One simple question sure to start an honest risk discussion

How do you successfully and honestly prompt your stakeholders to open about their risk perspectives and perceptions? There has been, in recent years, a lot of discussion about how valid risk identification and analyses truly are to project management and its success. I firmly believe that if you don’t ask, you can’t know. Why not start with a simple question that can yield a lot of answers.

In the course of doing risk identification, we can often make our questionnaire too narrow or wide, which will lead to us not gathering as much or deep enough information. This can have the resulting effect of us being left open or vulnerable to areas of risk we have not thought of or even envisioned with the team. In general, most organizations tend to view risk identification as a much more involved process than it needs to be.

For those routinely performing risk management in the course of their project work, you will be aware of several tools that can be used in the context of risk identification, most will give you good results while others can be very biased or limiting and not generate what you need to continue with risk analysis.

For years, I have used a varied selection of brainstorming methods. I try to use methods that are tailored to the specific teams and stakeholders I am dealing with on that project. A quick search on-line can yield more than 250 different methods of performing brainstorming. There are lots of techniques to try and consider for your projects.

Have you tried brainwriting (where people brainstorm by writing their ideas on post-it notes without saying a word) or the de Bono six hats technique (where a change of color in a party hat dictates how you need to think of the problem at hand)? These exercises, to name a few, can work well if they are properly facilitated and managed, with a good understanding of the make-up of the groups you are using them with. Certain groups lend themselves better to these exercises while others can “clam up” or differ with a more vocal member of the group. This will open potential blind spots where risks can reside or hide without being detected for lack of being spoken or documented.

Interviewing leads to better and stronger data, in most cases, but it can be time-consuming and again very biased depending on who is in the interviewee seat or worst who does not get to be in that seat. You can expect to need more consolidation of your data as well as more analysis before you have results. Your information is only as good as your question set is and can be restrictive based on the pool of individuals used to gather it. Forget one person with specific insight, and you might miss out on areas of risks altogether.

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