Project Risk Management: Do You Have the Facts?


  •  Minute Read

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.


Here's an example: Because two key stakeholders did not participate in the requirements workshop, the requirements may change later resulting in rework and adverse impacts to the schedule and budget.

The uncertainty is defined in the "risk" part of the statement, where we describe what may or may not happen. But what about the causes? Hear what Dr. David Hillson had to say.

Dr. David Hillson

"Causes (of risks) are definite events or sets of circumstances which exist in the project or its environment, and which give rise to uncertainty. Examples include the requirement to implement the project in a developing country, the need to use an unproven new technology, the lack of skilled personnel, or the fact that the organization has never done a similar project before. Causes themselves are not uncertain since they are facts or requirements, so they are not the main focus of the risk management process (emphasis mine)."

Read that again slowly.

Allow me to share four key takeaways.

4 Things to Note About Causes


Causes are definite events or sets of circumstance. No hearsay; just the facts, ma'am. What has happened in the past? What is true today? What empirical data do we have?


Causes give rise to uncertainty. If an escaped convict has been seen in your neighborhood, this circumstance gives rise to uncertainty—increases the chance of something bad happening to you. If Warren Buffett has moved next door to you, good things may happen. Maybe he will pay for the violin lessons you've always wanted!


Causes are not uncertain; they are facts or requirements. Don't miss this point. I've seen project managers write poor risk statements: "The test environment may become unstable. Therefore, the testers may not able to complete their testing on time." Saying that the test environment may become unstable is not a fact; it is a risk. Let's rewrite the statement: "The test region has been down three times this week for two hours or longer each occurrence." Now we have a fact that gives rise to uncertainty. See the difference?


Causes are not the main focus of the risk management process. Rather, the main focus is the risk. How can we manage the risk properly and achieve our project objectives? While the causes are not the main focus, the facts or requirements help us understand our risks and help us better manage our risks. For example, addressing causal factors can reduce uncertainty. 

Let's assume that you have the facts, now it's time to examine their relevance.

All Facts Are Not Equal

You discover all kinds of facts during a project. Some are significant; others are not. For example, "Banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour." Interesting fact, but not relevant (however, it does explain why I lost 900 calories last week).

However, what if you discovered the following things?

  • John, your lead developer, will transitioned from your project in four weeks.
  • Susie, your trainer, has received an evaluation score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the last three projects.
  • The servers that you ordered have been back ordered and will be three weeks late.
  • Mrs. Johnson, your CEO, has just hired Bill, a new product development manager, to further develop company products, including one that you are working on.

These facts matter. Each would cause me concern. And, I would want to better understand how each will impact the project and what the team can do to manage the related risks.

Get Your Facts Straight

Now that you understand the importance of facts, how can you get them? First, start with your stakeholder analysis using techniques such as stakeholder interviews. Second, share these facts with your project team. 

Your team members can provide insights and shine a light on the nuances. Third, use these facts as a starting point for defining your risk statements, allowing you to work with stakeholders and better understand the facts at a deeper level.

It's Your Turn, My Friend

If you are starting a project, conduct your stakeholder interviews and capture the facts and related risks in your risk register. If you're already well into a project, review your risks. Are the causes—the facts and requirements—of your risks clear? And, do you have a response plan that addresses the causal factors? 

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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications

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