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5 Ways to Nip Risk in the Bud

You know what they say, “Give project risk an inch, and it will take a mile.” Well, that’s not exactly accurate, but it is true that the riskiest stage of any project is its beginning. You’ve got to “nip it in the bud” as another colloquialism states. Harry Hall of PM South advises us to do just that. Here’s how to do it in five simple steps.

Why so Risky?

Risk exposure is highest in the beginning because uncertainty is at its greatest and information is at its scarcest. Yet to be determined are specific goals for the project–deliverables, a budget, and success criteria, among other factors. Thankfully, there’s a lot the PM can do to avoid risk early.

5 Bud-Nipping Risk Avoidance Techniques

  1. Corral the Stakeholders
  2. Cement a Project Consensus
  3. Clarify Goals
  4. Identify Risks
  5. Clarify Expectations

By bringing together all project stakeholders at the outset of the project, one can avoid the kind of backlash that comes from a stakeholder retroactively imposing their expectations mid-stride. The next priority is to get everyone on the same page. That means team members, stakeholders, and project sponsors should all give the same answer when asked what purpose the project serves. This is codified in the project charter.

Another early and oft overlooked risk involves pinpointing discrete targets. Hall gives us a wonderful formula for how these goals might look on paper:

Verb -> Focus -> Target -> Deadline. For example: “Increase profits by 5% before the end of the year.”

Not surprisingly, failure to identify project risk early in the project is itself a key risk. Again, Hall is prepared with several excellent techniques for teasing out those hidden risks: from information gathering techniques like brainstorming and interviews, to document reviews and a checklist analysis. Keep probing the expectations of senior managers.

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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