5 principles for performing good risk management

by Sylvie Edwards

A lot of organizations get into risk management a bit naively thinking that having a framework with some processes is enough and that it will be simple to ensure that we keep ahead of future risks. It does take just a touch more to make a solid foundation on which to run risk management. What does one do to ensure success with risk management on their projects?

Most people are overly preoccupied with having the right forms, logs, or register and don’t pay enough attention to other fundamental aspects of risk management. In working on quite a few projects over the years, I have gathered my experiences within the following five principles that are basic to keeping on track and on top of your risk management efforts.

Principle 1: Do start with a plan in mind

It does not take a 100-page document, just a few pages to let everyone know how you will be tailoring the organization’s risk management framework to fit the specific needs of the project at hand. Not all of the projects are the same and one framework although it might apply to all might still need some tweaks to make it a perfect fit. Having a good risk management plan template that can be easily scaled to most projects with a day or less of work is a must.

Once completed, this plan will guide the entire process while providing stakeholders with valuable insight into the risk process.

Principle 2: Make time for risk identification as it is a MUST

Do take time to slow down long enough to gather risk information which will become the foundation for all other work to follow. It is amazing what comes out of a good risk identification process.

Risk identification is for me an essential part of the entire process and not taking time to do it correctly can only spell trouble later on. Think of it this way, a few more hours of identification will more than likely cut your need for last-minute workarounds by more than half, leaving less to chance and luck. So, would you not rather be prepared than leave it till the stars suddenly align? Do take this time to put down a solid starting point.

Principle 3: Once you have it mapped, follow it

We spend time in creating the best-looking risk register yet once the steam is full ahead on the project we don’t rely on or keep it up. Why have you done all this work only to look like a headless chicken at the first sign of a risk? You have documented it, it will happen.

Use your risk register as the workhorse for your risk efforts. After identification, analysis, and response development go back to it constantly to ensure that you document and put down everything you are experiencing around those particular risks. New risks will pop up, secondary risks will arise from our responses yet, we are there to capture it all.

Principle 4: Don’t just manage line by line, remain open and vigilant to the changes around you

As good as your risk register is and as reliable as it seems, you still need to go beyond it. You cannot simply go line by line waiting for something to come true, not happen, or to change. It has been my experience, over and over again that biggest risk for most projects will often come from events, not on your risk register.

Going forward you need to capture unexpected risks, you need to be able to predict them better. Sorry, I have looked for some time now, and there are no reliable Ouija boards or crystal balls to consult when it comes to risks. If you find one, I am open to giving it a try.

Principle 5: For best future results, document how this one worked out

Finally, in order to start “mastering” risk management, you need to consider lessons learned as part of the overall risk process itself. Once you have your tools in place, you need to consistently apply them up until the project comes to an end, documenting how it went along the way. Linking the overall risk management process to developing lessons learned can only make us learn better, so we don’t repeat as easily the errors of the past.

It is one thing to do and another to do it well based on our past expertise. You are least likely to go wrong if you can work with a foundation of knowledge rather than from scratch entirely.

With these five principles in mind, you put more of the odds in your favor, and you build knowledge to last for projects to come. Do you have any principles to add, tell me what you think? Like, Comment, and Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!


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