Risk is part of any endeavor. Some, like the business of innovation, have more than say building a house. Properly identifying the risks in your project is a valuable exercise. Don’t consider this a defeatist attitude. Rather, it is a pragmatic approach to knowing where problems might occur. Trying to hit one out of the park the first time never works. On the rare occasion it does, you will still have to mitigate risk along some other path. Risk is a reality, so plan for it.
Watch Out For The 30 Foot Crater
A Risk Mitigation Plan (RMP) is a tool that systematically reviews where your projects risks are and comes up with ways to either work around them, debug them or completely mitigate them. These plans, if done right, will be the first document you pull up when things don’t work. They also focus your team on what risks will completely crater the project or just cripple it. Always insist that each project you do have an RMP. Review it regularly as you progress through your development milestones. RMP’s also allow you to rank risk so that highly risky sections get more resources.
What Can Go Wrong, Might
The first setup to creating the RMP is to brainstorm what could go wrong. Like all brainstorming meetings, there are no bad ideas. Get everything down on a whiteboard. Once it is all in front of you, start to group similar items together. It may require rewriting the initial risk. Depending on the size of the project, you may have a few risks or tens of them. Size does not matter. What matters is that you rank them from high probability to low probability of occurring. In some cases, the risks might cascade from each other. For example, if one risk happens, that will create the others. If you have a situation like this, then the risk that causes the ripple should be ahead of its downstream partners.
Avoiding The 30 Foot Crater
Once all of the risks are ranked, you now have to figure out how to mitigate them. Mitigation includes a deliberate design change to avoid the risk entirely, a debug mode or an intermediate step that once completed shows that the risk has been avoided. All risks should have a way to determine that you have fallen into the trap or mitigated it. Clarity of the risks is important. Without that, you will get surprised by them every time. Once the RMP is done, it needs to be reviewed a minimum of every project milestone, when risks are mitigated or when new risks are identified. The RMP is not static but a dynamic tool that should be consulted frequently. The RMP process I use follows:
- Get your project team together to brainstorm potential risks
- Collect all similar risks under like categories
- Rank the risks from highest to lowest probability of occurring
- Formulate how you know you have hit the risk
- Put design hooks in place to either control and observe the phenomena or completely design it out.
- Review the RMP at every project milestone.
- Adjust the RMP as risks or mitigated or new ones pop up.
RMP’s are a valuable tool to understand and deal with project risk. They should be embraced as an essential tool for the proper operation of any project. Understanding and working on risky parts of your project is not a defeatist attitude but rather a realists attitude that will guarantee a successful project. A sample RMP spreadsheet template can be viewed here
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