Association for Project Management
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Can risk management be made exciting?

Few would argue that there’s anything more important than managing risk when it comes to planning and delivering a project. But risk management isn’t solely the responsibility of a project manager. Other stakeholders are often required to play a role. This can present a challenge, because a lack of engagement with the risk management process can limit its effectiveness. So how can colleagues and partners be encouraged to understand, participate and, above all, show enthusiasm for risk management? We spoke with Dr Sara Hasani (pictured), Senior Lecturer in Project Management and Course Director for MSC Business Project Management at London South Bank University to get her views.

How would you go about explaining to a non-project professional why risk management is critical in projects?

To me, managing risk is fundamental to project success. Just as you can’t have a project without an accountant, you can’t have a project without risk management.

Nearly three-quarters of projects don’t hit the milestones set in the golden triangle: cost, time and quality. They’re then often defined as a failure. Risk management is about helping them fail less.

In your opinion, what are the key steps to follow when implementing a risk management process for a project?

I’d follow the ‘textbook’ process:

  • Identify – This could be compared to a shopping list for risk. You basically identify what risks will be faced during the course of the project.
  • Quantification – Once you’ve identified the risks, you measure their likelihood. Some risks are more likely to occur than others.
  • Evaluation – This is about prioritisation. You must know what you’re going to need to tackle. Priority for each risk will depend on a number of criteria, including cost, environmental value and political value.
  • Control – You have to control the risks through the project to see if you’re on track or not. If not, issues need to be raised with the appropriate people.
  • Termination – Either the project ends, or it’s cancelled.

Is there an important rule you follow when identifying risks? If so, what is it and why is it important?

There are no fixed rules, but there are lots of tools and techniques for identifying risk. Brainstorming is a good one. Gather your people and look collectively at what could potentially go wrong. That can be done face-to-face or remotely.

More sophisticated tools would be things like expert opinion; ask people who have done it before what they think could go wrong. Archive data can also be useful. Look at similar projects and what went wrong with them.

Do you feel that risk management is an aspect of project management that most people buy into?

Unless they’ve actually been hurt before by things not going right on a project, people don’t always buy into risk management. Front line employees see it as not relevant to them and managers see it as costly. Also, some people claim they do risk management without actually doing it.

It’s important to remember though that most projects fail because they don’t have a good risk management process. So managing risk not only makes financial sense; it’s also ethically responsible. Helping people to understand this can help them to buy into it.

What else can contribute to buy-in among colleagues?

From top to bottom, if there’s no policy or budget for risk management and if you don’t have a person who’s knowledgeable about risk management in your business or organisation already, people at the frontline can’t just create a process. So project managers need to push for it, highlight the importance of it and – when they put in their business case – highlight the importance of it. Making this clear will aid buy-in among decision-makers.

I see students all the time who are enthusiastic about risk. We watch movies to demonstrate the importance of risk management, like Apollo 13. We use game-based learning, which can involve things like Lego and all sorts of games to enhance understanding. We also have discussions and debates. All of these things inspire enthusiasm.

If you want to make it exciting, you can.


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