If you say the word “risk” to ten people, each person may think of something different— insurance, threats, investments, bets, or potential loss. As we manage project teams, it's critical that you and your team members have a common understanding of what project risk means. Otherwise, people will be confused by your risk management efforts.
It is no wonder that there is so much confusion about the meaning of risk. Many credible sources provide conflicting definitions. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines risk as “the possibility of loss or injury: peril.”
Risk management standards, guides, and methodologies define risk in many different ways. Some include the possibility of positive risks or opportunities; others do not.
Risk - an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives. —PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition
As projects start, project managers should work with the project sponsor and key stakeholders to clarify the project objectives or goals. Once the objectives are clear, share how risk management can help to achieve the objectives. Furthermore, provide concrete examples that are relevant to the project at hand.
Next, agree on a definition for project risk. I suggest the risk definition from PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).
So, here is the PMBOK® Guide definition: "Risk - an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives" (such as scope, schedule, cost, and quality). Let’s break down this definition of risk:
Some people argue that including positive effects in the definition creates confusion. If you decide to leave out the positive effects in the definition, decide how you and your team will identify and seize significant opportunities.
The important thing is to obtain agreement with your team about how to define risk. Include the definition in your Risk Management Plan. Clear communication will position your team for greater success.
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