Issues and risks…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can manage a project without either of these creeping up on us? But the reality is they can…and they do. Both of them, in fact, show up on every project we manage, and we need to have a process in place to identify, recognize, document, track and report on these throughout the project engagement or our project will be filled with fires that we continue to fight week in and week out. The tracking and management of these two critical entities on your projects is an absolute must when you’re trying to ensure the long-term satisfaction of your customer. And it’s also something that we often easily overlook – or at least we don’t do a very good job at it.
Issues and risks defined
An issue is a function associated with the project that may impede the continuation, impact the cost or manpower or otherwise adversely affect the project. An issue is something real, something that has been encountered and must be dealt with.
A risk is a potential issue that needs mitigation strategy to avoid impacting a project’s success potential. A risk is an uncertainty with some degree of likeliness to happen.
Managing the project risks and issues
Which is more critical….issues or risks? In my opinion both are equally important though issues are more ongoing and risks are more predefined and you need to keep them in front of all the stakeholders so you can be prepared to mitigate and/or avoid them as you see them coming (if you see them coming…and that is definitely the hope and goal). It doesn’t really matter too much how you manage issues and risks, just that you manage them. It really doesn’t matter if you separate them out either – just so you DO actually manage them. Issues and risks are not something the project manager makes note of and then tucks them away somewhere on a sheet of paper.
Remember, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them. How true! And if we don’t document issues and their impacts to the project as well as risks and their potential impacts to the project and likeliness to happen, then both types of these project ‘bumps in the road’ are going to hit us and they are going to catch us completely off guard.
Keep the lists in front of everyone
So how do we manage issues and risks on a project? There are probably 100 different ways and every good PMO should have a template and process for managing issues and risks. The key is to document them, bring them to the customer’s attention and to the attention of everyone on your team and make a discussion of the issues and risks an on-going topic on your weekly status call. Make it a recurring piece of your weekly status report. Make sure that it is in front of every critical participant and decision-maker for the project every week. An issue that slips through the cracks can’t be dealt with and a risk that is ignored cannot be prepared for and mitigated.
The role of the customer in issue and risk management
The customer is often your best friend when attempting to resolve issues and mitigate risks. Remember, this is their project, too. They actually want nothing more than for you and your team to be very successful and they’ll often do whatever is necessary to help achieve that success. It is financially in their best interests to see that happen. So, be sure that they are always aware of issues and risks as they arise and make them an active player in issue resolution and risk mitigation. It’s rarely beneficial to hide issues or bad news from the customer and they’ll never truly understand the value and hard work required of the project manager if they think your job is too easy.
The bottom line is that the better your process for managing risks and issues is the more likely you are to effectively and efficiently monitor them – and attack and eliminate them. A solid, repeatable, formalized process for managing issues and risks is important to the health of your projects. How you do it is up to you – for me on most projects it’s a combined list on a spreadsheet that is basically an extension of the weekly status report. It’s not so important how you do it – it’s just important that you do it on every project.
Please share your thoughts on risk and issue management. How do you like to manage risks and issues? Through formalized software? A spreadsheet?