Goal: Identify and plan for risks

Applies to
Microsoft Office Project 2003
Microsoft Office Project Server 2003
Microsoft Project 2000 and 2002

Risk is the possibility of an event or condition that, if it occurred, would have a negative impact on a project. After a project begins, events that are difficult to anticipate might create new risks. For example, unseasonably rainy weather might threaten the end date of a construction project.

Planning for, identifying, and reducing risk at various times during a project can help you to keep the project on schedule and within budget.

 Tip   This article is part of a series of articles that describe a broad set of project management activities. We call these activities "goals" because they are organized around the project management life cycle: Build a plan, track and manage a project, and close a project. The project life cycle is outlined in The Project Map, where you can find a link to an article about each project management goal. Most of the articles include links to supporting information or procedures that you perform in Project or Project Server. These "goal" articles were designed to help you not only use Project but also better understand project management.

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number 1  Prepare a contingency plan     As part of a good risk plan, you should spell out the actions to take if risk events occur, so that you can respond to those events quickly and effectively.

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A complete and detailed project plan can guide you through the expected events of your project. But what will guide you through the unexpected events, especially those events that pose a risk to your project?

A risk management plan (risk management plan: A document defining how risk will be managed throughout the project. It can include identified risks, probabilities, contingency plans and methods for implementing them, and a strategy for allocating resources if a risk event occurs.) enables you to deal swiftly and effectively with most risks that might arise. It should contain:

  • A list of potential risks.
  • Triggers, or indications, that a risk has occurred or is about to occur.
  • A statement of how you plan to reduce risk.
  • Which risks you will respond to and which ones you will ignore.
  • The steps you will take to mitigate the risks.

In addition, your risk management plan should cover who is responsible for managing each kind of risk, how you will allocate cost (cost: The total scheduled cost for a task, resource, or assignment, or for an entire project. This is sometimes referred to as the current cost. In Project, baseline costs are usually referred to as "budget.") and schedule (schedule: The timing and sequence of tasks within a project. A schedule consists mainly of tasks, task dependencies, durations, constraints, and time-oriented project information.) reserves, and the conditions for implementing alternative strategies.

You can write your risk management plan in any word-processing program. Then you can link the plan to your project file in Microsoft Office Project.

If you are using Microsoft Office Project Web Access 2003 (Project Web Access: The Web-based user interface that is used to access information in Project Server.), you can create and view risks that you can share with others.

Number 2  Identify high-risk tasks     Critical to risk management is identifying those tasks that are most likely to take longer than expected, end beyond their finish dates, delay the start or finish of other tasks, or cause the project to finish late.

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Number 3  Identify budget risks     To see those tasks that are over budget, likely to become over budget, or likely to cause the entire project to go over budget, you need to identify your project's budget risks.

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  • Show cost totals to view the cost for each task or resource. You can identify tasks or resources with budget risks and adjust the task or resource costs to bring the total project cost within budget.
  • Show overbudget costs to see tasks or resources that exceed their budgets. These tasks or resources could put your overall project budget at risk.
  • Analyze project performance with earned value analysis to determine how much of the budget should have been spent, in view of the amount of work done so far and the baseline cost for the task, assignment, or resources.

Number 4  Identify resource risks     Resource risks include those resources who are working near, at, or over their maximum availability; who can delay the project if absent; or who have specialized skills that the project depends on.

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Number 5  Consult with other sources to identify risks     If you want to know which key people and other sources can help you identify risks and how to consult those sources, you need to have an effective means of communication.

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The sources that can best help you identify risks (risk: An event or situation that may negatively affect project scope, schedule, budget, or quality.) are the task (task: An activity that has a beginning and an end. Project plans are made up of tasks.) list, the schedule (schedule: The timing and sequence of tasks within a project. A schedule consists mainly of tasks, task dependencies, durations, constraints, and time-oriented project information.), and the key people involved in planning and running the project. In your Project plan, look first at the critical path (critical path: The series of tasks that must be completed on schedule for a project to finish on schedule. Each task on the critical path is a critical task.) tasks, then at noncritical tasks (noncritical task: A task with slack time that can be completed after its end date without delaying the project finish date. Slack is the amount of time that a task can slip before it affects another task's dates or the project finish date.). Look for:

But you might not identify all of your project risks if you analyze only the project schedule. You should also meet with key project resources and ask them to identify risks. Let experienced project managers review your plan, and talk to people who are experts in specific areas of the project. For example, if you're working with a contractor, talk to people who have used that contractor.

Number 6  Specify risk probability     If you are using Project Server (Project Server: A Project companion product that enables collaborative planning and status reporting among workgroup members, project managers, and other stakeholders by working with and exchanging project information on a Web site.), you can determine how likely it is that a task will incur a risk that causes a loss of money or a project delay.