Project management practices may often appear academic to team members or to stakeholders and in no knowledge area is this more apparent than risk management. I’ve written in the past about the importance of pragmatic, effective risk management to resolve the perception (or reality) that the efforts expended by project teams on risk management are not always rewarded.
Common risk elements captured by most project teams include a description of the risk event, its probability of occurence, impact if realized, owner and usually some sort of risk response. The challenge for team members is that by the time a risk cause is detected, it may be too late to alert the appropriate risk owner. In addition, risk owners often have so many risks assigned to them that it can make it difficult for them to prioritize their response activities.
These issues point to a key element that is missing in many risk registers: symptoms or early detection signs.
One advantage of identifying early detection signs is that this information can help to increase the level of awareness or vigilance across the project team – the downside of this is that it could result in some “false alarms” so it is advisable to be as specific as possible with symptom information. Inclusion of symptoms can also help to focus risk responses towards emergent or higher priority risks. Instead of making a regular review of the risk register a conceptual exercise, the team can use risk symptoms as a guide to diagnose the future “health” of the project. Finally, this information can help the team or a risk owner determine the most appropriate response to a given risk. For example, a risk which has a high likelihood of occurrence with high impact to the project but with no symptoms may be best addressed through transferral or avoidance.
You’ll note that I’ve specifically avoided substituting “warning” for “detection”. While the inclusion of symptoms can help with threat handling, it may be even more useful when managing opportunities. Opportunity owners are very busy with their day-to-day work and may not be ready when an opportunity emerges. By keeping an eye on early detection signs, stakeholders might be better primed to fully exploit a realized opportunity.
Be alert, the world needs more lerts!