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8 Techniques used to identify risks in project management

Whilst it’s recognized that risk management is integral part of project management – determining what risks may occur can still be a challenging process – for many its confusing – just where do you start?

The purpose of risk management is to identify risks that may impact project objectives – in most cases there are a number of sources that can be identified coupled with a number of techniques that could be used to identify them.

In this list below we offer up some of the common techniques used to identify risks.

1. Checklists

Where your organization utilizes developed processes in determining risks and issues you may well find that your initial risk register is driven by a questionnaire or checklist. This can be an effective method, often initiated by a PMO office or corporate project governance process. Usually these have been developed overtime and look for specific weaknesses in the project and its planning.

2. Peer reviews

Whilst for some it can be a tad unsettling to expose your plans and schedules to one of your peers (another project manager, program manager etc) this can often be outweighed by the insight gained. Once you’ve found someone to review your project and offer a critique its best to articulate exactly what you’re looking for in terms of the results of the review. Peer reviews don’t normally follow a process merely you pass your plans to your colleague for review and they comment accordingly – for a more formal peer review you can utilize techniques such as the Delphi technique.

3. Brainstorming

This is arguably the most common method – gathering project stakeholders together and with a tool such as a whiteboard develop ideas around what risks could impact you. Whilst this isn’t always systematic (or all encompassing) it does offer a workable method that delivers results.

4. Cause & Effect Diagrams

Cause and Effect diagrams (Ishikawa diagrams). This is a tool used to identify factors resulting in an overall effect. This technique can be effective as in supports grouping of issues – for example resource, materials, methods etc for those unfamiliar with the technique it may take some initial training.

5. Assumption Analysis

This is a technique, which can be utilized by the whole team, where all of the assumptions made to support the project are listed then critiqued highlighting areas of potential risk. During this activity assumptions can be deemed as valid, invalid. As a process this can be carried out throughout the project lifecycle.

6. Influence diagrams

These are a graphical tool used to understand and articulate influence and problems highlighting areas of uncertainty which can then be reviewed for areas of risk.

7. Delphi Technique

Utilizing a review from a structured group (the project team) placed under a formal critique the Delphi technique is a more formalized peer (multiple stakeholder) review combining ‘expert’ opinion under rigorous and structured questioning in an attempt to find weaknesses within the project planning and reach a consensus view on risk.

8. Decision Tree analysis

Decision tree analysis is a tool used to help select a course of action They can also help inform the project group on possible risks and issues associated with a specific course of action. Decision trees map possible options available highlighting results that may be unknown. Once all decision points are known the resultant diagram can be evaluated and each decision scored in terms of outcome and risk. This can help the project team better plan having a better holistic view of possible outcomes of decisions made.

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