Identify Risks (Threats & Opportunities).

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Hello to everyone,

in the early stages of a project, we have yet to discover the risks. There are numerous tools and techniques that can help you, your project team, and your stakeholders identify risks such as:

  • Information Gathering Techniques (e.g., brainstorming, interviews, Delphi Technique)
  • Diagramming Techniques (e.g., context diagrams, flowcharts)
  • SWOT (i.e., Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
  • Pre-Mortem. Describe a hypothetical failed or challenged project to your project team. Have your team identify the risks and determine risk responses. See more
  • Assumption Analysis. Ensure that assumptions are reviewed, understood, and documented.
  • Prompt List. This is a list of categories that prompts stakeholders to identify additional risks in each category.
  • Checklist Analysis. This is list of potential risks used to help identify additional risks.
  • Document Reviews. Review documents for the project and related projects.
  • Delphi Technique: How to perform “Delphi”

You may use a combination of techniques. For example, you might do a brainstorming exercise and follow up with review of a checklist or prompt list.

brainstorming 3

7 Ways to Identify Risks

There are numerous ways to identify risks. Risk Managers must use a combination of these techniques. For example, the project team may review a checklist in one of their weekly meetings and review assumptions in a subsequent meeting. Here are seven popular risk identification techniques:

  1. Interviews. Select key stakeholders. Plan the interviews. Define specific questions. Document the results of the interview.
  2. Brainstorming. I will not go through the rules of brainstorming here. However, I would offer this suggestion. Plan your brainstorming questions in advance. Here are questions I like to use:
    • Project objectives. What are the most significant risks related to [project objective where the objective may be schedule, budget, or quality]?
    • Project tasks. What are the most significant risks related to [tasks such as requirements, coding, testing, training, implementation]?
  3. Checklists. See if your company has a list of the most common risks. If not, you may want to create such a list. After each project, conduct a post-review where you capture the most significant risks. This list may be used for subsequent projects. Warning – checklist are great, but no checklist contains all the risks.
  4. Assumption Analysis. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines an assumption as “factors that are considered to be true, real, or certain without proof or demonstration.” Assumptions are sources of risks. Project managers should ask stakeholders, “What assumptions do you have concerning this project?” Document these assumptions and associated risks.
  5. Cause and Effect Diagrams. Cause and Effect diagrams are powerful. Project managers can use this simple method to help identify causes of risks. If we address the cause, we will reduce the risk.
  6. Nominal Group Technique (NGT). Many project managers are not familiar with this powerful technique. It is brainstorming on steroids. Input is collected and prioritized. The output of NGT is a prioritized list of risks.
  7. Affinity Diagram. This technique is a fun, creative, and beneficial exercise. Participants are asked to brainstorm risks. I ask participants to write each risk on a sticky note. Then participants sort the risks into groups or categories. Each group is given a title.

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Variety is the spice of life. One sure way to bore your project team to death is to use the same risk identification technique repeatedly. Mixing it up occasionally will help your team think in new ways and improve the identification process.

Note: “PMI”, “PMP”, and “PMBOK Guide” are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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One thought on “Identify Risks (Threats & Opportunities).

    ilias said:
    19/03/2016 at 10:21

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