Recently I read an article about introducing a brainstorming activity to your project team to discuss how, and why, the project could potentially fail. It was a great article and although it never mentioned the term “risk” it immediately translated to “risk assessment and response planning” in my mind, which focuses on project management practices.
I contacted the authors of the article and mentioned that in project management best practices we consider the risk planning element very seriously and it sounds very similar to what his brainstorming session was meant to produce – a heads up on potential risks that can be mitigated, avoided completely or planned for, should they arise.
The risk planning activities may not be a standard practice in many organizations which is unfortunate. The results can be disastrous. Effectively planning for potential risks, or points of failure, is not only advantageous to the project itself, but it is also a strategic move on the part of the organization to ensure that the projects are appropriately delivering on the strategic goals, as planned.
The risk planning activities may not be a standard practice in many organizations which is unfortunate. The results can be disastrous.
As an example, an organization may have a large, and complex, project in the queue that has a budget of several million dollars. All of the tasks associated with the Initiation Phase will be coordinated by the Project Manager. One of those tasks will be the discussion of risks with the project team and stakeholders. The task of uncovering risks can follow a similar format to brainstorming - using questions to capture thoughts, ideas, and potential issues that could face the project moving forward. Questions like:
- Based on your experience, what do you think could, potentially, go wrong with this project? What have you seen in the past with similar projects?
- How will the stakeholders accept the change that this project will deliver? Is there any risk in the stakeholders not accepting the final deliverable?
- Is the project at risk for loss of funding, investors, human resources or equipment?
- Are we at risk for not acquiring the required licenses or regulatory approvals?
- Will the project be at risk if anyone from the project team leaves?
The last question on the list is based on a common risk that occurs in many organizations – someone leaves the project. We have certainly witnessed project team members cycle in and out of projects depending on availability and skill sets. But what happens when the Project Manager leaves? Or, the Executive Sponsor leaves the business unit or the company? Although all roles are critical to a project, the loss of the Project Manager and the Executive Sponsor could impact the progress of the project.
Take for example, an executive, who is acting as a Project Manager, and is unfamiliar with project management best practices. When he leaves the company, the multi-million dollar project jumps up to an elevated level of risk. Why? Because all of the information, issues, risks, quality measures, budgeting, vendor relationships and regulatory challenges walked right out the door with him.
The takeaway from this scenario is that risk assessments should not be considered static. Risks can, and will, change throughout the various stages of the project. Some risks may be closed, or the level of exposure is reduced, while new risks are introduced, or the exposure level may increase which would require a change in your response planning efforts should those risks occur.
Here are some ideas on how to start pulling your project back together if you experience a similar scenario:
- Review the existing risk assessment and response plan with the team so that updates can be made based on the current progress of the project.
- Discuss response planning for new, potential, risks that have been identified.
- Determine what the action plan will be, as a team, for the risks that have arisen which could impact the project.
- Schedule a monthly review of risks with the project team. This will ensure that the team gets into the habit of identifying, discussing and reviewing risks.
The best way to avoid the negative impact of risk is to follow project management best practices, for instance:
- Document risks, issues and assumptions and share with the team for comment and feedback.
- Store all project documentation in an easy to find, and navigatable, folder system on your network.
- Use a collaboration tool that will allow the team members to easily share and communicate potential risks that they have identified during the course of their work.
- Establish a sustainability plan for all critical project team members
- Always continue to improve your processes based on input from the team.
Good luck and don’t forget to schedule that risk review, with your team, today!