Category Archives for 4=Control

7 Things You Should Not Do When Identifying Project Risks

Known and unknown, internal and external, upside and downside—risks are woven into the fabric of every project. Project managers can waste a lot of time due to poor risk management. In today’s article, let’s look at seven things not to do when identifying project risks.

Don't do it. Written on white paper

1. Don’t wait.

Dan the project manager just kicked off a new project, adding stress to his life. He was already managing three projects. Now he had a new team, new goals, new challenges, and yes, new risks.

If Dan was like most project managers, he would wait until later to start the risk identification process. Why hurry? He had enough to do without jumping into the risk management stuff.

However, risk waits for no one. In fact, the project risk exposure — the level of risk due to uncertainty — is highest at the beginning of projects. Why? We know the least.

Dan is smarter than most project managers. He starts identifying and capturing risks as he initiates and plans the new project. He proactively asks his team and stakeholders to help him identify the things that may hinder or help the project. His teams benefit from his early focus on achieving the project objectives.Continue reading

How Poor Risk Management Is Hurting You

Poor risk management is costly. Project managers are caught off guard by emerging risks. And these risks may turn into issues costing more time and money.

But, it doesn't have to be that way. We can identify risks early. We can assess and prioritize our risks, allowing us to make better use of our limited time.

poor risk management

Let's look at the cost of poor risk management through the life of Tom Whitley. We will discuss his mistakes. Lastly, I'll provide you with a simple project risk management checklist to keep you from making the same mistakes.

The Risk Management Mistakes of Tom Whitley

The Star Mutual Insurance Company (SMIC) hired Tom Whitley as a project manager to manage information technology projects. Although Tom missed a few deadlines, he implemented most of his projects, though small, on time and under budget in his first year.

Tom was promoted to program manager after only 12 months with the company. He was assigned his first SMIC program, a combination of projects aimed at helping the company achieve a consistent underwriting profit. The program included projects to implement a new imaging system, a new policy administration system, and a new claims system, each led by a different project manager.

Tom pushed the project managers to take action quickly. He wanted to see progress within two to four weeks.

When one of the project managers spoke of identifying, evaluating, and managing risks, Tom cut her short, “We’ll get to the risk management later. I want an agile approach with the minimum process.”

The senior management team praised Tom for the early action.  The imaging team had started building workflows. Check. The policy administration team started developing the interface to the claims administration system. Check. The CEO told the board of directors that things were going well for the first two months of the program (or so she thought).

In the third month, significant issues emerged. First, users were continuously changing the requirements for the policy administration system. Second, Tom started having problems with the third-party vendor resources. Third, the test regions were unstable, making it impossible for the testing teams to stay on schedule.

Tom and the project managers were spending more time dealing with issues and less time preparing for upcoming project activities. Things spiraled out of control. Eventually, SMIC replaced Tom as the program manager. The CEO reported the problems to the board and promised to get things back on track. But, it never happened.

After two years of trying to get the applications implemented, the company terminated the program and wrote off $15 million in expenses. SMIC continued missing revenue goals while expenses rose sharply. The CEO was fired after the company was downgraded twice and after four years of underwriting losses.

Learning from others...

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” —Douglas Adams

Risk Management Mistakes

Although this is a fictitious story, many project managers (and companies) fail to use risk management as an effective means of achieving their objectives. If you were leading the next program, what would you do differently? Take note of Tom's mistakes.

  1. Tom failed to see risk management as a smarter way to plan and execute projects. Beliefs drive behavior and action. Because Tom thought that risk management was a waste of time, he failed to leverage the benefits.
  2. Tom got behind the eight ball. Risk exposure is highest as projects start. Why? Project managers have the least amount of information; therefore, uncertainty is greatest. Tom should have identified, evaluated, and responded to risks in the first few weeks of the program and continued this process throughout the program.
  3. Tom failed to take a systematic approach. Project managers are expected to show results quickly, but they should never skip planning altogether. Project managers can show progress while, at the same time, developing their project management plans.
  4. Tom failed to take a balanced risk management approach. Some project managers take unnecessary steps, wasting time; other project managers fail to do enough. Tom was successful on small projects with very little risk management. But, he skipped risk management all together in the larger, more complex program. Consequently, the negative events became material issues that harmed the company and cost Tom his job.
  5. Tom had no wiggle room. Why? Because he failed to identify risks and evaluate the risks, leading to the development of the budget and schedule reserves.
  6. Senior management undervalued project management. Rather than developing a strong project management program to support its strategic goals, senior management saw project management as a necessary evil. When management needed operational transformation, they lacked the skilled resources and framework to make it happen.
  7. The company failed to identify the operational risk of losing skilled program managers. Some companies take employees for granted, increasing the likelihood of losing skilled employees. Successful companies identify and retain the employees critical to their strategic plans. Succession plans should be developed to ensure competent resources are available if key resources leave the company.

Your Risk Management Checklist

How about you? How would you describe the health of your projects? Review one of your projects with this checklist:

  • Do you have a risk management plan (it does not have to be lengthy or complicated)?
  • Have you identified and captured your risks in a risk register?
  • How have you evaluated and prioritized your risks?
  • Have you engaged the appropriate stakeholders in the risk identification and evaluation processes?
  • What about risk owners? Does each risk have a risk owner?
  • Have the risk owners developed risk response plans for the highest risks?
  • Are you facilitating a review of your risks periodically, resulting in updates to the risk register and effective risk responses?

Five Things to Start and Five Things to Stop in Project Risk Management

Risk management gets a lot of fanfare, but many project managers fail to cash in on the benefits. Here are some simple and practical project risk management tips that can aid project managers in getting better results.

Five Things to Start

  • 1
    Start risk management early in your projects.
  • 2
    Start discussing the most significant risks each time you meet.
  • 3
    Start educating your team members on how to integrate risk management into other project management processes such as Schedule Management and Quality Management.
  • 4
    Start defining your Risk Management Plan during your Planning Process.
  • 5
    Start using a Risk Register to capture your risks.

“The first step in the risk management process is to acknowledge the reality of risk. Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning.” —Charles Tremper

Five Things to Stop

  • 1
    Stop making risk management overly complex for smaller projects. Scale your risk management practices to fit the size and complexity of your project.
  • 2
    Stop making risk management a big deal early in your project and then forgetting about it later.
  • 3
    Stop thinking of risks as only threats. You may be missing some wonderful opportunities to improve your schedule, cost, and quality.
  • 4
    Stop spending time and responding to insignificant risks.
  • 5
    Stop owning all the risks. Identify appropriate risk owners.

5 Ways You May Unintentionally Create Schedule Risks

Do you feel uncertain about your project schedule? Does something see out of order but you just can’t put your finger on it. In this article, let’s look at five causes of schedule risks and ways to avoid or reduce these risks.

Many times, it starts with pressure from a sponsor to deliver the project early. For sure, project managers have a responsibility to work with their sponsors to understand the requirements and to complete the projects within the sponsor-imposed deadlines. Rather than wasting our time complaining about the deadlines, how can we work with our sponsors and team members to find solutions to schedule issues?

My friend Colin Gautrey has some wise advice on 8 Ways You Can Better Respond to Unrealistic Demands.

As we work to develop and compress our schedules, let’s be aware of the common causes of risk. We will be in a better position to manage the risks and deliver our projects on schedule.

5 Causes of Schedule Risk

  1. Crashing the schedule. It’s always been funny to me that the Project Management Body of We have too many cooks in the kitchenKnowledge uses the word “crashing” as a schedule compression technique. The term makes me think of an uninvited guest crashing a party, but with schedule management, the individuals are actually invited. Project managers use crashing to shorten the schedule for the least incremental cost by adding resources, typically to the critical path. It can be great. Just be aware that crashing may increase your risk. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.
  2. Fast tracking. Here’s a technique to shorten the schedule by performing activities in parallel for at least a portion of their duration. For example, we might start work on a software design while the team is working on the requirements. Consequently, this technique may increase your risk and requires good communication and coordination; otherwise, it may be anything but fast.
  3. Assigning the wrong resources. You ask a manager for a resource for your project. In return, you get the person who is least busy, not the skilled resource you need. Rather, Susan, an experienced project manager describes specific skills needed and uses her influencing skills to persuade the manager, greatly improving her chance of securing the queen resource. What’s a project manager to do when resources are preassigned?
  4. Making sequence mistakes. John, an inexperienced project manager, failed to work with his team to sequence the project activities properly, resulting in issues which were discovered after the schedule was approved. As a result, John has learned to engage his team members when identifying and sequencing future project activities.
  5. Failure to baseline your schedules. The project manager and team did a great job in breaking down the project, identifying activities, and creating the project schedule. However, the project manager failed to get approval for the schedule. What happened? Yes, the schedule changed. The team did not have a baseline for comparison resulting in significant uncertainty about the health of the project. Like building a house without a plumb line, who knows if the walls are straight?

Question: What other ways have you seen project managers unintentionally create schedule risks?

How to Overcome 12 Common Requirement Mistakes

How often have you neared a project implementation date, only to find new requirements? Or perhaps your team said they had gathered the requirements, but in reality, the team had hastily rushed through the requirement process resulting in rework, missed deadlines, and another blown budget.

If you want to improve your chance for project success, focus on improving your requirement processes. You can’t overcome all the issues overnight, but here are a few things to consider.Continue reading

Why Project Managers Need Business Analysts for Project Success

project managers need business analystsThe Standish Group says three of the biggest factors that lead to failed and challenged projects are:

  1. Lack of user input
  2. Incomplete requirements
  3. Changing requirements

We should attack these threats with a vengeance. How can we do this? We add skilled requirements analysts to our teams.

When Do Project Managers Need a Business Analyst?

The role of the project manager is to achieve the project’s goals or objectives. Who performs the business analysis tasks for the projects? That depends.

For small projects, the project manager may assume many roles including but not be limited to:

  • Project manager
  • Requirements analyst
  • Tester
  • Facilitator and scribe
  • Trainer
  • Chief bottle washer (just kidding)

For larger projects, project managers must find ways to complete project tasks through others. They must not fall into the trap of doing everything themselves. Wise project managers recruit team members with the necessary skills and talents.Continue reading

To Improve Project Quality, Start Early, Stay With It

Poor project quality can have profound effects on projects resulting in rework, schedule delays, higher cost, frustration, morale problems, and lack of customer satisfaction. Project managers cannot afford to miss the mark here. Quality matters.

When buying eyeglasses, what do people look for? One person may focus on features such as the frame style. Another person may want anti-scratch coating or UV-blocking treatment. 

Others also look for a great customer experience—how they are greeted, how easy it is to find their frames, and the fast, accurate checkout process.

Projects are similar–project customers, whether internal or external, want great products and service. How do your customers describe your service? Are they getting the product features they want?

Here are some common quality management mistakes. Overcoming these seven mistakes can greatly improve your chance of success. Continue reading

Why Risk Avoidance Should Be 1 of Your 8 Risk Responses

Earlier I wrote about eights ways to treat risks. One of the risk responses is avoidance. The focus of this strategy is to ensure the risk does not occur by eliminating the cause of the risk.

Call the Fire Department

It was Fall, and I had raked the leaves in my backyard into three piles. I was trying to decide what to do with them. I knew there was a ban on burning in my area since we had been extremely dry for months.

What were my options? I could bag the leaves. I could haul the leaves into the woods. Or I could burn the leaves.

I decided to take a chance and burn the leaves. Later, I soaked the areas with water to fully extinguish the remaining embers.Continue reading

The PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition: How to Escalate Risks

The Project Management Institute added a new risk strategy in the Sixth Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Let's take a look at what it means to escalate risks and how to escalate risks, both threats and opportunities.

Escalation is one of the eight ways to treat risks.The PMBOK® Guide–Sixth Edition says: 

"Escalation is appropriate when the project team or the project sponsor agrees that a threat is outside the scope of the project or that the proposed response would exceed the project manager's authority. Escalated risks are managed at the program level, portfolio level, or other relevant part of the organization, and not on the project level. The project manager determines who should be notified about the threat and communicates the details to that person or part of the organization. It is important that ownership of escalated threats is accepted by the relevant party in the organization." 

The language for escalating opportunities is nearly identical, interchanging the term threat with opportunity.

Every organization has risks at various levels such as teams, departments, business units, and an enterprise level. Projects touch different parts of the organization. Project managers discover all kinds of risks, some that are within the scope of the project and others that are not.

What should a project manager do when a risk is identified that is outside the scope of the project? Escalate the risk. Here are three takeaways. 

Three Takeaways About Escalating Risks

  1. Risks may be managed at a project level, program level, portfolio level, or other relevant part of the organization. Per the PMBOK® Guide, a program is "defined as a group of related projects, subsidiary programs, and program activities managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually." How does a portfolio differ? A portfolio is "defined as projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives."  Another possibility is to manage the risks in an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Program. The Risk Management Society (RIMS) defines Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) as “a strategic business discipline that supports the achievement of an organization’s objectives by addressing the full spectrum of its risks and managing the combined impact of those risks as an interrelated risk portfolio.”
  2. The project manager determines who should be notified. Not all project managers will know who should own the risk. Ask team members and the project sponsor to help determine the risk owner.  
  3. It's important that the ownership is accepted. Project managers often lack the authority to simply assign the risk to someone outside their projects. Project sponsors can help by engaging the appropriate people in the organization to ensure buy in. If your organization has an enterprise risk management program, the ERM Director can help with the escalation.

Escalate Your Risks

Do you have risks in your project risk register that should be escalated? Work with your project sponsor and other key stakeholders to clarify the risks, determine the true risk owners, and ensure ownership at the right level of your organization. 

8 Ways to Treat Risks

8 Ways to Treat RisksWe treat risks personally and professionally every day.

Imagine you have a large amount of credit card debt. You decide to eliminate one of the causes of your debt. So, you cut up your credit cards.

What if you had an opportunity to increase company revenue by getting a product to market a few months early? You could assign your most skilled resources to your critical path tasks.

In our projects, we face threats that may limit our ability to achieve our goals. We also see opportunities, if properly seized, that could allow us to make greater progress. Our job is to treat risks to enhance opportunities and reduce threats. We can optimize our risk responses over time.Continue reading