You might be practicing risk management throughout the life of your project, but that effort might be wasted.
Just as projects can deliver approved scope on time and on budget and still be considered failures if expected business value remains unrealized, risk management practices can be executed diligently, but not result in a meaningful increase in project success rates.
So what might be the cause of this?
Fear can be a powerful motivator, but usually only for a brief period of time. Constantly beating the drum of what bad things may happen gets old really fast, and if critical identified risks don’t get realized, stakeholders may be likely to tune out.
The danger is exactly the same as with implementing agile methods – just as we want teams to be agile instead of just doing agile, we want to see our stakeholders incorporating risk awareness into their daily behaviors and not just perform risk management practices when we prompt them to do so.
This starts with creating a true sense of urgency as early as possible. Uncertainty is greatest early in the life of a project, so there should be ample legitimate risks which can be discussed openly with your stakeholders. Understanding the relative priority of constraints (e.g. scope, schedule, cost) will help you position these risks appropriately to make stakeholders sit up. Pay close attention to individual risk bias – if you recognize that a particular stakeholder appears to be an eternal optimist, you’ll need to take extra care in ensuring that the risk information communicated is not overblown and clearly indicates the impact to their agenda.
Beyond buy-in to the existence and severity of risks, another challenge is securing commitment for the development and execution on risk response plans. Stakeholders might be willing to participate in identification and analysis activities, but when they are put on the spot to expend real effort or political capital in risk response, they suddenly become invisible. If you experience difficulties with getting stakeholders to acknowledge risk ownership or to take meaningful action, help them better appreciate the criticality of their participation. Walk a mile in their shoes by echoing back the concerns they might have about their involvement but help them see how inaction will be even worse.
As with all changes, sustainment is usually where the biggest challenge lies with successful risk management. If things are going smoothly early in the life of a project, the level of concern shown may drop, so continuing to scan the horizon for new sources of uncertainty and making them meaningful to stakeholders is critical. Acknowledge the successes in effective risk management early on, but reinforce the need for continued vigilance.
Risk management demands a shift in the positions and behaviors of stakeholders and like any transformation, if you are unable to capture the hearts and minds of these stakeholders, they will be unwilling to change.