Managing Risk

It is inevitable that your research will not go as smoothly as you initially hoped and planned for. The most common cause of poor completion rates is due to delays as a consequence of specific problems encountered by the student.

The key here is to effectively manage the risks so that those risks that pose a threat to the success of your project are mitigated but also so that those risks that might present new opportunities are identified and acted upon.

It is important to remember too that projects are always liable to change as they progress so the risk management process should be responsive to change and the risks should be re-assessed from time to time if the project is long or complex.

Risk management is not a separate discipline but an integral part of project management so should be part of the regular activities of your project. One of the most important elements of risk management is complete honesty.  Without an honest approach to the risks involved there will always be unexpected events and these can be the biggest risks of all.

Dealing with project risks effectively

So how can you be sure that, once you have (honestly) identified your risks, that your risk management procedures are effective and add value to your project?

1. Document the risks
Create a risk log listing each risk with a description, the likely impact and actions to take to mitigate the impact. Include enough information to be useful in monitoring the risks but not so much that it becomes complicated and unwieldy. A straightforward, up-to-date risk log will be useful during the whole life of the project.

2. Prioritise the risks
In order to prioritise effectively you need to understand what factors could make the risk more likely to occur and what impact that would have on timescale and scope/quality of the final project. So prioritise the risks using a combination of a probability rating and an impact rating. Some risks may be very likely to occur but have low impact; others may be less likely to occur but have a major impact so the overall priority needs to take this into account.

3. Plan the response
For each identified risk decide, firstly, what could be done to minimise the chance of it occurring and, secondly, what action could be taken if the risk does occur. You will then be better prepared to deal with it if you have to (any risks that could not be anticipated are, of course, another matter).

And one other point: risk management can and does help ensure more successful projects and it should be an integral part of the project management process but it should not be so large a task that the effort expended is out of all proportion to the size of the project or the potential impact of the risks.

Finally make sure the responses are implemented, without following through on the risk reduction measures, the risk management process will add little value overall.

Watch the LinkedIn Learning video for an example of how to create a risk log/chart for a project [University of Southampton login required]


The next section is about team work.

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