Myth #9: Project Risks Were Addressed Upfront, So No Need For Further Risk Assessment – Part #1 (Lesson 26)
Successful projects are often built upon a leader’s earlier experiences. Despite what many people think, much of the work on a project is not new.
Great project managers (you know the type by now: those who will deliver you the Guaranteed Project OutcomesTM) tend to focus on two key factors:
- Incorporating lessons learned on earlier projects that can often signpost potential problems, allowing them to be avoided this time around.
- Planning the project thoroughly in order to understand where the likely challenges will be and anticipate the risks.
Truly effective project management is only possible when the leader looks both:
- Backward through lessons learned, in order to avoid past failures.
- Forward through project planning, in order minimise or eliminate problems.
What is YOUR plan for risk?
Identifying risk early in the project is a key critical success factor.
It is worth spending time investigating and mitigating against risk as early as during project justification. This can help to form a credible foundation to demonstrate whether the project is feasible, or whether it should be refocused or even scrapped before it begins.
Good risk analysis and management will lower both overall project costs and frustration caused by otherwise avoidable problems. It can help to avoid rework throughout the project, and much of the project ‘firefighting’ that typically happens.
Great risk management also results in a thorough risk plan that can help to raise the profile and priority of a project. Being well prepared and transparent early on can help to ensure buy-in from senior stakeholders and the team.
This in turn often helps to reduce obstacles and increase access to additional resources when needed.
So, if your project manager comes up with a risk assessment early in the project, does that mean everyone can sit back, confident that the project will be a success?
Alas, no. Identifying a risk does not mean that it has been dealt with adequately.
Great project managers are also great risk managers
I have seen far too many instances where a list of eight to fifteen risks are identified at the beginning of a project, but nothing gets done about them.
(At least, it does not until I am brought in to recover the project, at which point, I always conduct my own risk assessment. That, however, is another story.)
So, what is involved in planning for risk management? And why do so many projects do an inadequate job in this critical area?
Before we examine the answer to that question, let us first look at the three key causes of project failure:
- Impossible objectives.
- Lack of adequate resources (time and/or budget).
- Lack of competent project management.
Failure to adequately manage risk and plan the project compounds all three causes of failure. Investing effort upfront, however, can mitigate against them. For example:
- In the first case above, the project could be cancelled or re-scoped to be achievable.
- In the second, the project manager could present a compelling case to renegotiate resources or set more realistic outcomes.
- In the last case, though, how likely is the project manager to spot the fact that they themselves are the risk?
Clearly, unless a project has a great project manager, it runs a very high risk of failure. And again, by ‘great’, I mean someone who understands the importance of risk management, and more importantly, knows how to manage risk throughout the project life cycle.
- What level of risk management does your organisation perform?
- How effective is your risk management in preventing failed projects?
- Do you perform risk management for each and every project you undertake?
- Do your project managers all use a consistent and repeatable process for risk management?