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?
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.
Project managers may make risk decisions without much thought. How is this possible? Well, after managing projects for years, you know the drill. You simply know how to respond to the most common risks.
Every year, my family takes a trip to the beach for fun and relaxation. I’ve gone to the same beach my entire life. We do a lot of the same things each year—walk on the beach, swim, grill out, crab, and fish.
With each of these activities, I do things to manage risks and frankly, I rarely think about it (because I’ve done it for so long). Allow me to share a few examples.
Threat Response Strategies
1. Accept risks
Sometimes I fish from the shore. Actually, I wade out into the water about waist deep. More than once, I’ve caught a shark. I’ve had crabs bite my toes. And I’ve been stung by jellyfish. But every year, I wade into the water and fish again. That is to say, I accept the risks.
Some portfolio, program, and project managers make a big fuss over risk management. And others use lots of acronyms and big words to impress people. But at the end of the day, all that really matters is getting results.
For eighteen years, I worked for a property and casualty insurance company. Each year, our senior management team would meet with a credit rating agency to share our goals, strategies, and progress. The presentation included what we were doing for enterprise risk management.
One year, the rating analyst said that insurance companies can talk a good game. They have a risk management plan. They regularly identify, analyze, and respond to risks. And yet, some of these companies were floundering.
Then the analyst said, “All that really matters is that you are getting results.”
Project managers can be guilty of talking a good game too. We have a risk management plan. We perform all the risk management processes, but for some reason, we may fail to get the desired results.
So, let’s review the risk management processes, things within each process that may lead to lackluster results, and what we can do about each.
As a project manager, you will sometimes be asked to make presentations to a board, to a senior leader team, an external vendor, or to your organization. Here are opportunities to help your stakeholders understand your projects. With every presentation, you can try new things and learn to improve your presentations.
Improve Your Presentations
1. Plan your presentations.
Want to present more effectively? Create your presentation with good structure. The structure will help you with recall and more importantly, will help your audience follow your presentation. Here’s a simple but effective structure:
Introduction. Present the big idea. What is the major challenge or opportunity you want to see your audience to think about?
Body. Give your audience three practical action steps to achieve the big idea.
Conclusion. Restate the big idea and summarize the action steps.
Not complicated, huh? That’s the idea–keep your structure simple.
2. Arrive early.
It is a good practice to arrive early at the location of your presentation. Make sure everything has been set up as you’ve requested. Check out the equipment to make sure that things such as your microphone, PowerPoint, remote, and projector are working properly.
Project managers spend a large part of each day communicating—facilitating meetings, emailing stakeholders, responding to texts, writing reports, and having one-on-one conversations. We are so busy, we rarely take the time to think about the effectiveness of our communication. How can we become a better communicator?
Here are five practical ways. Pick one or two and work on improving your communication this week.
Becoming a Better Communicator
1. Join Toastmasters.
Howard Hendricks said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” How true. Just because we speak or make presentations a lot does not mean that we are improving. We can actually become worse. Individuals need feedback and coaching to become better.
Consider joining an organization like Toastmasters International. This organization provides education and public speaking resources. More importantly, you’ll have regular opportunities to speak and to get feedback in a safe environment. If you like, you can even compete at different levels allowing you to further hone your skills.
Communication is the vehicle for successful projects. From the beginning to the end of a project, the project manager and team must plan, execute, and deliver the required products and services while interacting with stakeholders. What are you doing to improve your project communication?
Project managers are not lone rangers. Projects involve interdependent relationships such as the sponsor and other leaders, the project manager and the project team, and users interacting with the systems. Consider the following project activities that require communication:
Developing a project charter
Completing a work breakdown structure
Negotiating a contract
Presenting a project overview
Conducting one-on-one meetings
Defining a change order
We all have room to grow in our communication skills. Let’s look at five ways to improve your project communications.
Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one-third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time. -Project Management Institute
How do you communicate risks? Some project managers rarely mention risks; others bore people to tears with too much information.
Ninety percent of a project manager’s job is communication. And one of the most important things to communicate is your risks. Where is the uncertainty greatest and what are you and the team doing about it?
The communication process can be challenging. Stakeholders expect one thing and get something completely different. How can we communicate risks more effectively?
Project managers, team members, and other stakeholders have disagreements, some heated, some not. What’s important is how you respond to project conflicts? Conflicts can be beneficial if handled in an open, transparent manner.
Successful project managers do not run away from conflict; they run toward it. They call it out by name in a neutral and unoffending manner. And they quickly engage the appropriate stakeholders in order to discuss and resolve the issues.
Furthermore, the best project managers are risk managers constantly mitigating conflicts. How? First, these leaders communicate well—they tell the team where they are going, how they will get there, and when things will occur. Second, they clarify goals, priorities, and requirements. Third, these project managers work with their teams to break down the project and make activity assignments clear.
What does it take to facilitate a successful project launch? Let’s look at two scenarios, one that results in potential failure and one destined for success.
The Wonder Wheels Company assigned Tom Dooley to manage a high-profile project, a project critical to the achievement of the company’s annual goals. Jane Johnson, a senior leader and the project sponsor, called Tom to her office, handed him a few memos and described the project deliverables. Coldly staring at Tom, Mrs. Johnson gave him the deadline—six months; this was a do-or-die situation.
Tom immediately called a team meeting to discuss a quick development of the requirements backlog. He urged the designers to start the first-sprint design work as soon as possible. Tom planned to use every trick in the book—crashing, fast-tracking, sprinting, and late nights (even though he knew it would put stress on his family life).
Fast forward two months. Droopy-eyed Tom facilitated a stand-up meeting with his project team and discovered that the team would be unable to complete the second sprint on schedule. The team members were fuming about the lack of clarity in the project resulting in scope creep, rework, missed deadlines, and budget issues. To make things worse, the top developer resigned the previous week.
All Tom Dooley could do was hang his head and cry. He knew his career was about to die (okay, humor me).
Elements of a Successful Project Launch
Most project managers have endured challenging situations like this. What’s a project manager to do? How can we start a project successfully, even when there is immense pressure to execute immediately?
People grow tired of working for unappreciative organizations. If it goes on long enough, the top performers get frustrated and leave. Therefore, it’s important to develop a culture of appreciation.
But rewards and recognition can be tricky. People are motivated in different ways. John may be thrilled by his challenging project work and the opportunity to learn something new. On the other hand, Susan is supercharged by gestures of appreciation—public recognition or a simple thank-you card.
Furthermore, many project managers don’t have the budget for doing much. How can we create a recognition and rewards program that shows our appreciation and motivates our team, sometimes with limited means?