Risky Business (So to Speak)

Risky Business (So to Speak)

Control Costs. Meet Schedules. Manage Risks. Maintain Sanity.

Those four phrases represent the subtitle of my book Legal Project Management... and are also the four critical actions of a project manager.

Most understand they need to do the first two, even if they're not always sure how. (Subliminal whisper here: "Buy the book and find out....") Few think about the third, and the fourth seems a distant dream for too many project managers.

In many ways, Managing Risks is a project manager's first and most important job. (Maintaining sanity - for yourself and the project team - is critical, too, but that's for another article.)

There is a huge difference between dealing with risk and managing it. The former is needed when the risk occurs. You can deal with it using your risk-management plan, or you can deal with it ad hoc. Of course, if you lack a plan, your only choice is the ad hoc method, which sometimes works out fine... and sometimes doesn't.

I've seen too many so-called professional project managers use only the ad hoc methods. They fail to manage the risks up front.

Sometimes they try to treat risks as a schedule issue. "We'll add a few extra days here just in case," they'll say. Or "I'm keeping some buffer or slack in case we run late." (Buffer is budgeted time that isn't allocated to a particular task.)

That may work for some estimation-type variation. If you think task X will take three days and it takes four, donating a day of buffer may work out for you... as long as nothing else was depending on task X being finished on the third day, or the worker being free to do something else on day four.

Risk management means getting out in front of the risks - at least those that you and others on the team can foresee.

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