Mitigating Risks: The Key to a Stronger Project

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on April 10, 2009 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Project Management

A good project manager tries to keep a project on track. But no project is flawless and there are always elements that threaten to disrupt, derail, or even destroy the project. That’s why, at the very beginning and at strategic points throughout the project, a good project manager needs to think the worst… and then mitigate against it.

Project managers need to be optimists in order to plan a lofty goal and keep everyone working towards it. But they also need to be pessimists to try and come up with the top reasons why a project might be derailed, and part of their planning needs to consider how to minimize or eliminate those derailing elements.

If the derailing element could be a person, the challenge can be political. How do you effectively keep the person from negatively influencing the project? There are so many ways that a person could potentially harm a project – even without them realizing they are doing it! One classic example is the high-level executive who swoops in at the three quarters mark on the project only to give a long, scope-changing list of things they don’t like about the project. Of course, you can’t keep them from doing this, but you can try to get their buy-in and approval and feedback earlier, or try to get even higher level feedback earlier (which tends to reduce the amount of feedback they want to give).

If the derailing element could be an economic or industry evolution factor, the challenge is ultimately a best-for-the-business decision. If you anticipate a rough economic ride throughout your project, you need to continually sell the decision-makers on why the project is good for their business. This takes sales presentation skills and expert objection handling.

If the derailing element could be a regulatory issue, the challenge is legal. Get the legal department involved early and often to revisit the changing landscape of the project in order to stay on top of any problems you think you might face.

There are many reasons that a project could become derailed, and I’ve only listed 3 common reasons here. The best thing any project manager can do is sit down before the project and ask themselves:
1. What could possibly go wrong?
2. What can I do to avoid that now?
… and then they need to revisit this periodically through the project.

You won’t eliminate every risk, and you won’t even foresee every risk, but your projects will run more smoothly because you put in the effort at the beginning to mitigate risks.

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