How to Identify Scope Risks

Some project managers struggle to identify scope risks. Why?

How to Identify Scope Risks

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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.

What are Scope Risks?

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?

  • Individuals may add features to the product that were not approved.
  • The project team may not identify all the deliverables, requiring changes later.
  • Scope changes may not be processed through the change control process.
  • Requirements may not be properly analyzed and understood.
  • Requirements may not be properly prioritized.
  • Traceability structure may not be developed resulting in requirements not being managed through the design, development, and testing processes.
  • The project team may fail to identify all the activities required to create the deliverables.

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.

How to Identify Scope Risks

What tools and techniques can we use to identify scope risks? For most projects, you will only need a few methods. Pick the ones that make the most sense for each of your projects.

  1. Interviews. Select key stakeholders. Plan the interviews. Define specific questions related to the project scope — deliverables, assumptions, constraints, exclusions. Document the results of the interviews.
  2. Brainstorming. Plan your brainstorming questions in advance. Here are questions I like to use: What are the most significant risks related to the project deliverables?
    What are the most significant risks related to work such as requirements, coding, testing, training, implementation?
  3. Checklists. See if your company has a list of the most common risks; look for the scope-related risks. If not, you may want to create such a list. After each project, conduct a post-review where you capture the most significant risks. This list may be used for subsequent projects. Warning – checklists are great, but no checklist contains all the risks.
  4. Assumption Analysis. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines an assumption as “factors that are considered to be true, real, or certain without proof or demonstration.” Assumptions are sources of risk. Project managers should ask stakeholders, “What assumptions do you have concerning this project?” Document these assumptions and associated risks.
  5. Cause and Effect Diagrams. Cause and Effect diagrams are powerful. Project managers can use this simple method to help identify causes of risks. If we address the cause, we will reduce the risk.
  6. Nominal Group Technique (NGT). Many project managers are not familiar with this powerful technique. It is brainstorming on steroids. Input is collected and prioritized. The output of NGT is a prioritized list; for risk identification, the result is a prioritized list of risks.
  7. Affinity Diagrams. This technique is a fun, creative, and beneficial exercise. Participants are asked to brainstorm risks. I ask participants to write each risk on a sticky note. Then participants sort the risks into groups or categories. Each group is given a title.
  8. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). One of the most powerful tools for identifying scope risks is to facilitate a WBS with your project team. Then walk through each of the lowest elements — commonly referred to as work packages — and ask the participants to identify risks.

Of course, project managers may also use these tools and techniques to identify risks for other project objectives related to the schedule, budget, and quality.

Your Turn!

If scope issues have caused you significant pains in the past, take action to mitigate these risks going forward. It starts with identifying the risks. First of all, educate your project team on WHAT scope includes.

Next, determine HOW you will identify the risks. Which risk identification tools and techniques will you use?

Furthermore, identify the risks and develop your risk response plans. What actions will you and your team take for each risk?

Lastly, project managers should monitor the risks to ensure that they are getting the expected results. If not, modify your responses.