5th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Chapter 11: Diagrammatic Techniques for Identifying Risks

1.   Introduction

On January 27, 1967, three astronauts training for the first flight of the Apollo Program, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee, were killed in a fire that broke out during what was supposed to be a routine test of their launch vehicle.    In the investigation of the causes of the fire, when asked what caused the fire, Astronaut Frank Borman, said it was ultimately a “failure of imagination.”   The engineers designing the Apollo spacecraft were well aware of the dangers of space, but had not sufficiently considered the risks that could occur when testing the space vehicle on the ground.    That “failure of imagination” cost the lives of three American astronauts and set the space program back 20 months while the design flaws that caused the fire were identified and corrected.   

2.  Identify Risks–Most of the Complex PM Processes

The process 11.1 Identify Risks is one of the most complex of all project management processes, in that the inputs come from almost all of the knowledge areas in addition to risk management.   It also is complex with regards the number of tools & techniques available for the project manager to identify risks.    The reason why the process is complex is because identifying risks involves a lot of teamwork, a lot of imagination, and that is why I am devoting this post to tools & techniques which can help clarify the various sources of risk and how they may impact the other constraints on the project.

All of these techniques are used in conjunction with the brainstorming technique mentioned as the first tool & technique of identifying risks.    Note that many of these tools & techniques are identical to those used in another knowledge area, that of quality management.   

3.  Diagrammatic Tools & Techniques

a.   Cause and effect

These are also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams because of their shape–they are useful in identifying risks.    The risks to the project are organized according to the source of the risk, and each of these sources are placed as the “bones” along the “spine” or base of the diagram.    Then under each of these sources, the various risks that come from these sources are listed vertically from off of the various “bones” of the diagram.    In quality management, you are looking for the source of a defect which has already occurred; in risk management, you are looking for the source of problems which have not yet occurred, but might.

b.  System or process flow charts

These are useful for diagramming the various element of a system to see how they causally relate.    These are useful in determining if a risk occurs, what the effect will be on the other constraints on the project such as scope, time, cost and quality.   

c.   Influence diagrams

Another way of seeing how elements relate is through an influence diagram.   However, rather than just showing how elements causally relate, as in a simple flow chart, you can show other relationships between the elements such as their time order.     These are useful for identifying when in the project certain risks are more likely to occur than at other times.

In all three cases, the diagrams used are simply a tool to help people visualize complex interactions.    As such, they should be used in conjunction with brainstorming, where the project team members sit together with stakeholders or with subject matter experts, depending on the corporate culture.   

The next tool & technique is SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.    This goes beyond identifying merely negative risks (i.e., threats) to be avoided, mitigated, transferred or, if nothing else can be done, accepted, and takes risk management to the next level by identifying positive risks (i.e., opportunities) that can be exploited, enhanced, shared, or as with negative risks, accepted.    



2 Responses

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