Securing participation in project risk management through the use of visual aids: The Bow Tie Method


Robert J Chapman PhD, FIRM, FAPM, FICM

Dr Chapman and Associates Limited

United Kingdom


A key activity in the risk management process is engaging with those who have been called upon to provide expert judgement (based on their knowledge and experience gained from their education and their participation in other projects). However those participating in the risk process are normally responsible for carrying out a function on the project specific to a knowledge area, as defined by the PMI (such as cost, time and procurement management). They are judged by their performance in carrying out their function rather than participating in risk management. Hence their priorities will always lie with what they see as their ‘day job’ and not the ‘ancillary’ activity of risk management. Completing their function activities will in most instances take precedence over risk management. Particularly when presentations have to be made to the client team, compulsory reports have to be prepared or regular meetings have to be chaired or attended. Given that large projects commonly assemble together a team where many of the members will not have worked together before, developing a supportive risk management culture can take a considerable time.


Given the pressures on their time, discipline representatives providing expert judgement expect the risk management process to be clear and its implementation well-structured and systematic. This is particularly true when they have to make time to share their knowledge of the potential difficulties in implementing the project, in the full knowledge that their own tasks are mounting in the background unattended. The extent to which they engage in the risk management process it could be argued will depend on how risk information is captured, disseminated and reported. Unless risk information is clear, concise, unambiguous, current, consistent and relevant, team members will disengage. In addition the degree to which discipline representatives will engage and even be stimulated by the process will be how quickly they can absorb the information being presented; how readily they can see the ramifications if identified threats materialise (or how opportunities might be exploited); and whether relationships between events are depicted that they had not realised existed. Visual representation of the risk information greatly enhances team members’ ability to review and comment on the risk information. In addition extensive spreadsheet presentation of risk information can make the reader weary and unreceptive.

While research in the health sector has shown that people differ substantially in their ability to understand graphically presented information or ‘graph literacy’, given project information is regularly presented in graphical form (such as on dashboards) this observation is not considered pertinent to project personnel. A graphical representation of risk information that is gaining popularity is the Bow Tie method (sometimes written as ‘bowtie’).

Origins of the Bow Tie Method

The precise origins of the Bow Tie method are unclear however in the mid-1990s the Shell Group adopted the Bow Tie method as a company standard for analysing and managing risks. Within the petroleum industry the approach become known as the Shell Bow Tie method. Shell facilitated extensive research in the application of the Bow Tie method and developed a strict rule set for the definition of all parts, based on their ideas of best practice. Shell disseminated their approach within the petroleum industry. The benefits of the methodology have since been recognised in numerous other industries including the defence, medical, finance and aviation industries


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About the Author

Robert J. Chapman, PhD

United Kingdom




Robert J Chapman is an international risk management specialist and Director of Dr Chapman and Associates Limited (www.drchapman-assoc.com). He is author of ‘Simple tools and techniques for enterprise risk management’ 2nd edition, published by John Wiley and Sons Limited, ‘The Rules of Project Risk Management, implementation guidelines for major projects’ published by Gower Publishing and ‘Retaining design team members, a risk management approach’, published by RIBA Publications. He holds a PhD in risk management from Reading University and is a fellow of the IRM, APM and ICM and a member of the RIBA. He has provided risk management services in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Holland, UAE, South Africa, Malaysia and Qatar on multi-billion programmes and projects. Robert has passed the M_o_R, APM and PMI risk examinations and provided M_o_R risk management training to representatives of multiple industries. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

To view other works by Robert Chapman, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robert-j-chapman-phd/