What Everybody Ought To Know About Project Risk Owners

So, what are project risk owners and how should project managers identify and assign them? Let's talk.

Imagine that you are the project manager of a two-year, multi-million dollar project. During the execution of your project, you take a beach vacation.

One of your team members calls upset that a major risk has occurred. You cooly reply, "No problem." You text the risk owner and discover that the risk response plan is being executed and everything is fine.

Is this scenario possible? One thing is for sure. If we don't identify and recruit risk owners, this will never happen. Your project will be at greater risk.

picture of a risk owner

Risk Owner

What is a Project Risk Owner?

The PMBOK 6th Edition says a risk owner is "the person responsible for monitoring the risks and for selecting and implementing an appropriate risk response strategy." Furthermore, these individuals may aid in evaluating their risks in performing qualitative risk analysis and the quantitative risk analysis

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10 Ways Project Sponsors Can Boost Project Success

I often ask project managers the reasons for project failure. One of the top responses is a lack of leadership and sustained engagement by the project sponsor. The sponsor paints a fuzzy picture of what they want, throws it over the fence to the project manager, and goes on their merry way. He or she essentially says, "Let me know when you're done. Failure is not an option." Really?

project sponsor with project team in background

Fortunately, some sponsors know how to hit home runs. These sponsors understand that their leadership is essential to a winning season. They stand out from other sponsors by owning their projects and maintaining a healthy relationship with their project managers from the beginning to end of their projects.

"PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent." 

PMI Pulse

Sponsors are typically busy senior executives often coming from the C-suite. In addition to the projects they are sponsoring, the executives have many other responsibilities.

How is it possible for a sponsor to complete their project work and still have time to perform their other duties? Let's look at 10 ways sponsors can boost project success.

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What You Need for a Great Project Charter

In this article, let's explore what you need for a great project charter.

John Maxwell says, “All great leaders possess two things: They know where they are going, and they are able to persuade others to follow.”

And, one of the most powerful tools for improving project communication is the project charter.

Think about it—in the project charter process, project sponsors and managers have the opportunity to engage key stakeholders for the express purpose of defining the vision of a project.

Without a project charter and clear communication, people are left to their own devices. And believe me, individuals, groups, and organizations will come up with their own versions of the project. United, project teams succeed; divided, they fall.

So, what do you need to create a great project charter?

rocket

Tired of confusion and rework due to a lack of early stakeholder engagement and agreement? Join me in the What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters. Just want the RiskNotes? Grab a copy of my eBook—Start Writing Your Project Charter Today.

1. An Engaged Project Sponsor

First of all, you need an engaged project sponsor. PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent.

Sponsors are typically senior level executives from the C-suite. These individuals should possess authority in the organization that allows them to secure the funding and resources necessary for the project. They should also ensure that their projects align with the vision, mission, goals, and strategies of their organization.

So, how do sponsors start projects? These leaders see a need or opportunity. For example, the head of the Accounting Department may see billing problems due to a dated bug-prone billing system. Furthermore, the sponsor creates and submits a project charter to the Project Board or similar group for approval.

PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent.

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So, what do you do when your sponsor is busy and you are having difficulty getting their attention? Elizabeth Harrin provides some great tips on What to Do When Your Sponsor is Too Busy.

2. Engaged Project Stakeholders

In addition, we need engaged stakeholders. Not everyone, mind you, but we do want the key stakeholders involved in the project charter process. Wise sponsors invite key stakeholders to the initial meetings to discuss the project charter and to obtain their input.

When sponsors choose to ignore stakeholders or purposely keep them out of the charter process, risk increases. These same stakeholders will discover the project later and may adversely influence the project. It's not like they have malicious intent. Rather, they understand aspects of the project that they sponsor was not aware of such as regulatory requirements or how the project may affect other operational activities. 

3. A Project Charter Template

Over time, organizations develop organizational assets such as project management templates. Ask your PMO or project management group if a project charter template is available.

The template provides structure and the common elements prescribed within an organization. Keep in mind, you may need to modify the template to some degree to fit your project. For example, you may add your project success criteria to a template that lacks this element.

Online Course: The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters

One of the best ways to reduce communication risks early in your projects is by writing project charters. This is not a documentation exercise! The aim is to ensure that the project sponsor, project manager, and the key stakeholders are on the same page. In this course, you will discover the 16 powerful elements of a project charter, how to use a project charter after initiation, the four project charter checkpoints, the secret sauce of writing clear goals, and how to right-size your project charters.

Risk Management: When All Hell Breaks Loose

What would you do if all hell breaks loose in a critical company project that you are managing? You lose two of your best team members. Your budget is shot. A key stakeholder is breathing down your neck. Behind schedule by four weeks. You haven't slept well in two weeks. And you feel like throwing in the towel.   

Taking on Risky Projects

Some projects are more risky than others. A project sponsor sees an opportunity. It's a stretch and he knows it, but he wants to try anyway. So, the project charter is completed and the top risks are recognized.

The Project Board approves the project. Why? Because there will be tremendous gains if the project is implemented successfully.

And guess what? You've been asked to manage this project. Lucky you.

As you are engaged in the project, you begin to understand just how challenging the project is going to be. How will you approach the uncertainty that lies before you? What can you do to recognize and plan for the events and conditions that may have negative effects on your project objectives?

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Five Ways to Reduce Risk Exposure Early

When is risk exposure greatest in a project? In the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the project? It's actually highest in the beginning. Let's look at how to reduce risk exposure early in your projects.

Why Risk Exposure Is Greatest in the Beginning

So, why is your risk exposure greatest in the beginning? Project managers have the least amount of information. Uncertainty is the greatest. We know very little about the:

  • Goals of the project
  • Deliverables
  • Requirements
  • Budget
  • Constraints
  • Success criteria
  • Availability of resources

Here are five activities that you can undertake to reduce the risk exposure early.

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The What, Why, and How of Process Mapping

Operational risk includes people risk, technology risk, external event risk, and process risk. In this article, let's talk about process risk and how to reduce these risks through process mapping.

When employees leave organizations, these entities may loose daily operational knowledge. You know. The people that know how to get things done are now gone. And these organizations often lack process documentation. Furthermore, they fail to cross train other employees adequately.

So, who is impacted? Employees for sure. But most importantly, the customer is adversely impacted. 

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The Power of If-Then Risk Statements

IF. Have you thought about the use of this two-letter conjunction in risk management lately? Let's look at how to use the power of If-Then risk statements.

IF is a simple word that can open up new doors to writing clear risk statements. And it can be used to write opportunities as well as threats.

If-Then Risk Statements

Write Opportunity Statements

Opportunities are events and conditions, that if they occur, have a positive impact on your project objectives (e.g., schedule, scope, budget, quality). Here are examples of how you might start these risk statements:

  • If you purchase ten or more computers from the XYZ vendor, 
  • If you add an additional developer to task ABC,
  • If you use quick-drying cement,
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How to Perform a SWOT Analysis

If you are looking for a great way to engage your key stakeholders and identify project risks, perform a SWOT Analysis. Project managers or other facilitators can use this powerful tool to identify strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, strengths may give rise to opportunities and weaknesses may lead to threats. Let's look at how to perform a SWOT Analysis.

SWOT Example

What is SWOT?

S

Strengths. Something that an entity, department, or team is good at doing or that gives it an important capability. A strength may be a skill, expertise, a valuable resource, a competitive capability, or an attribute that provides competitive advantage. 


W

Weaknesses. Something an entity, department, or team lacks or does poorly or a condition that puts it at a disadvantage. 

O

Opportunity. Up-side risks that may cause positive effects to our project objectives. An example would be to exploit a discount savings by purchasing in bulk quantities. 

T

Threats. These down-side risks may cause negative effects to our project objectives. What are your obstacles? What may hinder your ability to achieve your project objectives?

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12 Good Reasons You Are Struggling With Small Projects

"Why am I still having problems with small projects?

This plaintive question is one I'm asked from time to time. I'd like to give a few brief reasons why project managers struggle with small projects.

"Small things have a way of overmastering the great. This small press can destroy a kingdom." —Sonya Levien

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Pitfalls of Small Projects

1. You think these projects are simple. In general, smaller projects have less risk. However, small projects may have a complex set of variables.

Be sure to analyze the complexity of the project. For example, you may engage your team to draw a context diagram and/or data flow diagrams early in the project. This exercise allows the team to understand the context of the project.

2. You don't have a project charter. Project managers are assigned projects at the last minute with a tight deadline. Rather than discussing the project with stakeholders and documenting the business case, problems, goals, and deliverables, the project manager hits the ground running. Later, stakeholders demand costly changes.

Make it a priority to engage your key stakeholders and develop a project charter. This exercise will provide a good foundation and reduce the changes later in the project. For smaller projects, the project manager should be able to create a charter in short order.

3. You are applying the wrong level of rigor. I see two extremes: First, project managers do not follow any methodology. 

Second, project managers undertake numerous tasks usually performed for large, complex projects.

Keep it simple. Determine the steps you plan to take and develop the planning documents that will provide real value. Execute and stay with the plan.

4. The Project Sponsor is invisible. Many pint-projects have no sponsor at all. The organization may assign a sponsor, but the sponsor has abdicated his or her role to the project manager or someone on the team.

If you don't have a sponsor, solicit a fitting sponsor. Discuss with the sponsor their role and ask for their commitment.

5. Your team has been poorly staffed. These projects often get the leftover resources. Any warm body will do or will it?

For all projects, define the required knowledge and skills. Seek to staff the project team accordingly.

6. You are not performing project risk management. Yes, smaller projects typically have less risk. This does not mean there are zero risks.

Risk management should not take much time, but be sure to integrate risk management in your project activities. Simple qualitative analysis should be sufficient for evaluating the risks.

7. You are not performing change management. A stakeholder asks for a change in the scope. It's not a big change. You say okay.

Users request additional changes over time. The cumulative effect becomes significant.

Decide up front how you will manage, track, and report changes. When is a change order required? Who has to approve it? 

"I can do small things in a great way." —James Freeman Clarke

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8. You are managing a project no one cares about. Projects may be selected arbitrarily. In some cases, the project does not align with the company’s strategy. The team knows the project is a low priority and give it little attention.

This is a management issue. Management should create a Project Board that reviews project requests for strategic alignment.

9. Your project team is too large. Your project may be small, but it impacts several areas of the company. Everyone feels like they need someone on the team. You have fifteen people on the team when a handful will do.

Create a small core team. Make sure the team represents the primary stakeholder groups. You may wish to create a supplemental team of individuals who may be engaged as needed.

10. You are using the wrong tools. Some project managers spend more time setting up their tools than managing the project.

Keep things simple. For example, rather than using complex scheduling tools, you may use Excel.

11. You are managing too many projects. Project managers may be assigned numerous projects. The project managers may have difficulty prioritizing and juggling the management activities resulting in wasted time.

The person or persons responsible for assigning project managers should be careful to assess each project, estimate the time required by the project manager, and maximize project management resources. Monitor success rates for small projects and make adjustments as needed.

12. You have not identified the important stakeholders. Surely we know who the stakeholders are or do we? We are tempted to skip the stakeholder identification.

Don’t make the common stakeholder mistakes. Small projects can touch a complex set of variables. Neglect in identifying and managing the stakeholders can be costly later in the project.

Review Your Small Projects

Take a few minutes to review your small projects. Do you need to let go of some misconceptions and make some changes? Create some new habits. Don’t allow yourself to slip back into unproductive behaviors.

How to Write SMART Project Goals

What is the role of the project manager? The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says, "The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives (my italics)." Defining clear objectives and goals is the foundation of the project. Let's look at how to write SMART goals.

"People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine." —Brian Tracy

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