Uncovering All Of The Risks On Your Projects


By Paul Burek, PMP, CSM

Solutions Cube Group LLC

Texas, USA


Through my experience working with project teams, in many industries, on hundreds of projects, I have learned that although Project Managers (PMs) are expected to manage risk on their projects, many times they end up fighting fires and managing the problems that result from unmanaged or unknown risks. There are many reasons why Project Managers avoid Risk Management and resort to firefighting project problems. Common perceptions PMs have are:

  • My project won’t hurt anybody
  • Our company has a “kill the messenger” syndrome, so it is best not to bring up risks
  • Firefighting is rewarded, the more problems I can solve, the better I look
  • Failure is not an option, so why focus on risks, our team won’t allow them to impact the project
  • Risk is inevitable, so why bother trying to avoid or manage it.

Another underlying reason for not managing risk on projects, or not managing it well, is because the Project Manager does not have the right tools and techniques for risk management. It all too common for PMs to understand risk management theory, but not be skilled in the transformation of this theory into practical application. Effective risk management includes engaging the project stakeholders throughout the entire risk management process: identifying, assessing, responding to and managing risks throughout the life of the project.

Several factors can stand in the way of an effective Risk Management effort including:

  • Preparing a Risk Plan with insufficient project knowledge
  • Risk Management is not an integral part of the organization’s project methodology
  • Too little time in invested in identifying and managing risk
  • Too few risks are identified (10 – 20 risks versus hundreds of possible risks) and those that are identified are not fully understood or clearly defined

This paper will share techniques for enhancing the success of risk management efforts by uncovering a larger number of well written project risks which may need to be managed throughout the life of a project. It will explain and demonstrate the use of the Risk Meta-Language technique (Hillson, 2004, p73) enabling stakeholders to fully develop actionable risk statements. Additionally this paper will provide an overview of multiple sources which can be used to uncover risks on projects.

Overview of Risk and Risk Management

In order to identify project risks, it is necessary to first agree on the definition of what a project is. The PMI PMBOK defines a project as “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service” (PMBOK Fifth Edition, 2013, p3). Temporary meaning the project has an end, and unique meaning that the project is bringing about change, by providing an end result that is different from what an organization is currently experiencing. Uncertainty is directly associated with change being introduced by a project; however uncertainty on its own is not the same as project risk.

Project Risk is defined as any uncertainty, or SURPRISE, that if it occurs, would affect one or more Project Objectives negatively (a threat hurting the project’s cost, time, quality or scope) or positively (an opportunity enhancing the project’s cost, time, quality or scope). Project Risk arises from the interaction of objectives and uncertainty. There must be an impact (positive or negative) to one or more Project Objectives to have project risk. For example, the chance that it might rain this afternoon is an uncertainty – but why would we be concerned about this on our project? On the other hand, knowing that because rain has been forecasted for this afternoon, it might rain hard enough to prevent us from pouring the cement for our new home’s foundation, which would cause a delay in completing the foundation on time. This describes an uncertainty along with a statement of impact we can sense concern for. Problems and issues are also not project risk either since these have already occurred and the uncertainty surrounding them no longer exists.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 10th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in August 2016. It is republished here with permission of the author and conference organizers.


About the Author

160825 - Headshot Paul Burek
Paul Burek, PMP, CSM

Texas, USA




Paul Burek
, PMP, CSM, COO of Solutions Cube Group LLC, brings his thirty plus years in project management, meeting facilitation and course development to his project management practice. Paul is a pioneer and leader in the field of collaborative meeting facilitation. He has planned, created and conducted meetings leveraging joint application design (JAD) techniques to engage project stakeholders in idea generation, decision making and interactive real time deliverable creation covering all aspects of the project lifecycle.

Paul has designed and implemented a training program in which he bases his training concepts on experiences and lessons learned throughout his expansive project management career. This perspective has resulted in training which closes the gap between project management theory – “What should be done on projects” and techniques for workable project practices – “How to actually do it”. His training has a global reach featuring more than 100 project management course topics presented to students virtually and /or face to face in more than 20 countries. He has been invited to deliver training at the local, regional, and national levels for the Project Management Institute, other professional organizations, Fortune 100 and 500 companies and organizations in the private and government sectors.

Paul can be contacted at [email protected]