Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

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Visualising risks and issues

Risk Management - Image from bigthink

One of the key tasks of a Project Manager or Programme Manager is to identify and control and mitigate issues and risks in projects or programmes. Traditionally these are done using an issue number as an identifier and using plenty of text to explain the context of the risk, how you identify it, estimating and evaluation methods, plans to mitigate, how you implement the actions and communicate with stakeholders. If you are lucky, there may be some risk maps that outline the risk assessment process and some graphs, if the risk is of financial nature. Again if you are lucky, you are utilising some web based mechanism that has an instant ability to raise and assign risks and allow dynamic reporting. More often than not, it is actually a spread sheet in someone’s laptop!

I have been thinking … what is the purpose for having a Risk and Issue Management process? The main aim is communication. You want all the stakeholders to be aware of the risks, allow the Senior Responsible Owners (SRO) to make sound judgements on the level of risk the programme or project should carry and the teams to know what to do when one of these risk events come to fruition. Human brain isn’t really programmed for reading huge amounts of text to understand context in an efficient manner. A picture tells a thousand words is true. When you think about traditional risk registers … are they really helpful in some situations?

I have identified some of the issues with the risk registers. Do we now draw pictures instead of writing the details? No, I am not advocating that. You need the details for implementation purposes, which cannot be ignored. How do you achieve the “communicate” bit?

One obvious area that comes to me is recording of risks spatially. In a lot of programmes, different projects are commissioned that deal with areas that overlap, or have interests in achieving different outcomes in the same area. An appropriate use of spatial context can give the stakeholders and SRO a good understanding of risk patterns over specific areas. There may be multiple projects coming up against similar problems in the same geographic area. This is a likely situation in a lot of disaster management and recovery scenarios.

Another area is likely to be temporal reporting. There may be specific risks associated with specific times during the day, week or month. Some candidates are service oriented programmes that deliver IT services. There may be specific times of day that have spikes associated with it. Some social programmes may also be candidate for similar communication strategies. Examples are risks of anti-social behaviours, accidents etc.
While I have been thinking about some of these risk communication challenges, I don’t think I have it totally sorted in my mind. I am keen to understand what techniques you use to achieve this. Any comments most welcome.
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