I’ve written a few articles on the risk posed by resource availability to most knowledge-based projects, and I still feel that this is a frequent cause of schedule & budget overruns. Other common risk factors impacting projects include requirements clarity, technology uncertainties and organization change resistance. Finally, project priority is a major source of risk these days – the “star” project that receives funding and focus today could morph into the “dog” tomorrow that is starved of resources.
A more subtle risk factor, and yet one that can be equally pernicious has to do with that unique project role – the stakeholder. The Guide to the PMBOK (Fourth Edition) defines a stakeholder as “Person or organization (e.g. customer, sponsor, performing organization, or the public) that is actively involved in the project, or whose interest may be positively or negatively affected by execution or completion of the project. A stakeholder may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables.” It is the second sentence in this definition that aligns well with an alternate definition I was once given: “Anyone with the ability to negatively impact your project”.
One tends to think of negative stakeholder influence as a common source of risk to construction or other highly visible external projects, but any moderately complex internal project could also possess multiple stakeholders with competing agendas.
To address this source of risk, the best response is thorough and regular stakeholder analysis. If you are not sure that you have identified all of your stakeholders, seek advice from a peer or mentor. Meet individually with your stakeholder representatives early on and reinforce these relationships throughout the lifecycle of your project. It may be naive to assume that you can satisfy the needs of all of your stakeholders, so your objective should be to manage the impacts of their influence on your project. If it is not possible to work towards a “win, win” situation, you may need to solicit assistance from your project sponsorship or other stakeholders.
Project teams working on high stress, aggressive time line (is there any other kind?) projects tend to focus on their customer or their project steering committees. This myopia can be fatal – stakeholder influence is perhaps the best example of Dr. Hillson’s definition for risk: “Uncertainty that matters”.