Agile Projects Don’t Need Risk Management (?)


Risk Doctor Briefing


Thomas Wuttke, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP

The Risk Doctor Partnership

Munich, Germany


The Agile Manifesto was published as long ago as 2001, but agile is still a hot topic in project management. In theory, agile project management is supposed to reduce risks by design, so that ultimately there are no risks any more. As a result, alongside backlogs, user stories and velocity in the agile approach, there seems to be no place for risks, for example there is no risk backlog. So where are all the risks in agile projects? Have they really disappeared? Three claims of the agile approach imply that this might be true:

1. Using an agile approach massively reduces risk. Right and wrong. It is true that the agile approach reduces some risks, such as the possibility of developing products that the market does not need. Used correctly and constantly, communication and iteration make it nearly impossible to miss the market. But the risk of developing the wrong product is only one type of risk. Risk is defined as the effect of uncertainty on goals. Since all agile projects, releases and sprints have goals, there will also be risks.

2. Risks are managed through the Impediment Backlog. Wrong. The impediment backlog provides a list of current obstacles. Impediments are like issues: they are problems that need to be resolved now. Some impediment backlogs probably also contain real risks, but that isn’t their main purpose. So, if it is used properly, an impediment backlog cannot help us to manage risk.

3. Risk is avoided through close cooperation in the team. Wrong. Of course, good cooperation within a team, working in one place and without constant interruptions, is really good for successful project work. It will avoid some risks, but not all.

Effective risk management is usually correlated with project success. But if projects conducted in an agile environment need no active management of risks, then do they all succeed?

If we focus only on the risk of missing the market needs, then perhaps it is true that agile projects are more successful than traditional projects. But within agile projects it is a different story. Much of the work turns out to be redundant. Product owners neglect their duties. The agile method is misinterpreted and misused. Managers expect miracles. And the tendency to believe that agile projects don’t need documentation only makes things worse.


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How to cite this paper: Wuttke, T. (2018).  Agile Projects Don’t Need Risk Management, Risk Doctor Briefing; PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue VIII – August. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Wuttke-agile-projects-dont-need-risk-management.pdf


About the Author

Thomas Wuttke

Munich, Germany



Thomas Wuttke PMP PMI-RMP PMI-ACP CSM has a degree in Computer Science and has worked for more than 20 years on large IT integration projects in both the public and commercial sectors. He has intensive project and program management experience, and has served several organisations as general manager, director, president, international partner and Board member. His focus is on risk management in respect of process, people, culture and maturity. Thomas is a renowned and inspirational trainer, consultant, coach and speaker with assignments across Europe, China, Korea, Japan, India, Brazil and the United States. Thomas is married, has three children and lives near Munich, Germany, where he enjoys Bavarian culture, sailing and mountaineering.

Thomas can be contacted at [email protected]