Risks are ugly little things. They’re the things you never really want to talk about. But if the risks become issues, you’ll be in a bit of bother. So the temptation is just to sweep them under the carpet, never talk about them to the client and hope for the best. That’s a recipe for impending doom. Managing risk (or Management of Risk, sometimes helpfully abbreviated to MoR) is such a big deal that you can even get qualified on managing it effectively.
Digital projects carry a lot of inherent risk. New technologies, approaches and techniques mean the sandbox we’re playing in is constantly evolving and changing. On a large, complex project, almost every decision involves some degree of risk whether it’s organizational, strategic, or project related. We’re utilising large, multi-disciplinary teams, we’ve got a high number of internal and external dependencies so rather than turning a blind eye, you need to manage it. So how can you best identify, assess and manage risks before they become issues?
Know the risks you’re playing with
You know the situation, you know something ‘might/probably’ is a problem but you haven’t quite got around to finding out the full details yet or what the impact might be so you kind of casually mention it, and when your client looks shocked, say I’m sure it’ll be fine, don’t worry about it, I’m probably overreacting.
The thing is, it probably won’t be fine. And you’re not over-reacting. If you want until it really is a problem, then it might be too late to do anything about it. This is why process and control are important to manage them effectively to ensure risks are identified, assessed and controlled at the start of any project in a RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies) log.
Transparency works when you’re consistent, and when you’re transparent from the start. Knowing what the risks are, sharing them, and using your RAID log to create and control a proper mitigation plan against the risks is your best defence to ensuring you don’t get trampled by any elephants.
Find out where the other elephants are too
Take a reality check. As much as the client needs to know the risks from you as the project manager, you need to know the risks from your team – and also the client. You’re not going to know them all yourself. Effective risk management has to involve your team and some serious knowledge sharing – learning from previous mistakes and successes. In your scrums be asking your teams – ‘what are you worried about, what’s keeping you awake at night?’ Your team is likely to be the first ones to know if some impending doom is on the horizon.
Start a risk board with your team where they can raise any risk – and do the same with your client. Don’t carry the risk burden by yourself but share it around. It’s important that there’s proper governance in place so that risks are owned and managed by those that can control them best.
Quantify your risks
While the qualitative analysis covered so far is great, but it doesn’t really tell you how exposed you are. It’s helpful to conduct some kind of quantitative risk analysis to determine the potential impact of risks becoming issues. Quantifying risk allows for a more rational analysis of the risk register.
Rather than spending energy talking about risks which, even if they became issues wouldn’t have a huge budget issue, it helps everyone focus on resolving the risk areas which are most important. In doing this, you can prioritize risks to address, assign an appropriate level of impact and apportion appropriate risk budget to account for things not turning out the way you’d like.
An elephant never forgets
Knowing the risks is one thing. Your next priority is making sure everyone’s aware of them. Assign each risk an owner who is accountable for monitoring it, grading it and creating an appropriate mitigation plan. Active mitigation will keep you awake at night, and keep your project alive. The conversation around risk needs to be ongoing so keep talking about the elephants in the room until they’ve passed.
Relax, you’re fire retardent
Effectively managing that risk has massive benefits. Your clients are going to be happier because you are able to improve delivery for your clients and be more efficient with your clients’ resources to provide them with better value for money. But it’s not all about them – you get get the added benefit of finding yourself spending less time juggling hot potatoes and unnecessarily firefighting unwelcome surprises.