Digital Project Management Uncertainty

What could possibly go wrong?

It's what you hear just before something really does go horribly wrong on TV shows and YouTube clips. But for anyone managing a digital project it's a very important question, but one too few Digital Project managers ask as a matter routine. But things do go wrong with complex digital projects so you should be asking the question what could possibly go wrong?

Risk identification

You need to do 3 things regarding risk. Firstly, identify potential risks. Secondly, assess the risk. Thirdly, decide how you will deal with the risk.

There are several ways you try to identify the potential risks related to your project. The first is to look at what has gone wrong before on similar projects. Check the documents associated with projects that use the same technology, are for the same client, use the same supplier or just projects that have anything in common with yours. If there are no documents, try asking those around you who have worked on similar projects.

Another method is the risk assessment meeting. This can be very formal but I find a less formal approach the Pre Mortum often works better. This involves getting key people involved in the project to sit down and imagine it's a month or so after the project was due to be completed and it has all gone horribly wrong. Ask everyone to think of reasons why it might have gone wrong and once you have all the most likely risks ask people to think of some weird and unlikely risks. Some people are worryingly good at coming up with these! You can probably ignore the risk of a Zombie Apocalypse but who really expected Brexit or Leicester City winning the premiership?

Risk assessment

There are 2 questions you need to know ask each risk; how likely is it to arise and how big an impact would it have on the project? The simplest approach is to rate each risk high or low for both criteria. Low risk, low impact items you can largely ignore but for all the others you have to have a plan. Too many high risk, high probability items and you may have to question the viability of the project.

For most risks the plan is to have contingency a bit of time and money in the plan to cope with unexpected cost or time overruns. The more innovative the project the more contingency you should put aside. Bigger risks may need a particular plan you can implement if they arise.

The risk register

Keep a register of all risks, the ones you identified at the outset along with those that arise as you go along. During the course of the project you will have to make assumptions. Every assumption is a potential risk and should be validated. For instance, you assume that someone will do a piece of work as part of the project on time and on budget. As soon as they cannot confirm they will deliver as expected, it becomes a risk.

I recommend ranking risks in the register green, amber or red. Once they are amber you need to start alerting the relevant people. Leave green stuff on the register in case it becomes a problem again and so people can see how good a job you are doing fixing all those problems!

The biggest risk of all

What is it? Ignoring risk of course. Or having someone running the project who doesn't understand Digital Project Management. So next time you say What could possibly go wrong? and someone gives you a list of possibilities and a plan to deal with each of them, you know they are a good PM.

Rik Pipe teaches the 1 day short course in Digital Project Management.

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