Addressing the common project risks and remedies

While risk management is integral to other project management processes, project definition and planning must proceed before fundamental risks can be analyzed. Create or obtain the essential foundation documents for your project: 1) A sponsor-approved charter that outlines your project's schedule, scope and resource goals (these are targets NOT estimates), 2) A preliminary project plan document that clearly describes the work steps (project tasks), dependencies, schedule, and budget, 3) A list of assumptions, and 4) A list of stakeholders that will be working, and are qualified to work, on the project.

Consider the common project risks and remedies risks in the table below. Some may be unique to the technology, team, or customers for your systems, and these will require special consideration. Many risks, however, are common and might be encountered in slightly different forms on many projects. When risk events occur, they generally threaten one or more aspects of the "triple constraint" that defines your project: scope, schedule, and resources. Scope is what you are trying to accomplish. Scope risks include failure to successfully perform a specific task or more pervasive issues of quality, performance, reliability, and compliance with applicable regulation or policy. Tasks whose work product's failure to comply with specifications, or whose failure to achieve defined outcomes would substantially harm the project are sources of scope risk. Schedule is when significant events are desired to occur. Schedule risks tend to be found among tasks on the project's critical path, the tasks with the least amount of "slack" or forgiveness if they start late or exceed their schedule estimates. Review the definitions, estimates, and resource requirements of critical path tasks to identify potential schedule risks. Resources are the people, money, and materials needed to complete the project. Tasks that consume scarce or large amounts of resources (people, money, or materials) are sources of resource risks.

REMEDIES FOR SCOPE RISKS REMEDIES FOR SCHEDULE RISKS REMEDIES FOR RESOURCES RISKS
To make early detection easier, decompose complex tasks into smaller tasks with clearly defined work products and quality gates. Add contingency time (lags) to the schedule at key points on the critical path to act as a "shock absorber" to dampen normal schedule fluctuations. Review back-up procedures. Back up software and data regularly and comprehensively. Attempt to restore from back-ups periodically.
Shift tasks that use new tools or techniques to occur earlier in the project. Early experience allows earlier detection of problems and refinement of processes. Consider duplicate parallel activities for high- risk schedule tasks. For example, transmit a proposal prior to a submission deadline by sending two sets of proposals via two couriers using different routes. Identify alternative sources. Split large orders between two vendors. If one vendor runs into trouble, the other may still provide half of what you need. It may get you better customer service, too.
Acknowledge the risk of deferring defect detection. Build in tasks for early reviews and testing of key work products. Break high-risk tasks into smaller pieces that provide early feedback if they are not completed on time. Assign each team member a "buddy" responsible for fulfilling his or her role in the event of a short-term absence.
Recommend trimming borderline functions early. If you can't eliminate or defer a risky component, prototype it as soon as possible to provide early warning of trouble and increased options. Consider swapping resources so that your most skilled team members work on critical- path tasks. This decreases the potential variability introduced by learning curves or lack of experience. Establish a budget contingency. If you can, set aside some portion (~10%) of the budget for unanticipated tasks and expenses, rather than fully committing all assigned resources.
If a particular function or feature represents a disproportionate amount of risk, negotiate that component to a subsequent version of the system, or defer implementation of that component (if possible) until other components are successfully completed and integrated. Review estimates and definitions of critical- path tasks. If one item on the critical path slips, all subsequent items come under pressure. Identifying potential problems early can allow reassignment of resources or reconsideration of approach. Build/buy spares. If you need one hundred workstations, consider ordering an extra two or three and having them configured at the same time. Hot spares can facilitate adding new staff and recovering quickly from equipment failure.
Set reasonable expectations and plan to meet them. Unrealistic goals are the biggest source of project risk. Look for external dependencies along the critical path (e.g., computer components to be received). Explore paying to expedite delivery to relieve schedule pressure. Consider bringing in outside experts to assist with complex tasks and mentor your staff early in the project.

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