Every project involves risk. Even the smallest projects require investments of time and money, and when projects fail, these investments are lost. At the enterprise level, when project time is measured in thousands of hours and financial investments are often in the millions, the risks are tremendous.
Understanding the future events that could put a project in jeopardy, and having a plan to minimize the effect of those events, is one of a project manager’s most important skills. The strategies described below will help you spot trouble in advance so that you can keep your projects on the path to success.
Build Risk Management into the Plan
No one manages a project (or works on one, for that matter) without giving an occasional thought to the things that might go wrong. However, simply contemplating the risks from time to time doesn’t mean you’re practicing risk management. Project managers should strive to create a culture of risk management within the project team from day one, by building risk management activities into the project plan. Typically, this would involve a meeting or series of meetings to identify and analyze project risks, as well as adding risk discussions into the agendas of recurring status meetings.
Make Risk Identification a Team Activity
The earlier you identify the variety of risks to your project, the more chance you have of avoiding them. Many project managers set aside time for a project risk assessment as soon as their initial work breakdown structure or project plan is complete. An important aspect of enterprise risk management is engaging as many stakeholders as possible in this process– some risks may be obvious to everyone, but others will likely be apparent only to the team members who will deal with them directly.
Develop Plans for Avoiding and Addressing Project Risks
Once you’ve identified and analyzed the risks to your project, you need to develop two sets of plans: plans to prevent adverse events from occurring, and plans to mitigate the effect of events that do occur. Many risk mitigation tactics will consume time, money, or both, so it’s important to quantify your risks before you make plans to address them. Most project managers focus on high-probability, high-impact risks first, so that the project team is prepared for the most serious threats.
Track Risks Throughout the Projects
Most project managers feel that they already have too many lists and documents to maintain, and adding a risk log to a project may sound like nothing but another administrative chore. However, keeping a formal record of project risk management activities can actually save time in the end, by keeping risks top of mind for everyone on the project team. If team members are allowed to lose sight of the threats you’ve identified, that’s when your project is truly at risk. It’s also important to be able to have insight into the full project or portfolio lifecycle so that ongoing health can be assessed in real time. This way your team can spot trends and respond and resolve issues before a project or program moves into ‘at-risk’ status.
Project management tools, like Clarizen, can help you manage your lists, emails and documents so you have time to focus on evaluating, addressing and avoiding risks.