I have had the privilege of managing two PMOs, both composed of several project managers. It was always interesting to watch—the best project managers were the ones who had a habit of identifying risks, both threats and opportunities. And these individuals did not perform the risk identification just once at the beginning of their projects. Rather, they had a habit of reevaluating their projects with an eye toward new risks.
Wise project managers know that there are unknown risks lurking in every corner. Each new phase of a project brings uncertainty, some significant, some not. Furthermore, as new stakeholders enter the scene, new interests and concerns can cause our projects to get off track.
If you’ve been burned by risks recently, let’s talk about what you can do to improve your chance for future success.
Three Ways to Stop Missing Top Project Risks
There are several ways to identify risks such as brainstorming, cause and effect diagrams, assumption analysis, nominal group technique, SWOT analysis, and affinity diagrams. Allow me to share three of my favorites.
1. Early Stakeholder Interviews
Project managers who fail to identify their risks early in their projects lose leverage to impact their projects positively. Why? Identifying risk early gives you more time for risk responses, and these timely responses are often less costly than later ones.
Work with your project sponsors to identify stakeholders with high power and high interest as you initiate your projects. Then schedule an interview with each stakeholder. Ask: “What are your greatest concerns going into this project?” This simple question starts the ball rolling in identifying high-level risks.
2. Risk Checklist
See if your organization has a list of the most common risks. If not, you may be able to find a checklist through other companies in your industry. Can’t find a list? Create one yourself.
Checklists make risk identification much easier. How did you say? Project managers can walk through the list and ask team members and other stakeholders which risks are significant for your project. This process minimizes the chance of overlooking risks.
One word of warning though—no checklist contains all the risks. Checklists should be used with other risk identification techniques.
3. Risk Identification Workshop
Another helpful method is the risk identification workshop. Invite appropriate individuals and groups to the workshop with the aim of performing the first risk identification exercise. In this workshop, share key project inputs such as the following:
- The project charter
- Stakeholder register
- Business case
- Statement of work
- Organizational process assets
Plan the workshop and determine which risk identification techniques you will use. I commonly use a couple of the following techniques:
- SWOT analysis
- Nominal group technique
- Affinity diagrams
If you are having difficulty in scheduling the workshop due to schedule conflicts, you may wish to consider the Delphi technique.
Putting It into Action
Now you know why it’s important to start identifying risks early, and you have three great methods to go about it, among others. For your next project, develop your risk management plan; include the risk identification techniques you plan to use. Then proactively identify risks throughout the course of your project.
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