Posted by: Gilad Lev-Shamur | September 1, 2009

Risk Management – for real life PMs

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Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash

 (George S. Patton)

One thing I can assure you: the only expected thing in your project will be the unexpected one. You can work on the most detail project plan, create a fantastic detail schedule and even create a well documented risk management plan. Unless you will be willing to accept changes, your life as project manager will be hard.

So why bother? Why should go through this never finished risk identification, analysis and control processes? Honestly, it’s a good question (but this is relevant to other discussion). Nevertheless, as all the project management profession, it doesn’t promise your project success. It’s just raising your success percentage.

Let’s assume we are in ideal world. You got your customer demands, gather your project team, motivate them, prepared a detailed project plan and you are ready for action. In our ideal world, these processes and the following execution phase, will progress smoothly. ‘Because we do not have surprises’. Every one reading these lines, who was actually involved in a project, know its nonsense.

So why we -and by that I mean also to myself-  are never control the “risk and control” process of our projects? Why we tend to neglect it or do it just for the record, despite the fact that it’s the major difference between a person who read about project management and a real project manager?

Our lives improve only when we take chances – and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.

(Walter Anderson)

Few reasons:

  • We are biased by our nature– we tend to believe in our well defined plans. We have a problem to see all the bad things which can shift our project from its course.
  • The bureaucracy of the process– no matter how you will do it, its demand a lot of work, usually without any immediately results. Risk identification process, analysis, mitigation plans, contingency plans and so on. Everything needs to be documented. Everything seems exhausting.
  • Do not talk about ‘bad things’– I notice this more than once. Some PMs avoid talking about possible problems (risks) in their projects. Why? They might think its make them looks bad, as someone not controlling his project. They miss one of the risk management targets: give your sponsors the real view of your project, so they will be able to help you when you really need it.

Without getting into the details of risk management process, here are few things you can do to improve it:

  •  Make sure you will allocate the appropriate time for risk ‘talking’ every project meeting.
  • Join everyone for the risk identification process. Sometime, ideas come from the most unexpected source.
  • Do not ignore risks just because you think their likelihood or impact is low. Its a risk…
  • Make sure every risk has its owner.
  • Do not use your contingency budget for additional scope demands.
  • Do not use the risk process for managing the project. Certain things are not risks.
  • Try to find dedicated person to take ownership on the process.
  • Finally, just do it. Most of the time you will work for the process, but sometimes its might work for you.


Good luck!



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  1. excellent article

  2. Interestingly written and very correct!

    • Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Nice article indeed. For my opinion real PMs should adopt the Agile methodology, or part of it, for risk management. Using this pronceples, risks can be identified in real time, analyzed and have the right prioriy according to the real cuirrent point in the project lifetime.

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