Why risk management is more than updating a spreadsheet

Posted by Team Sharktower on November 23rd, 2021

We’d already started writing this article when we spotted a post on the Association of Project Management (APM) blog titled ‘Risk Management is fun’.

Well, ‘fun’ can be subjective, we suppose. And each to their own. But headline aside, this is the paragraph that really caught our eye:

“To bring risk management to life we don’t need more complicated spreadsheets. We don’t need more bells and whistles. We need a way of visualising risks in a more meaningful and engaging way.”

So while we may not agree with the writers’ idea of fun, we absolutely agree that risk management is unnecessarily complex, and that’s often why it doesn’t work. To be understood by everyone; it must be accessible, it has to be owned, and it should definitely be visual.

For the most part, organisations track project risk in a spreadsheet or other document; which is updated weekly or monthly and distributed via email to the project team. Aside from obvious issues like version control, it means that risks are disconnected from the projects themselves, and are forgotten until the next review meeting.

Risk management should never be a separate activity. To be effective, it has to be carried out proactively as part of day-to-day project delivery. It’s a core feature of Sharktower, but the principles of simple, accessible risk management can be applied to your team even if they don’t use Sharktower.

Here are seven steps to help you manage risk in a more visible, connected way.

 

1. Create risks early and throughout the entire project lifecycle

You might not be able to predict all of the risks that will impact your project, but the earlier you identify and capture the ones you can foresee, the better shape you’ll be in. And this isn’t something you only do at the start – risks should be captured throughout the duration of the project.

 

2. Capture enough information to describe the risk

Provide a sentence or two to describe the risk, the potential impact, and what you are going to do to mitigate it. Then add the risk impact date, the risk owner and the impact itself. Using a high/medium/low scale for risk likelihood and risk impact, as well as estimating the risk value as an actual time or cost, can help with prioritisation.

In Sharktower, the risk is directly linked to the part of the project it’s going to impact, enabling the team and wider stakeholders to see risks by Plan, Meetings or Kanban.

 

 

3. Track mitigating actions

Tracking actions might sound obvious, but because the process of risk management is often seen as a separate activity, it’s frequently overlooked. If you can see a potential risk and have agreed an action to mitigate it, create the action as a task within the project plan – in the same way you would for any other task or work item. This keeps everyone accountable and gives clear visibility on how the risk is going to be mitigated.

 

4. Capture issues

If a predicted risk becomes a reality, it’s classified as an issue. Also, it’s not uncommon for issues to arise that were not previously defined risks. In either case, timing and communications are critical to getting the information out to the right people as fast as possible, and the process is similar to managing risks: Describe the issue, the due date, owner, impact and value.

As with risks, issues in Sharktower are directly linked to the relevant project, but also to the risk, This gives a full audit trail of what was discussed, the tasks to mitigate the risk, and the associated issue.

 

5. Use a Kanban to sort and prioritise risks

A Kanban board is an ideal way to sort and prioritise risks in a visual format. It can be accessed and updated by everyone – even if they’re working remotely – so there’s no need to constantly check-in or wait for progress reports. By recording mitigating actions as tasks, it’s easy for the whole team to see overdue risks or associated actions.

With Sharktower, if you want to see all risks and issues on a particular project, or a subset associated with a particular workstream, you can simply use filters on the Kanban. You can also use other filters such as assignees and custom tags to help drill down.

With Sharktower you can filter the Kanban to view all risks and issues on one place

 

6. Use a daily stand-up to keep risks and issues at the forefront of the project

Software engineering and development teams have been using stand-ups for years, and we’ve used them across the whole of Sharktower since day one. Stand-up meetings are a fast yet structured way to get a good sense of what’s happening with the team, coordinate work, and remove any blockers. Risk management is a team responsibility, so don’t be afraid to include risks and issues in daily standups-  it keeps them at the forefront of the project and maintains accountability for specific actions.

Find out more about ways to improve project team meetings here

 

7. Report on risks and issues

In many companies, senior stakeholders are unlikely to log into a tool to view a project status report, so they’ll need the project manager to summarise the status and highest risks and issues; which often means they have to be exported.

Make sure all high likelihood risks/high impact risks are included in the report and encourage a discussion of the top-impacting risks at steering committee meetings so that executives get a chance to provide input and direction.

In Sharktower, you can centrally view and manage all project risks at a portfolio or project level at a glance. You can also export risks to csv with a click of a button.

 

Sharktower’s risk matrix report allows you to view risks at portfolio or project level

 

This means risks and issues are fully traceable, transparent and always linked to impacted deliverables. Allowing easy monitoring of required actions or decisions to resolve, in one place alongside all project work.

Risk management can be complicated, particularly for large and complex transformation programmes. A risk register or template is a good start, but an intelligent project management platform helps project leaders make fast, accurate decisions.

 

Watch a 3-minute demo

In this bite-sized demo, Sharktower’s Implementation Lead Neil Greenhorn shows how Sharktower makes managing risk simpler.

 

Let’s talk

If you’d like to know more about how Sharktower can help you manage risk more effectively, get in touch today.