I conduct online surveys to get feedback from project managers on risk management topics. Here’s one of the questions, “What risk management techniques would you like to know more about?” Survey participants often respond with: Nominal Group Technique (NGT).
The nominal group technique is an efficient means for identifying and ranking risks, as well as other items. It is brainstorming on steroids. Risks are collected from a project team. The risks are analyzed and ranked by the team.
The NGT is a powerful tool for larger groups. The technique saves time, engages participants, and reduces groupthink—a phenomenon where people set aside their personal beliefs and adopt the opinion of a group.Continue reading
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.
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 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.
“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
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.
How about you? How would you describe the health of your projects? Review one of your projects with this checklist:
Are your projects rooted in facts or hearsay? Knowing the facts puts you in the driver's seat.
Why? Because the facts provide points of reference in which we can better judge the significance of things and where there is uncertainty.
So, where do facts come into play in risk management?
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” —John Adams
When identifying risks, I write risk statements using this handy-dandy risk syntax: Cause —> Risk —> Impact. No need to get overly strict with the syntax, but it does provide a practical way to think about your risks.
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.
“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
Have you ever had an executive ask how long a project will take before the project started? Yeah, I've been there too.
When asked, PAUSE. Be careful about how you respond.
Why? Because your credibility is at hand. Let's talk about the challenges of schedule estimates and three estimating techniques that can help us do a better job with our estimates. Lastly, we'll look at how to respond to future requests for estimates.
What happens if someone estimates a task to take 10 days when it should only take 5 days? Work expands to fill the time alloted.
Conversely, what happens when someone estimates a task to take 5 days when it should take 10? People rush their work. The results are poor quality, rework, higher costs, and adverse impacts on the schedule.
During and after each project, compare your actuals to your estimates. Do you see a pattern where certain team members estimate too high or too low? Consider how you can work with these individuals to improve estimates for future projects.
Each estimating technique has its strengths and weaknesses. Project managers should understand and apply each estimating technique appropriately.
I wish I had a dime for every time that I have been handed a project with a deadline of yesterday. You've been there too? Well, let's talk about some practical steps that we can take to quickly start a project.
Jumpstarting a new project requires time and focus. Clear your calendar as much as possible. Secure a project administrator to help you with your administrative tasks. Delegate activities on existing projects. I also work during hours where I know that I will be least distracted, for example, early hours of the morning.
What Happens When You Get Behind
“No project recovers from a variance at the 15% completion point. If you underestimated in the near, you are generally off on the long term too.” – Gregory M. Horine
Do you know the 5Ps? Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. If this is true, why is it that some project managers put so little time in developing a project management plan?
One of the reasons is that project managers may not know what to include. I’ve developed this checklist to help you develop your project management plan including baselines, subsidiary plans, and ancillary plans.
Every project is different. Select only the planning elements that are appropriate for the size and complexity of your projects. The project plan may be general or detailed depending on the needs of the project team.
Focus on keeping the plans simple and practical. Engage your team members in developing the plans. This will greatly improve the quality of the plans and the buy-in. Otherwise, people will ignore the plans.
First, let’s look at three baselines that you may wish to include: the scope, schedule, and cost baselines.
So, what exactly is a baseline? A project baseline is a snapshot against which all future measurements will be compared. For example, a project manager can compare actual completion dates of activities to an approved schedule baseline.
Think about this. Without a baseline, how will you monitor and control your projects?
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.
Question: What other ways have you seen project managers unintentionally create schedule risks?
Some project managers struggle to identify scope risks. Why?
First, individuals may lack a concrete understanding of scope; scope seems to be a nebulous concept. WHAT exactly is scope?
Second, individuals may not know HOW to identify scope risks.
Either way, the failure to identify (and manage) scope risks can be costly. It’s like an overdrawn bank account. There are all kinds of penalties and fees if you know what I mean.
Risks are uncertain events or conditions, that if they occur, will have a positive or negative effect on the project objectives. What are some examples of scope-related risks?
Keep in mind that scope is the sum of the products, services, and results to be delivered through the project. Product scope includes the features and functions of the products, services, and results. Project scope is the work required to create the deliverables.Continue reading
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