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How to Keep Your Risk Management Genuinely Simple


Author William Gaddis once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The best project managers understand project management and know how to keep things simple. Some project managers are guilty of using complex risk management processes and lingo that few people understand. Team members finds themselves lost. They may be thinking, “What planet is this guy from? Sheesh!!”

Risk management does not have to be complicated. Really.

Allow me to share seven simple ways to manage enterprise, portfolio, program, and project risks. You can even use these steps to handle personal risks too.

  1. Define your goals. Benjamin E. Mays is believed to have said, “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach.” Why do you get out of bed every morning? What are your physical, financial, health, relational, and work-related goals? What are your program and project goals? Living a life that matters begins with clear purpose and clear-define goals. Put your goals in writing.
  2. Determine what may help or hinder your efforts. Now consider the things that may help you achieve your goals. What opportunities can you exploit or enhance? Additionally think about threats, the things that may hinder your progress. What is constraining you? What resources, skills, or knowledge are you and your team members lacking?
  3. Prioritize the risks. We cannot, nor should we try to, respond to every opportunity or threat. The project manager’s aim is not to eliminate all risks; there will always be some residual risk. Rather, focus on the things that matter most. The majority of your results come from responding to your top risks.
  4. Develop response plans. Once we understand the most significant opportunities and threats, we must determine how we will respond. How will you avoid, mitigate, or transfer threats? Can you enhance or share opportunities? What are your contingency and fallback plans? Who are the risk owners that will develop these plans and monitor the risks? Don’t make these mistakes!
  5. Look at the results. As we execute our response plans, we should examine the results. Are you achieving your goals? What tweaks do you need to make? Are there preventative measures you need to take?
  6. Ask what’s different. Good risk management requires periodic reviews. Why? Stuff happens—things change, such as stakeholders, requirements, and team members. New risks emerge. Without reviews, you become vulnerable to unexpected events.
  7. Conduct lessons learned. After every project, review how you identified, evaluated, responded to, and monitored risks. What could you do in future projects to make it easier and get better results?

Do we sometimes need a more robust risk management approach? Perhaps. When things are complex, we may choose to add more advanced risk management techniques or we may consult individuals with specialized knowledge. For many situations, however, these simple steps will be all we need. Start simple; expand only as needed. Best wishes!

Additional Project Management Tips

Keeping things simple requires that PMs be intentional. Learn more tips about using your interpersonal skills to drive better results in The Intentional Project Manager Course. In less than an hour, you’ll learn 12 reasons risk management can become ineffective and what you can do about each, 10 practical ways to improve your meetings, and 3 decision methods and when to use each, to name a few. See you on the inside.


For more brilliant insights, check out Harry’s blog: The Project Risk Coach

About Harry Hall

Harry Hall is a coach, speaker, teacher, and blogger in Macon, Georgia. He’s led projects and implemented PMOs for General Electric, IKON Office Solutions, and the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. Harry received his B.S. and Masters from the University of Georgia. He has certifications as a project management professional (PMP), risk management professional (PMI-RMP), and has an associate in risk management (ARM-E). When Harry is not conducting project management workshops and helping project managers prepare for their PMP and PMI-RMP exams, he enjoys gardening, golf, guitar, and teaching others how to speak Southern. You can get Harry’s project management tips, tools, and techniques at The Project Risk Coach by clicking the little "house" button directly below.

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