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Three Areas of Project Risk Assessment

One of the biggest values that an experienced project manager brings to the table is the ability to see bumps in the road before your project hits them. Looking back on lessons learned (yes, including failures), project managers can build up a great repository of warning signs to look for when executing projects. This post will focus on areas that experienced project managers focus on when assessing a project for risks.

Stakeholder Buy-In

One of the biggest sources of issues with any project is the ‘human’ factor. A stakeholder is defined as a person who has a vested interest in the success or failure of a project. While not common it is a good practice of a project manager to be able to size up and identify those stakeholders who may not be supportive of the project and develop a mitigation plan to address potential issues. Perhaps it’s an executive who is opposed to the project. Maybe it’s a manager whose team your project relies on for an output (perhaps an integration of some kind). Any stakeholders who do not appear to be on board with the project need to be identified and the project sponsorship advised (perhaps delicately) on the mitigation plans to help ensure either that the reluctant stakeholders will buy into the project direction or not be in a position to derail your plan.

Breaking New Ground

Nothing spells out more risks than attempting something that the organization (or perhaps anyone) has done before. Projects that ‘break trail’ have a higher failure rate than most simply due to the fact that there is a higher level of unpredictability with budget, time and especially technology. Project managers should be assessing how their projects rate on this scale in terms of repeatability.

External Environmental Factors

There are almost always factors that are outside the control of the project and the project team. These are what you can call ‘X-factors’ that can potentially derail your project but that you’re dependent on for project success. Examples of this can include suppliers who need to provide materials to support your project or maybe travel conditions for your team that can potentially affect schedule for on-site visits (anything from weather to political turmoil). While potentially low probability, these X-factors can have potentially critical impacts to your project and should be, at the very least, considered when assessing your risks.

Risk management is somewhat of an art supported by experience. Being able to see the proverbial iceberg before your project hits it is one of the key values of a project manager. Nothing builds up the ability to see possible bumps in the road like experience however there are some commonalities to risk assessment. Happy (risk) hunting!

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