Risk Management: How to Minimize the Threats That Can Derail Your Project’s Success
“Risk Management (def.) – The process of evaluating, identifying, and acting on threats and opportunities that may impact the success of a project.”
Here I am explicitly talking about threats, because the reality is that risks threaten the success of almost any software project. How do we mitigate these threats? First, there are two points in time to consider when planning for threats to your project:
- Before a project starts
- During project execution
- Before a Project Starts
Identifying as many known threats as possible, and accounting for the reality that unknown risks will exist, before a project begins is most optimal because it is then that you have an opportunity to determine how to handle the same. This then shapes the constraints/expectations (scope, budget, timeline, etc.) of the project. If you can plan the effects of threats into the constraints/expectations of the project, those become part of the success of the project. Below are the practices we employ.
Before contract, we assign a Solution Architect to work with Sales and Customers to assess the need. We look to understand how well the customer knows what they want, the complexity of working with them (are they a fast moving startup or a complicated enterprise), and who from the customer will be participating and their capabilities. Additionally, we look to understand technical challenges and unknowns. Our estimation approach takes into account the reality that ambiguity and uncertainty exists and uses statistical methods to create an appropriate amount of contingency.
Our PMO reviews all Estimates, Proposals, SOWs, and Change Orders before being delivered to customers. Upon review, we take a Project Manager’s view and ask these questions:
“Am I set-up for success?”
“Can I manage this successfully?”
…and collaborate with the Client Partner and Solution Architects to ensure that the answer to both of those questions is… “Yes!”
We offer a Human-Centered Design (HCD) approach to technology solutions that closes the gap of uncertainty for technical solutions before implementation. Our approach brings form to the fuzzy front end of innovation. We use design thinking to help teams create a high-level shared vision of the future state of their product and customer experience. We engage stakeholders early and often, connect customer journeys supporting technology and services, and align expectations within the organization. The critical point is that all of this is performed before the implementation of a solution. With this approach, we can identify, mitigate, and eliminate many of the threats you otherwise will not discover until it’s too late to recover without affecting constraints/expectations.
Note: Also, see the section below. In summary, this approach is integral to how we deliver throughout.
During Project Execution
The reality is that we will have to deal with unknown threats during project execution. Hopefully, this is accounted for in some capacity in the constraints/expectations of the project, but that will not be enough. We will still have to continue to identify new threats and react to unknown risks. We must be prepared for the likelihood that threats are always lurking. Here are a few fundamental tenets of our approach:
Human-Centered Design (HCD)
First, reference the ‘Blueprint’ section above. While that section speaks to how we can eliminate threats before implementation begins, the same HCD approach is integral to our approach to the design and development of features and functionality throughout implementation, continuing to tighten the gap of uncertainty, further minimizing threats.
We strive to break-up work into small, manageable batches of work (e.g., Sprints) frequently delivered, along with employing feedback-loops (e.g., Testing, user Demos, Retrospectives and re-estimation of Work Remaining) early in the development of a solution and throughout. This enables early identification and resolution of known and unknown threats that may have otherwise been identified and resolved much later in development when effects can be much more profound.
We believe in a mindset of transparency, and the items mentioned above depend-on and promote it. This mindset encourages escalations, tough conversations, and communication of potential issues in a manner such that threats are discussed and resolved sooner rather than later, again, minimizing effects that could be much worse if discussed later in development when effects are more profound.
The impact of what is communicated is often not intuitive or taken for granted, and the effects of the same can “get lost in the cracks” and realized too late. We assign project leaders that have the experience and knowledge appropriate for the engagement they are leading to comprehend the future effects of what they observe and hear.
Key takeaway: Always be on the lookout for threats to project success, and quickly and persistently strive to minimize their impact.