5 Tips to Simplify Project Risk Management

When you think about project risk management, there can be a seemingly endless number of possible risks to any project. From the small and minor to the large and scary. From the potential asteroid hitting or widespread power outage, to the people from a specific department being too busy doing their real job to do the project work on time, there is the possibility of a long list.

Here’s five tips to simplify project risk management for greater project success.

1. Do Not ‘Manage’ All Your Project Risks

Project risk management allows organizations and project teams to increase the predictability of outcomes and realize more value from a project. Tailoring the risk management processes to the characteristics of the organization enables Project Managers to better identify and manage risks that could impact project results.

Our definition of ‘manage’ is to develop both a mitigation and a contingency plan for the risk. A mitigation plan reduces the probability of the occurrence or the impact of the risk, and the contingency plan helps to effectively respond if the risk event happens and impacts the project.

“You simply don’t want to waste time on risks that have a low potential for happening and a small impact on the project.”

Project risks are events that may typically have a negative impact on your project objectives and by extension, can have a negative impact on your organization’s or client’s strategy and initiatives. (See #5 below for risks as opportunities.) A risk is something that is uncertain and if it happens, will have an impact on any of the expected outcomes of the project. Consider the two main aspects of a risk. One, it will have an impact on the project and two, it may or may not happen at all.

There is no way a Project Manager would want to manage and work on all project risks – you simply don’t want to waste time on risks that have a low potential for happening and a small impact on the project if they do happen. Each risk then, needs to be easily assessed so that you can actually work on the priority risks, while other risks you simply ‘accept’ as being something you will have to manage if and when they happen.

2. Remove Risk Frustration and Guess Work

Handing risk is not an exact science especially considering a risk is something that may, might, could, probably happen. By the very definition of a risk, any discussion around the situation is speculation, guesswork or conjecture.

“Your facilitation skills and ability to coax information from some people may be tested at times.”

A word about what makes project risk management difficult or potentially frustrating. The concept of a risk assessment involves a discussion about something that might happen. The subjective analysis and discussion regarding the ‘if’ and the impact on the project, it what will be most interesting. As a Project Manager facilitating the discussion, try not to stifle the conversation. It is best to go with the opinion of the person(s) whose area or expertise is involved with the risk, or who represents or has the responsibility for, the area or group of people. In the end, they should be the one to take the lead on the work of mitigation and contingency planning.

Your facilitation skills and ability to coax information from some people may be tested at times. Some people may not want to engage with an event that is “only a possibility”, so why bother. Also, if the risk is registered, they may not want to be tagged with the extra work of mitigation and contingency planning.

3. Assess All Risks

You need a way to rank the project risks to better understand if they need your attention. A simplified and effective approach to project risk assessment is to compare one risk against the other, with respect to two factors, probability and impact.

Regardless of whether you add a color like red, yellow, orange or green, or whether you categorize risks as high, medium or low, it is best to have each one compared to all the others, in order to see the specific ranking of the highest to the lowest. That way, it becomes very clear as to the top risk to work on, the next one after that, and then the next one after that, and so on.

Here’s the concern. You’ve recorded all the project risks, but you want to devote your time to the priority or highest risks and not the lowest risks. You need to either, begin at the top of your risk log and start to work your way down until your time runs out, or decide that after collecting the risks they will be prioritized and you or any member of your team will not plan mitigation and contingency for any risk that is below a certain level.

When determining the level of risk tolerance and prioritization as part of your project risk management plan, be sure to get the agreement with your client sponsor or the PMO. Gaining a clear understanding will allow you to have a very specific risk management plan. The project risk assessment and prioritization level needs to be flexible depending on the sheer number of risks collected and the amount of risk you want to run with for the project. It may also depend on the organization and the culture of risk adherence or neglect.

“Take the time to fully understand the concern / risk before you work together to gauge the probability and the impact.”

4. Take Action and Manage Risk Discussions

Be open to risk discussions from all project team members. The project risk factors will depend on the type of project you are managing. Record all risks, negative and positive and take the time to fully understand the concern / risk before you work together to gauge the probability and the impact. This is time well spent as it will determine if the risk is something that really needs a response regarding mitigation or contingency planning, with owners assigned and the risk to be actively managed.

“If you are able to prepare the project mitigation and contingency plans on all your ‘ranked’ risks in the early stages of your project, you will be in a much better position.”

Take action and analyze the ranked project risks. This means spending time developing the potential effort to reduce the risk so it has less chance of happening (mitigation) or what to do about the project if the risk does happen (contingency). If you are able to prepare the project mitigation and contingency plans on all your ‘ranked’ risks in the early stages of your project, you will be in a much better position to react, should a risk event actually occur.

Remember if the risk has a 100% probability of happening and will impact the project, then it no longer is a risk. If a risk is going to happen and it was not planned for, and it will impact your project plan (scope, schedule, cost, resources, quality…) then you need to handle it right now. It needs to be recorded as an issue, tracked and managed with required specific action items and ownership.

Over the project timeframe, watch for accepted changes to the original plan. Changes to the plan may bring a different priority or probability and impact to some existing risks. Change may also help new risks to appear. Be ready to adapt to changes, with a regular project risk assessment review with your project team. It will help you to keep a better handle on the risks and develop mitigation and contingency plans as needed.

5. Risks as Opportunities? Probably Not.

Opportunities are those ‘risks’ or events that might happen and would actually benefit the project. An example would be a project that requires the purchase of materials or resources in another country. If the dollar buying power increases in the country where you are purchasing, then the project budget will be better off. Most projects have only a very few ‘risks as opportunities’, if any at all. When a risk is recognized that could have a positive effect, they often come with a low probability and wouldn’t typically be in the list of ranked risks that require a plan.

“Seeing risk as a value enhancer, requires creativity and vision.”

As PMI states in the Standards for Risk Management in Portfolios, Programs and Projects 2019, “seeing risk as a value enhancer, requires creativity and vision.” That makes it that much more difficult to grasp than the usual threat that a risk can bring. If you hear of something that might be in your control to make happen that would have a positive impact on the project, it may be worth your time to try to make it happen.


As you get better with project risk management, through diligence, persistence and hard work, you will be better at “seeing around corners” and managing events that may impact your project. With experience you will be more proactive regarding the priority project risks, and become more successful delivering your projects.

Discover how Traxidy helps Project Managers to easily assess, prioritize, monitor, collaborate and report on project risks across the project lifecycle – for better project outcomes and greater success. Learn more about the Traxidy project risk assessment tools and project risk management features here.

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