Practical Project Risk Management


By Ronald Look 

Illinois, USA

The great majority of project managers oversee projects that are not the mega projects often written about in project manager journals. Their projects are not constructing large office towers in the Middle East or cleaning up environmental disasters. These mega projects have much different risks than an IT project to build or change an application to manage labor costs or inventory. The mega project may be dealing with risks related to changes in prevailing social conditions or even weather impacts. These risks can steer the course of the business operations and fundamentally impact the financials or even existence of the business. For example, will society’s growing concern over cyber security negatively impact financial transactions for online retailers?

So how does the non-mega project differ regarding risks?  They are more concerned about project execution risks.  That is, what could impact the team’s ability to produce deliverables that meet requirements, deliver them on time, within budget and with expected quality. Yes, the business climate could change during execution and it could impact deliverables, but this is out of the control of the project manager and their team.  Practically speaking, it makes more sense for the team to focus on risks whose factors they can impact for successful project execution.  So for those project managers toiling on non-mega projects, the below provides guidance in practical risk management.

Executing Practical Risk Management

Non mega-projects require day-to-day risk review. I’m not suggesting setting aside a specified time every day or week to devote completely to risk review.  That’s not practical nor will it yield much positive results.  It will probably result in listing events that are very unlikely to happen, and not worth mitigation energy, or a listing of subdued issues will arise.  When reviewed with the project team, the issue listing can quickly break down into a complaint session. That may provide a brief venting relief for the team, but it won’t help the project very much. It is important to note that risks are not issues. Issues have already occurred and it’s too late to prevent them.

What I am suggesting is that project managers be conscious of risks in their day-to-day project management activities.  It’s as much a mindset as a practice.  Keep your ears tuned to what others are saying and don’t suppress that subdued voice in your head. If you hear or think words like ‘”just in case” or “what will we do if” or “that would be bad,” you can bet there is a risk involved and it’s likely significant.  Steer further discussion towards what can be done to prevent it from happening.  You don’t even to need to use the word mitigation, as it can turn people off.


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About the Author

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Illinois, USA

Ron Look has over 24 years of experience as a project manager in the IT sector. He has 9 years of experience managing in-house projects for a national insurance company first as a team lead and then as a group manager. He has 11 years managing projects as a Senior Consultant for an international IT consulting firm specializing in IT application outsourcing and project development. He has spent the last 4 year managing projects for an international retailer. He has project management experience from the perspective of both a buyer and supplier of IT services. His writing has been published in PM World Today and PM Boulevard. Ron is based in Schaumburg, Illinois and can be contacted at [email protected].