How to Identify and Address Project Risks -

How to Identify and Address Project Risks


By Guest Blogger Tony Oliver, Penny Wise Consulting Group

This blog post first appeared on the Penny Wise Consulting Group’s blog and was posted here with permission. The original post can be found here.

Postmodernist Paul Virilio said, “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” This illustrates not sadism, fatalism, or pessimism, but rather a grasp of how technology can bring unintended consequences.

For example, as the debate over autonomous cars rages on, we run the risk of compartmentalizing technology into a fantasy “perfect world” in which nothing goes wrong. Most advances tend to be imperfect and improve upon successive iterations. However, inventors should at the very least ponder on the possible implications of their inventions, especially if they wish to bring them to market. While the aluminum can “pull-tab” (yes, I am old enough to remember these) eliminated the need for a can opener, it brought an increase in litter, and typically, finger cuts.

But, why does this matter to you, if you are not an inventor? First, it helps to remember the origin of the phrase “Devil’s advocate.” To many, it is a synonym for a “Debbie Downer” or someone who wishes to rain on a parade. To the Catholic Church, it is an important role when determining someone’s sainthood. The “Devil’s advocate” is tasked with poking holes in the canonization argument, in order to ensure that everything has been considered or vetted.

As project managers, we have to be careful not to look at things with rose-tinted glasses. Often, this means a long, hard look at risks, which is not a pleasant discussion with the customer. Creating a risk register should not be seen as a necessary evil, but rather as an important exercise for the entire team to brainstorm, collaborate, and prepare for a successful release.

Below are my tips on how to identify and address risks to help make sure you consider and vet all possible outcomes.

  • Allow an open discussion on risks. A company focused on preventing a dialogue on risks is almost as bad as one that chooses to ignore them. Do not punish staff for calling out the possible challenges, but rather encourage them to work with others on finding ways to minimize, eliminate, or transfer risk. While this is a difficult task given today’s litigious society, it will strengthen the overall product, much like the level of competition improves one’s skills.
  • Ask “what ifs.” Six Sigma strategy often calls for a repeated “Why” questioning to ensure the correct root cause has been identified. A similar strategy can be employed here, by asking “what if”—not just to statements, but also to answers given after a “what if” response has been given. The recent controversy surrounding Mylan’s Epi-Pen showcased a company ill-equipped to answer an irate public, likely due to not enough risk understanding and preparation. (Full disclosure: My wife and daughter both have Epi-Pen prescriptions.)
  • Be open to suggestions.Perhaps you wanted to go into business alone, but the risk analysis shows a partnership or joint venture is a better option. Maybe a regional launch is preferable to a national one, or a test market does not fit as well as the initial review reflected. That is fine. Those are not dead ends, but rather curves on the road that will eventually lead to the destination.

In the end, some risks are unavoidable, but avoiding risk analysis is not. How do you analyze and mitigate risks on your projects?

About the Author: Tony Oliver is a project manager by trade, a marketing guru by profession, and a lifelong learner from birth. His best trait is an inquisitive mind, which drives his desire to understand not just the “what” but also the “how” and more importantly, the “why” and “why not?” Tony is experienced in supply, pricing, demand, and consumption analysis and holds an MBA in marketing from a top 20 school (UNC Chapel Hill) and an undergraduate English Literature degree from Georgetown University. With 15+ years of experience with Intel and Cisco, Tony is fully bilingual (English, Spanish) with a working knowledge of French, as well as a seasoned public speaker and instructor of Project Management and Presentation Skills courses.

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