Keeping risk from disrupting a project

We have a pretty good idea of the work ahead of us and have developed a detailed project plan, but how do I keep risk from disrupting the project?
It's great that you are going forward with your eyes open, thinking about how to manage risk early in the project. Some just wait until an issue stops progress, and then have to put in the extra effort to address the problem while trying to keep the program on track. To minimize the disruption risk can cause, you need to put some up front effort into thinking about what could happen and how you would react. You manage project risk by identifying potential risks and the events that create them, measuring the risk or making some judgment about its severity, and identifying the activities necessary to eliminate the risk or mitigate it to an acceptable level. These mitigating activities become activities in the project management process or tasks in the work breakdown. Here's a quick process guide:
  • Start the process early, as soon as one other core team member is available for brainstorming.
  • Brainstorm with the core team, identifying as many risks as possible. Use previous product experience, personal experience, regulatory input, and common sense.
  • Create a risk analysis document that, at a minimum, contains the identified risk, the event that causes it, a measure of probability, a measure of severity, and a mitigation or elimination strategy.
  • Explicitly incorporate the mitigations into either planned project process activities or product requirements.
  • Make the risk analysis part of the project plan that is agreed upon by all stakeholders and team members.
  • Periodically review and amend the risk analysis with new information gained from reviews, inspections, audits, and marketing or customer input.
Documenting assumptions and risks. Here are a few pointers on how to document assumptions and risks in the project plan, distilled out of the transcript of our panel discussion "Is Project Planning Dead?":
  • Generalized characterizations of a plan like "this is aggressive" or "this is the 20% confidence plan" tend to be filtered out and lost by upper management. What is retained is your commitment to the plan. So, if your plan has such a risk characterization, put it in the title of the plan itself or an equally prominent place.
  • Make the risk analysis, or at least a summary of it, an integral part of the project plan document. If they are separate documents, the plan may be taken out of context.
  • List assumptions as risks in your plan. Making an assumption really is a statement of risk. And assumptions may get more attention that way.

For more detailed information, review the Risk Management Process guideline for a process to ensure all of the appropriate risk management steps are implemented. It provides a common vision of what is and is not important to the organization from a risk perspective. The associated Risk Management Plan can then be used to capture the results of your assessment and approach to risk mitigation.

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