”.

It can be much easier to create contingency plans in advance because you are not under the stress of the risk having already occurred and you have more time to brainstorm the potential plans. Anticipating risks and having well vetted contingency plans keeps you in control of the project and minimizes “crisis mode”.

Here are a few examples:

  • If there is a risk of testing taking longer than planned, you can have a list of additional testing resources identified to join the effort if testing falls behind.
  • If there is a risk of inclement weather disrupting outdoor activities, you can have indoor activities lined up to keep the project moving.
  • If there is a risk of a key resource leaving the project, you can have a consultant resource procured in advance to step in if needed.

As with all elements of Risk Management, conditions may change over time, so the contingency plans should be revisited on a regular basis to ensure they are still viable.

Risk Management Deeper Dive Part 4: Risk Mitigation Strategies

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

With your risks identified, prioritized and monitored, it is now time to develop strategies for managing the risks. The first type of strategy is “Risk Mitigation”. These are actions you can take before a risk occurs that can reduce the exposure to the risk. You should “brainstorm” these strategies with the members of the project team you identified in the Risk Management section of your “Project Management Plan” (refer to prior posts on this topic).

There are four mitigation strategies you can employ:

  1. Risk avoidance – this is the most expensive of the risk options. You can spend money or resources to eliminate the risk. An example would be if you have a lesser skilled resource assigned to a task, which raises a risks of on-time completion and/or deliverable quality, you can spend more money for a resource skilled enough to eliminate those risks.
  2. Risk limitation – this is the most common strategy. You take some action to reduce the probability and/or impact of the risk. One example would be if you are concerned about server downtime or performance during peak loads, you can implement redundancy and load-balancing to mitigate this risk.
  3. Risk transference – involves handing off the risk to another (willing) party. Examples are buying insurance, or outsourcing services.
  4. Risk acceptance – if the cost of mitigating the risk outweigh the cost of the risk itself, you may choose to just accept the risk with no mitigation actions. This strategy is typically employed for risks with low probability and/or low impact.

Documenting your mitigation strategies puts you in control of the project. You can manage your risks or they will surely manage you.

Risk Management Deeper Dive Part 3: Risk Triggers

Executing Monitoring and Controlling

In this series Part 1, I addressed Risk Identification. In Part 2, I addressed Risk Probability, Impact and Exposure. In this entry I will discuss the concept of the “Risk Trigger”.

An important aspect of Risk Management is knowing and detecting that the risk has occurred. This is know as a “Risk Trigger”. In some cases it may be obvious. An example of this would be a risk such as “If the project team loses key resource “A”, then the task estimates assigned to “A” will need to be extended which may impact key milestone commitments”. In most cases the PM will know when they have lost a key resource. However, in the case of very large project teams, the key resource may be embedded deep in the project hierarchy, hiding the loss unless there is a communication plan to notify the PM

Your risk triggers must define the method you will use to monitor the risk. For example, if there is a possible change to a government regulation that will impact your project, you can engage your Legal team to monitor the status of this regulation on a regular basis and report any changes directly to the PM.

Here is another example: if there is a risk your server capacity is insufficient to meet peak demand, you might direct your technical team to establish monitors for CPU and disk usage and raise a flag if they are approaching the safe limits.

The lesson here is don’t assume you will just know when a risk has occurred. Define Risk Triggers (even the obvious ones) for all of your risks.

Now that you know your risks, exposures, and when they occur, the next step is to manage them with mitigation and contingency plans. I will tackle these topics in the upcoming posts.