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Risk and issues in Management

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I want to discuss risks and issues, because too many Project Managers use the terms interchangeably. Part of the problem with defining risks and issues is the need to record an event as either a risk or an issue, and not both. In reality, an issue, which is “an event that has already happened”, may represent a risk of another event happening “at some point in the future”. When that event happens, it ceases to be a risk and itself becomes an issue. This lifecycle of risks and issues may carry on ad infinitum causing untold confusion and work attempting to manage it, if all are recorded simultaneously. It is due to the circular nature of risks and issues, and the need to monitor and manage only once, that best practice is to record either a risk or an issue, but not both.

In project management, there are therefore these important things to note when recording risks and issues to get the distinction right: If the event referred to has already affected quality, timeline or budget, it’s an issue. If the event referred has not yet affected quality, timeline or budget, but might in the future, it’s a risk. So ask yourself the question: Has this situation affected quality, timeline or budget yet? If the answer is yes, it’s an issue, otherwise it’s a risk.

Risks are uncertainties. A risk is something that threatens the business case and, if it occurs, will need involvement of sponsor or senior management to rectify. An issue on the other hand, threatens the project plan and, usually, is something that can be handled by the core work team. In some ways, a risk is often an escalated issue as above. I encourage teams to reimagine “ISSUE” and phrase it as an “OPPORTUNITY.” People come up with small, medium and large opportunities – it helps to focus on solution and every issue is truly an opportunity to shine

Risk Management

So, who is taking the time to consider the risks and what could go wrong…what could affect starting the project? What could affect the progress or quality of the project? What if? What if? Benjamin Franklin once said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” he certainly provided timeless advice when considering risks.

What could go wrong?

What could delay you from completing your task? Do we have seasonal challenges ahead of us (weather, vacation, etc)? Do we rely on a vendor or outside element for our team to complete? Is anything happening in the market or politically that could affect the project? What if? What if? What if?

What impact will this have?

If this ‘What if?’ actually happens what would it do to the project? Would it delay the project? Would it cost more? Would it reduce quality? The key to this is quantifying the statement the best you can. X days delay, % increase in cost, failure rates, etc.

What can be done to mitigate the risk? Can delaying the project increase the quality? Can partnering with a different vendor reduce costs? Can Marketing run an awareness campaign to improve adoption? What steps can be taken to get ahead of the risk and PREVENT it from occurring.

Once an issue occurs, here are a few things you should be doing to bring it to closure:

  • Understand – What is it that happened? Who/What has been effected? Was this an identified risk and if so, what was done already to mitigate it?
  • Present & Collaborate – Get the team together (as applicable) and give a recap of the issue, to make sure everyone is on the same page. Then ask for suggestions to resolve and consider new risks from the potential resolution.
  • Decide, Communicate, & Act – Once the resolution has been agreed upon, communicate that plan to your team & other stakeholders, then act on the plan. Again, make sure you have an owner of the task/s.
  • Update – Once the issue has been resolved, communicate with the appropriate parties to confirm the issue has been resolved and new mitigation strategies to prevent a recurrence of the issue.

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