Beyond Execution

Making a difference in project management by training, speaking and writing


Project Risk Awareness

Posted by beyondexecution on December 15, 2009 at 12:25 PM

I've been talking about this concept for a while, and brought it a bit more to life in the recent risk management workshop I had.


A while back when I was teaching the risk management component at Sheridan College, I ran an exercise with the class.  I separated them into three groups, with one being the sponsor/customer, the other being the project team, and the last being the project manager.  I asked them "What is risk management to you, and who is responsible for it".  After group discussion, the answer of the latter, not surprisingly, fell to the project manager.  The PM group, said they realized it was their task to perform, but in light of all the other work they had to perform, they'd wished they had a bit more help in doing risk.


To me, this was a very poignant issue - the PM can't do it, and shouldn't do it, alone.  There's already a lot going on, and try as they can, a PM just simply can't be everywhere at once to find and treat risks, especially if it's a large team.  The project team and associated stakeholders (management, functional managers, even customers) need to be the eyes and ears of the PM.  They are at ground zero, and have the ability to spot upcoming risks much sooner than the PM.  The problem is - most of these key people don't even realize what they're coming across, much less know what to do with it.


So I come back to the concept of risk awareness.  This is the understanding and alertness to identify risks as they first appear, then to do something about it, even if it is only to communicate it to the PM.  The ideal scenario is for the team member to also provide options.  The risk awareness is a cascading effect - team members would be on the lookout, and eventually find ways to better mitigate and deal with risks as they appear.  The team would communicate more frequently and discuss possible threats.


So how can we increase the risk awareness?  There are several ideas that I have:

1.  Conduct risk training at the start of the project.  This doesn't mean sending everybody to a risk management course.  In fact, that may be a waste of time, because it may be too theoretical.  Rather, conduct a half day workshop, where stakeholders understand the impact of risks to the overall project.  You can review lessons learned from other projects from the perspective of "I wish I knew that before".  Have them learn how to identify a risk when they come across it.  And even better is to have them practice generating options and solutions to identified risks.  A small amount of time early up can save a large amount of issues later.


2.  Keep discussing risk throughout the project.  Don't just bring it up at the beginning of the project and then do it all yourself.  Talk about it during status meetings, ask for it on status reports, discuss it with team members when you talk with them one on one.  By reinforcing the idea of risk, you are continually increasing their risk awareness.


3.  Make it visual.  Charts and tables and nice, but pictures can say a thousand words.  Try a risk breakdown structure, or use the VIRT diagram.  Visualize risk and it will make it easier for team members to think about it.


These are only a few ideas, and I'm sure there's more.  What are you doing to promote your team's risk awareness?

Categories: Risk