acacia logo
acacia learning logo

Planning a project always involves anticipating and preparing for potential complications or obstacles in advance.

In fact, it is common for project managers to face challenges and uncertainties which impact the overall delivery of a project on a variety of levels. This is where risk management plays a crucial role, aiming to minimise risks to ensure a project is completed successfully and on time.

There is, however, more to understand about project risk management than meets the eye.

Understanding Risk Management

At the forefront of project management, risk management plays a crucial role in safeguarding against unforeseen challenges. Unlike predictable issues, "risks” are potential events with uncertain timing and consequences, calling for proactive strategies to mitigate their impact on project timelines and budgets without compromising the success of the project.

To effectively implement risk management, a project manager must:

  • Identify the risk,
  • Analyse it,
  • Plan and prepare the response any threats,
  • Implement actions to be taken, and
  • Communicate to stakeholders

Effective risk management requires project managers to prioritize proactivity over reactivity. Planning ahead and discussing potential risks during the project's planning stage is key. By staying vigilant, project managers can prevent obstacles and threats from escalating and monitor them throughout the project lifecycle.


How to Manage Risk as a Project Manager

Project risk management is all about the process of turning challenges into opportunities. This involves identifying and managing potential risks all while integrating new knowledge and strategies to evolving project objectives. To carry out project management successfully, it’s important to utilize the following five steps:

1. Identify the potential risks

Managing a risk is like solving a problem, and identifying what a risk is and where it comes from is crucial to be able to manage it. Depending on the project, a great way to predict risks is by brainstorming with your team, colleagues, and stakeholders on what can go wrong. It’s a big plus if your team members have experience in similar projects. To identify threats, here are eight steps to help:

  • Brainstorm with team members to discuss and speculate any potential risks. This encourages critical thinking and enhances communication.
  • Interview stakeholders to understand their perspective on risks and how to handle them. Any opinion is valuable and a great way to have ‘outside the box’ thoughts come from stakeholders.
  • Apply the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) which involves generating ideas individually then having a group discussion to prioritize them. This fosters an open environment encouraging teamwork.
  • Organize risks in categories based on how similar they are with each other. This will make your analysis more efficient and easier to review.
  • Regularly review project requirement as any changes can impact or arise new project risks.
  • Create a detailed project plan that outlines project needs and any associated risks, this helps stakeholders understand where the project stands and its progress.
  • Investigate previous project risks to identify their causes. This helps you stay alarmed of any common challenges.
  • Analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to understand project risks in context, this provides you with an overview of all risks and their factors.

This will allow you to find out the cause of a possible problem, analyse what has previously worked and what not, to know what to avoid and what to do, and prepare yourself to monito any uncertainties.

Consider utilizing a risk register, a helpful risk management tool in project planning, identifying potential risks that can occur. It allows you to control any obstacles that are most likely to occur during the project based on market, political, social, or environmental data. The idea is to use the risk register system to track risks by:

  • Collecting,
  • Documenting,
  • Monitoring, and
  • Resolving risks.

This will allow you to acknowledge what risks have been identified, what have you overcome and what other risks can appear throughout the project.

2. Analyse the risk

As a project manager, you are expected to report risk information and expectation to investors and stakeholders, thus, it is crucial to be aware of risks but also analyse their impact on the project. To study the risk efficiently, PRINCE2 recommends taking two actions that complement each other: estimating and evaluating risk. Estimating involves analysing one risk at a time, taking into consideration:

  • The probability of the risk,
  • The impact or consequences of the risk,
  • The proximity of any threat or opportunity, and
  • How the risk can transform throughout the project

To estimate the risk, there are various techniques such as:

  • Probability trees: which calculate the likelihood of different scenarios and help project managers make informed decisions by assigning probabilities to each branch of the tree. It’s like imagining a tree where each branch represents a different outcome of a decision.
  • Expected Monetary Value (EMV): a calculation that helps project managers understand any potential financial impact but also to anticipate the average outcome of a decision based on the probabilities of different outcomes and their monetary values.
  • The risk matrix: a tool that prioritizes risks based on their likelihood and impact, helps the project manager understand which risks are most significant and require attention.
  • The impact grid: like a risk matrix, focuses on evaluating the impact of risks. It categorizes risks based on severity to prioritize mitigation efforts.

When evaluating risks, we're looking at both the good and bad possibilities for a project. This helps us understand the overall risk level. It's essentially like taking a step back and looking at the big picture.

To do this, we calculate a risk value for the entire project. This combines all the potential risks and opportunities. If the final number is positive, it means there are more opportunities than risks. On the contrary, if it's negative, there are more risks that could affect the project's success.

We use numbers to figure out the gains or losses a project might face. However, in some cases it's not just about numbers. Other factors, like strategies to handle big risks, are highly considered. Even if the numbers look bad, a skilled project manager might have ways to deal with them effectively, so the project can still move forward.


3. Assign a Responsible Person or Team

Project management involves several phases, including planning a project, starting a project, initiating a project, managing stage boundaries, controlling a stage, managing product delivery, and closing a project . As a project manager, you must understand that all your hard work in identifying and analysing risk can go to waste if you do not assign a responsible party to oversee the risks, or in some cases, a responsible person for each individual risk.

Identifying a risk can help you understand who to assign to supervise its progress. If, for example, it’s a risk of new laws and regulations, you need to have the legal team up to date. Alternatively, if it’s an environmental issue, have your sustainability or innovation team supervise it and check in regularly.

Depending on your team members’ skills and experience in the risk, you will know who should assign to take the lead. It’s extremely important to choose the right person, who will liaise with other members of the organisation (i.e., the legal team), to manage the risk and protect the project from being negatively affected by it. However, keep in mind that as a project manager, it is imperative you also keep your finger on the pulse of all risks.

4. Take Action and Treat the Risk

Once you have identified, analysed, and prioritised the risk, it’s time to act and respond to it. If it’s a risk you can utilize for your advantage, you’re good to go. An example could be in investing. If you identify a risk like currency fluctuations, instead of avoiding it, you could use strategies like currency hedging to turn it into a profit opportunity. This requires careful analysis and expertise but can result in gains if executed effectively.

If you can’t seem to control it, you need to start a risk mitigation process:

  • Estimate their impact and probability, by anticipating their likelihood to occur, you can prioritize which risks need to be immediately managed.
  • Create a plan to minimize or avoid any negative outcomes. This can involve different strategies like implementing safety measures, purchasing insurance, or adjusting project timelines.
  • Monitor and mitigate the project environment for new risks that may arise or changes in the existing ones.

Moreover, there are several effective risk mitigations strategies to implement throughout the project, these include:

  • Avoiding engaging in activities that may arise or aliment a risk to the project’s success.
  • Enhance safety and increase security to better control risk.
  • Transfer the risk to a third party, such as insurance, to cover any potential costs or financial losses.
  • If a risk can’t be avoided or transferred, it’s crucial to acknowledge and accept its existence to be prepared and accept its possible consequences.

To mitigate risks effectively, there are several tools to utilize as project managers:

  • The Risk Register, which is comprehensive document that lists all identified risks, their impact, probability, and any mitigation strategies.
  • The Risk Matrix, a graph representing the likelihood, impact of the risks to help project managers prioritize them.
  • The Action Plan, which consists of a detailed outline of strategies and steps to be taken to respond or avoid any identified risks. This plan also includes responsibilities and timelines for implementation.


5. Monitor the Risk

Once you've established risk mitigation strategies, it's essential to stay updated on any changes, minor or major, and closely monitor the implementation of solutions. This proactive approach enables the mitigation of current risks and the identification of potential new risks.

With that said, ongoing project meetings, consistent communication, and transparency are key components in this process. When everyone is informed, it makes it easier to tackle what is happening and what is to come as a project evolves.

Furthermore, ongoing communication enables clear and transparent reporting to stakeholders. This transparency also strengthens the relationship between team members and ensures prompt decision-making or adjustments to address any concerns raised by stakeholders.


The Power of Risk Management in Project Success

Effective risk management is not done just by identifying and addressing potential threats, it is a strategic approach which contributes to a successful project delivery.
Project managers can minimize any delays or issues, make timely decisions, control costs, and encourage innovation amongst team members by approaching risk management in a thoughtful, practical way.

Implementing these proactive steps will empower project managers to anticipate, assess, adapt, and respond quickly to any risk, ultimately contributing to the successful delivery of a project.


Take the first step towards effective project management and enrol on a PRINCE2 qualification with Acacia Learning today.