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In project management, risks and how to manage them are constant topics of discussion, both in practical terms of how they can affect a project and on a more theoretical level about how best to identify project risks accurately. With this in mind, knowing how to identify project risks and what defines their level of importance for a project is something every project manager needs to understand.

How to Identify Project Risks

The singular source for many project management definitions is the Project Management Body of Knowledge, from the PMI. This defines risk as “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives”. The important thing to note is the focus on the uncertain aspects of risk. That means they are something that “might” happen not what “will” happen, which is also how the risk should be phrased.

Examples of risks:

  • There won’t be high enough internet speeds to process data as quickly as necessary
  • Different versions of software won’t work together
  • Technical expertise may not be available for scaling project to other locations
  • There may be changes to the regulatory environment concerning how we file customer information
  • Our contractors may not be able to maintain adequate levels of supply as we expand


The terminology used should describe a very specific event that is not certain to happen but may occur, and which will have an effect on your project. Statements such as “project runs over deadline” or “scope isn’t clearly defined” are, respectively, either ill-defined or clear issues which will happen.

Identifying what project risks are is thus about considering what events may occur that will affect the course of the project. There are several steps to make sure that your risk assessment and identification is as effective as possible.

Be consistent in format

A confusing risk assessment document is an issue in itself for any project. One way of avoiding this is by maintaining a uniform standard in how risks are described. This may be in the simple written form, e.g. “If this happens, then this will be the result” or a larger spreadsheet with Cause – Risk – Impact columns to allow for greater information inputs.

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Identify areas where issues are likely to occur

Almost all issues or project risks fall into predefined categories which should be the starting point for building your risk assessment. Break your project into distinct sections of where they are likely to occur, for example,

  • Personnel
  • Technology
  • Structure
  • Timescale
  • Budget
  • External Factors


Brainstorm session with relevant stakeholders

To get a clearer idea of the risks facing your project it can be helpful to tap into the knowledge of those around you who understand specific fields better. To do this, gather relevant stakeholder or team members and ask them to brainstorm on potential risks for different areas of the project.

Introduce different methods to risk analysis

There are number of methodologies that project managers use to identify and assess project risks, including SWOT analysis, root-cause analysis and constraint analysis. It is useful to practice and incorporate these into your risk assessment processes to make sure you are gaining a cohesive picture of project risk.

Clarizen can help you to centralize and organize your risk assessment and mitigation plans in one central location to help speed up your processes. Talk to us today about a free trial.

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