Tips for making risk management easy

In this week’s Project Management Insights episode I talk about ways to make risk management easy.

Too often it is seen as a task that is only the responsibility of the PM.  Why not get everyone involved?  Why not have them feel that it is an important part of their role working on the project?

Podcast Script

Hi. Welcome to Project Management Insights podcast number six, tips for making risk management easy. I’ve seen many PMs who hate risk management and avoid it like the plague. Firstly, this concerns me as you aren’t really managing a project, if you aren’t managing the risks that arise. Aside from that, it says to me that PM s don’t fully understand how to manage risk and do it in an easy way, rather than making it a chore. So here are my tips for making risk management easy, on your project.

Get everyone on the project team involved in risk management. Yes, you heard me correctly, everyone.

You need all team members thinking about risk the whole time your project is in delivery mode. How do you do this? Talk about it with them. Make them aware that it’s important. And make it so that they don’t think it’s a bad thing to tell you about risk or risks that they see might exist.

There may be people who are involved in helping develop your business case, who you spoke to about risks as part of your business case development. These people, if they’re on your project team, will be handy to have on board if you remind them to consider the risks they helped you highlight for the business case and to let you know of any that they consider as the project progresses. These are really valuable people to have around. For those team members who weren’t part of this initial pre-project phase, as part of your initial projects set up meeting, and I certainly hope that you have one, then talk to the rest of the team. Talk to those other people about wanting an open and honest team who’s willing to highlight risks as they surface. You want the team to trust that you will take everything they say seriously, and you must.

You need to consider any risk that is raised by others as something to be considered and something worthy of taking note of. Explain to your team members how risks that arise impact on your delivery and so the sooner you know about them, the sooner the team can put a mitigation strategy in place. And notice here that I talked about the team helping to put the mitigation strategy in place. This is another key aspect of getting everyone on board to manage the risks on the project.

I’m not talking about passing the buck here. Some well seasoned project delivery managers may be averse to raising risks because of their belief that they will be landed with the action item of managing that risk. Turn this upside down. Tell them that this is not what this is about. Yes, sometimes other team members, project team members, do have action items listed against them in terms of risk mitigation strategies, and that’s okay if you’re all playing a part in ensuring that the risks are mitigated; that the risks are seen as a valuable part of successful project delivery. Highlighting the risks at least and ensuring that they mitigated against.

Talk to the team about how your project is a joint effort that without each and every one contributing, the project won’t be delivered and therefore you want them all to feel empowered to help the delivery to happen in the best possible way. You do need to be feeling that this is the case, though it’s not good saying these words and not meaning them. Remember the trust aspect here. The team need to trust you and your word. Explain the value to the project sponsor, and business owner of everyone being fully aware and open to raising risks. It will help in the longer term to deliver the best outcome for the business, which is ultimately the goal of the project. Highlight that raising risks is a positive thing and I can’t say this loudly enough, not a negative thing.

Risks are often seen as negative. I like to think of them as possible hurdles that we the project team need to get over in order to reach the finish line. They are there and we can manage them, but only if we know about them. We, the project team, will gain the trust of our project sponsor and business owner and the PCB members for that matter if we’re seen to raise risks as they become apparent. Keep a risk log and regularly check it. I like to do it prior to my reporting cycles so that I can update my PCB on any risks that have arisen or changed status since the last time they were reported on. Don’t make a list of risks and then file it in the bottom drawer at the start of your project and never visit it. This is of no value at all. And it spells trouble with a capital t.

You never know when one of those risks is going to materialize and damage the business. Not to mention your project. Only report on the critical or high risks. All the rest can be managed by you and the team. And yes, I said managed by you AND the team. The team need to feel that they have ownership over the mitigation strategies too. This is not about highlighting risks and acting on them yourself. Don’t go marching around reporting or checking up on risk mitigation. Be inclusive with your team and talk to them about the risks that are listed as possibly impacting their area of the project. Help them to take the ownership necessary so that they feel like it’s a natural part of what they’re doing, as and responsible for, project delivery for the project. Doesn’t need to be seen as an additional task. You don’t need to have formal risk meetings.

I find these are an absolute waste of time. Raise the issue of risks and risk mitigation as part of your normal stream or team lead meetings or project team meetings for that matter. It needs to be a standard part of your project checking, not something that you as the PM are only responsible for. By doing this, you will ensure that you do not have any risks that come out of the blue and jeopardize delivery of your project. You will have a stronger team relationship; a stronger relationship with not only your project sponsor, but also with your PCB. This is a key aspect of successful project delivery. Make it as easy as you can and get everyone involved. You’ll be glad you did.