How to Identify, Evaluate, and Respond to Sneaky Risks

How do you know when to respond to sneaky risks? Sometimes it’s obvious; other times you may experience a slow death march into ultimate ruin.

How to Identify, Evaluate, and Respond to Sneaky Risks

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Part of our problem is unknown risks; these risks silently steal and kill over time. Even if we are aware of certain risks, we may be unsure of when to respond. Allow me to share a personal story to illustrate.

How a Risk Can Sneak In

thief_reaching_out_to_steal_something_400_clr_14321I was not a happy camper six months ago. Why? My company’s healthcare program sent me the results of my most recent health screening.

My Total Cholesterol Level was 240!! This was up from my previous level of 219 in 2014 and 196 in 2013. Not a good trend, huh?

For the first time, I crossed into a High-Risk Category (240-349). My doctor told me that if I did not turn this around that he would put me on a cholesterol medication. Do you know the side effects of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs?

They include inflammation of the muscles, memory problems, and autoimmune myopathy (I have no idea what this it, but the name gives me the hebbie jeebies). I had a friend a church tell me that you can have serious liver problems.

I told my wife, “We’ve got to get serious about this. Don’t buy any more bacon.” At least I did not have to give up Caviar because I’ve never eaten it. -:)

DoctorSeriously, I started changing my diet in small ways. I ate less red meat and more fruits and vegetables. I started using Vinaigrette Dressing instead of Ranch Dressing, one of the most unhealthy salad dressings. I ate fewer desserts such as cakes and cookies.

Two weeks ago, I had my blood work again. Last week, I went to see my doctor to get the low down. He looked me in the eye and said, “What have you been doing? Your cholesterol has dropped to 178!”

That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Even my liver leaped with joy!

Hard Lessons I Learned

Why do I share this story? First, I hope to encourage you to take advantage of a healthcare program and improve your health habits. Second, consider the risk management principles that can be applied to your project habits. Here were some lessons learned:

  • The data did not cause my problem — it made me aware of the problem. Sometimes, we don’t like hearing the truth. We’d rather be ignorant than to have to change our behavior. We need to look in the mirror and see our true condition.
  • I did not like having to change my diet…at first. Yes, there are times I wanted a super large bowl of chocolate ice cream, but I skipped the ice cream (okay, sometimes I still had a small bowl). The longer I made the right decisions, the easier it became. It became the new normal.
  • With time, I started to feel better. I did not anticipate this result. I had more energy. Now, I could leap tall buildings. My wife said that I had become a better husband (just kidding).

How to Identify Sneaky Risks

So, think about it. How can we identify project risks, particularly if they are hidden and unknown? Here are a few techniques that can help:

  • Use a Risk List, a list of potential risks for an industry, organization, or company
  • Use a Prompt List, a generic list of categories used to “prompt” the identification of risks
  • Seek input from project managers who have managed similar projects

How to Evaluate Risks

How can we evaluate threats? We start with the simple qualitative risk analysis.

In some cases, you may need to perform quantitative risk analysis. Consider the Healthcare Risk Guidelines below, which allows an individual to determine the level of their cholesterol risk.

Healthcare Guidelines

In projects, you may use predefined thresholds, amounts of risk that your organization is willing to accept. If the thresholds have not been established, you will need to define your risk thresholds, typically included in your risk management plan. Here are some examples:

  • Will not allow budget slippage of more than $10,000 in the budget
  • Will not allow the schedule slippage of more than 2 weeks

How to Respond to Risks

Periodically review your risks to determine if the risk has breached a threshold. If so, execute your contingency and backup plans.