Identifying Risks in Your Project
All projects have risks. It is the job of the Project Manager to identify these risks as part of the Risk Management Planning Process. Risk Identification determines which risks might affect the project and documents their characteristics. Participants in risk identification activities can include the following, where appropriate: project manager, project team members, risk management team (if assigned), subject matter experts from outside the project team, customers, end users, other project managers, stakeholders, and risk management experts. While these personnel are often key participants for risk identification, all project personnel should be encouraged to identify risks. I worked on a project where we used several of these techniques. I will point those out to you in the following sections.
Risk identification is an integrative process. The frequency of iteration and who participates in each cycle will vary from case to case. The project team should be involved in the process so that they can develop and maintain a sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, the risks and associated risk response actions. Stakeholders outside the project team may provide additional objective information. Especially important is the risk tolerance of the Stakeholders. This is invaluable information in Risk Planning.
The Risk Identification process usually leads to the Qualitative Risk Analysis process. Alternatively, it can lead directly to the Quantitative Risk Analysis process when conducted by an experienced risk manager. On some occasions, simply the identification of a risk may suggest its response, and these should be recorded for further analysis and implementation in the Risk Response Planning process.
A structured review may be performed of project documentation, including plans, assumptions, prior project files, and other information. The quality of the plans, as well as consistency between those plans and with the project requirements and assumptions, can be indicators of risk in the project.
Information Gathering Techniques
I worked on a project where we spent three days planning the project. We engaged several experts in our technology to help us with the Information Gathering Techniques. This helped the project a lot since we (the project team) were not experts at the time of the project. They were very helpful in the brainstorming and Delphi techniques. During each following phase of the project, the Risk list should be looked at to see if any further risks have been identified.
Examples of information gathering techniques used in identifying risk can include:
· Brainstorming. The goal of brainstorming is to obtain a comprehensive list of project risks. Our project team performed the brainstorming with a multidisciplinary set of experts not on the team. Ideas about project risk are generated under the leadership of a facilitator. Categories of risk such as a risk breakdown structure can be used as a framework. (see earlier post) Risks are then identified and categorized by type of risk and their definitions are sharpened.
· Delphi technique. The Delphi technique is a way to reach a consensus of experts. We used Project risk experts as well as Technology experts to participate in this technique anonymously. A facilitator uses a questionnaire to solicit ideas about the important project risks. The responses are summarized and are then sent back to the experts for further comment. Consensus may be reached in a few rounds of this process. The Delphi technique helps reduce bias in the data and keeps any one person from having undue influence on the outcome.
· Interviewing. We also interviewed experienced project participants, stakeholders and subject matter experts to identify risks. Interviews are one of the main sources of risk identification data gathering.
· Root cause identification. This is an inquiry into the essential causes of a project’s risks. It sharpens the definition of the risk and allows grouping risks by causes. Effective risk responses can be developed if the root cause of the risk is addressed.
· Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. This technique ensures examination of the project from each of the SWOT perspectives, to increase the breadth of considered. Our project team used this technique to more fully examine the risks that had been identified.
· Checklist Analysis. Risk identification checklists can be developed based on historical information and knowledge that has been accumulated from previous similar projects and from other sources of information. This means you have to record project information at the end of the project to build the historical database. The lowest level of the risk breakdown structure can also be used as a risk checklist. While a checklist can be quick and simple, it is impossible to build an exhaustive one. Care should be taken to explore items that do not appear on the checklist. The checklist should be reviewed during project closure to improve it for use on future projects.
· Assumptions Analysis. Every project is conceived and developed based on a set of hypotheses, scenarios, or assumptions. Assumptions analysis is a tool that explores the validity of assumptions as they apply to the project. It identifies risks to the project from inaccuracy, inconsistency, or incompleteness of assumptions.
· Diagramming Techniques. Risk diagramming techniques may include:
o Cause-and-effect diagrams. These are also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams, and are useful for identifying causes of risks. We used these frequently in projects.
o System or process flow charts. These show how various elements of system interrelate, and the mechanism of causation. Seeing the flow sometimes triggers someone to identify a risk that may have slipped through the cracks.
o Influence diagrams. These are graphical representations of situations showing causal influences, time ordering of events, and other relationships among variables and outcomes.
You can never spend too much time in identifying risks. After the list is made, qualitative and quantitative analysis is done to figure out which risks you spend time and/or money on. Murphy’s law is always a good one!
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