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How successful project professionals avoid being bitten by risks
Zoe Shiers

John "hannibal" Smith "I love it when a plan comes together"

So, you have a plan to deliver your project? Congratulations!

As my favourite cigar-smoking soldier-of-fortune, Col. John “Hannibal” Smith used to say “I love it when a plan comes together!”

Believe it or not, some of your peers don’t even get this far (and if you haven’t you’d better get on over to our blog on creating a foolproof project plan).

What is a plan?

Unless the project you’re delivering is an identical copy-and-paste repetition of a previous delivery then what you really have is a “best guess” of how things will go, based on a set of assumptions.

The most successful project professionals know this. They don’t pretend that everything will work out to plan. In fact, they know for sure that it won’t. Not even if they have it all shiny and indented properly on Microsoft Project or some other tool. Not even if they use phrases like “Level 1 milestones” and “Gantt charts”. What they do instead is turn their assumptions into risks.

A simple analogy: building a house

The Project Manager has assembled a lovely plan that says the build will take six months. This assumes that:

  • the weather holds out
  • everything gets delivered on time
  • all the tradespeople turn up for work every day
  • nothing breaks

Does he cross his fingers and hope these things don’t happen? Does he shrug his shoulders when it’s pouring with rain and say “sorry, it’s going to cost an extra £5000”? Not if he’s a good Project Manager. What he does is raise risks to cover all of these things with mitigation plans.

How to write a proper Risk

Anyone who has worked on a project with me will know I’m a pernickety so-and-so when it comes to properly worded risks. And rightly so, because this stuff really matters when it comes to delivering your projects on-time, on-budget and to the satisfaction of the client.

The way to word a Risk is…

  • There is a risk that…
  • Because…
  • Which could result in…

For example:

There is a risk that it could rain for more than 10 days during the build, because part of the build is during the rainy months, which could result in a delay to the build costing £1000 per day.

There is a risk that the windows may not be delivered on time because the lead time for the order is 10 weeks, and the windows are required in 9 weeks’ time. This could result in a delay to the build cost of £5000.

OK – good start. We now know bad stuff might happen.

So, what can we do about it?

Deploy the mitigation police

Raising risks on your project is fantastic – but the real secret sauce is managing your mitigation plans like your project delivery depends on it (because it does).

Take our first risk as an example:

There is a risk that it could rain for more than 10 days during the build, because part of the build is during the rainy months, which could result in a delay to the build costing £1000 per day

What am I supposed to do about that?

You could:

  • set aside additional time and money now for when it does rain
  • erect a weather canopy across the entire site
  • re-schedule some activity to make the building weather-tight earlier in the build
  • do nothing and deal with the headache when it happens

As Project Manager, it’s your responsibility to present these options to your Sponsor and let him or her choose. They may or may not choose to do any of these based on their risk appetite. The point being that at least they got the choice, not a nasty surprise.

Whilst this may be a simple example, I’ve seen projects ignore the basics and it always comes back to bite.

But what about agile projects?

There is sometimes a misconception that if you’re delivering an agile project you don’t need a risk management approach.


Even agile projects need risk management to guarantee success.  There are tried and tested agile tools and techniques for risk management that will not impede the agility of the project, so it’s about applying the right approach for your chosen methodology.

Proper Risk Mitigation, whether you are managing a waterfall or agile project (or a hybrid of both) is one of the key pillars of successful Project Management – get managing yours properly today!

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