6 Tools and Techniques for Controlling Risks

Changes in project risks are inevitable. As a project progresses, the probability and impact of current risks change, new risks emerge, and residual risks may increase or decrease. How can project managers optimize their risk responses and get the results they are looking for?

Tool box with tools

Allow me to introduce you to two project managers—Tom and Susan. Tom started his project with a risk identification exercise with several stakeholders resulting in a list of 77 risks. He entered these risks into an Excel spreadsheet and stored the file in his project repository (and never looked at it again).

Susan, on the other hand, facilitated an early risk identification workshop. She periodically met with her team to review current risks and used additional techniques to identify new risks. In these risk review sessions, the team discussed the effectiveness of the risk responses and the risk management processes.

Which team do you think had the greatest chance of meeting their project objectives? Yes, Susan’s team wins the day, hands down.

Let’s look at six tools and techniques recommended in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) for controlling risks.

Risk Control Tools and Techniques

1. Risk reassessment

Risk reassessments involve the following activities:

  • Identifying new risks
  • Evaluating current risks
  • Evaluating the risk management processes
  • Closing risks

2. Risk audit

Project teams may have defined risk responses. The question is—“Are the responses effective?” Project managers facilitate risk audits to examine the effectiveness of the risk responses and to determine whether changes are required. The team also examines the processes to identify, evaluate, respond to, and control risks.

3. Variance and trend analysis

As with many control processes, we now look for variances between the schedule and cost baselines and the actual results. When we the variances are increasing, there is increased uncertainty and risk. Watch the trends and respond before the situation gets out of hand.

4. Technical performance measurement

Imagine that you are working on a software development project and that the functional requirements have been developed. You’ve planned to deliver functions at a point in time—at the end of the fourth sprint, at the end of phase 1, or a milestone. The technical performance measurement is a measurement of the technical accomplishments.

5. Reserve analysis

During the cost planning, the contingency and management reserves are added to the project budget as needed. As risks occur, the reserves may decrease. Depending on how your organization handles reserves and your risk management plan, project managers may request more reserves when inadequate.

6. Meetings

Project managers should be deliberate risk managers. Engage your team members and appropriate stakeholders in meetings to facilitate the risk management processes. For these meetings, be sure to:

  • Distribute an agenda with a clearly stated purpose
  • Invite the appropriate team members and stakeholders
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques
  • Distribute meeting minutes containing decisions, action items, issues, and risks 

Finish the Drill

Don’t be like Tom who started his risk management with a bang and quickly fizzled. The best project managers identify, evaluate, and respond to risks. And they regularly perform the control activities to keep the project healthy.

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2 thoughts on “6 Tools and Techniques for Controlling Risks

  1. Harry, great topic. Every project has risks whether it’s resources, vacations, team member inexperience, short timelines, unclear specs, etc. Identifying these up front and monitoring them throughout the project is critical – ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Addressing them makes them manageable and it’s a team effort. Thanks for bringing this up.

    • Hi Tim. It’s good to hear from you. Many project managers make the mistake of identifying risks at the start of their projects and then failing to continue the process. The best project managers have a habit of periodically reviewing their risks and updating their risk response plans.