Risks in your project’s rear view mirror may be closer than they appear

truck_in_rear_view_mirrorRisk management, like nearly all project management knowledge areas, is iterative. We don’t just identify risks at the beginning of our projects. As we learn more about what we are expected to deliver, our risk registers experience progressive elaboration in the same way as does our knowledge of our customer’s requirements or our work breakdown structure.

While this iterative nature of risk management helps to increase the currency of risk information, it does have a dark side.

The risks we’ve most recently analyzed might appear to be more relevant than those identified much earlier in a project’s life. Given how busy we all are, if those older risks have not yet been realized, it can be tempting to assume that they can be safely ignored. And when our vigilance drops, that’s usually when those risks will strike.

To protect against this, we need to implement countermeasures which won’t consume much effort, but can provide us with sufficient lead time to recognize that a risk may be realized so that we can execute response plans with a higher probability of success. This is why it is important to identify risk triggers which should be as specific as the risks they are associated with.

It’s also a good reason to consider going beyond simple probability and impact-based assessments of risk severity by incorporating the failure mode effects analysis practice of estimating how easy it is to detect that a risk is about to be realized. By doing this, a moderate risk with low detectability will gain importance relative to those which we can see a mile away.

Of course, none of this matters if risk information is not reviewed regularly.

You may want to review risk triggers for your key risks at each team meeting to find out if any have been detected. You might even consider creating a “Project’s Top Ten Most Wanted” cubicle poster highlighting the triggers tied to your most critical risks.

Whatever techniques you use, regular reviews of meaningful triggers can act as a gauntlet around your project, ensuring you don’t get rear-ended by a risk Mack Truck!


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