6th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Process 11.2 Identify Risks: Tools and Techniques

Identification of risks is something which requires the project manager to cast the net far and wide in order to find sources that will give information on potential risks to the project.   These range from the usual “generic” tools and techniques of expert judgment and meetings, to those more specific to this risk management knowledge area, especially in the area of data analysis. Expert Judgment

Experts should be consulted who have expertise in individual project risks (especially those who were involved previously in similar projects) and those stakeholders with a grasp of risk management who can weigh in on the overall project risks based on their expertise in the field.  Data Gathering

There are many ways of gathering data regarding risk:  through written documents (checklists), through interviews with individual stakeholders, and group meetings with project team members and stakeholders in order to brainstorm regarding potential sources of risk.

  • Brainstorming–ideas are generated under the guidance of a facilitator either in a free-form fashion or by using more structured techniques.   A particular useful starting point for these discussions is the Risk Breakdown Structure, which categorizes risk by its potential source.
  • Checklists–this is using lists of potential risks that were developed based on previous similar projects.   Of course, even if a previous project was similar, care must be taken to account for the differences by going over all risks on the checklist to make sure they actually apply in the current project.
  • Interviews–conversations with stakeholders and subject matter experts in the field of risk management can be used to get contributions to the list of potential risks on the project.  Data Analysis

  • Root cause analysis–just as root cause analysis can be used to discover the underlying causes that lead to an actual problem (a defect), it can also be used to identify the causes of a potential problem.   You start with the potential problem, such as cost overruns and schedule delays, and go back to find out those factors which might lead to this problem.
  • Assumption and constraint analysis–a project is conceived with a set of assumptions and within a series of constraints (schedule, cost, quality, scope, etc.).  The validity of these assumptions and constraints are analyzed to determine which pose a potential risk to the project.
  • SWOT analysis–if you take positive and negative factors both internal to and external to the project organization, you will get the strengths/weaknesses (internal), and opportunities/threats (external) to the project, which is wear the acronym SWOT comes from.
  • Document analysis–project documents, particularly the project charter, are analyzed to get high-level risks on the current project, and project files from previous similar projects are also analyzed to get the individual risks from those projects.  Interpersonal and Team Skills

Especially when using the data gathering technique of brainstorming, it requires special skills to be a facilitator of one those sessions because you have to encourage an open mode of discussion where ideas will not be shot down when given by any member of the discussion group, thus encouraging creativity in the process.  Prompt Lists

This is a predetermined list of risk categories.   A checklist is a list of actual risks from previous projects; the prompt list just gives the risk categories, and is a useful tool to be used in conjunction with the brainstorming technique mentioned in the paragraph above.  Meetings

Like putting together the WBS, putting together a list of potential risks requires brainstorming which is best done in the setting of a group meeting.

The next post will cover the outputs of this process.


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