Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Identifying Risk in an Interview

As a project manager, you want your project to be completed on time and within budget. For this to happen, you need to know what risks have the potential to adversely affect your project and threaten overall project success.

Among the various information-gathering techniques useful in identifying potential project risks is the interview. To learn about project risks, you can interview experienced project managers, subject matter experts, senior project team members and knowledgeable project stakeholders.

Using interviews to identify project risks is a 3-step process.

Step 1: Select the interviewee.
The first step is to select the right person to interview. There are three characteristics that you should look for when selecting an interviewee.
One characteristic that your potential interviewee should possess is a high degree of skill in, or knowledge of, a certain subject. Experts with a high level of skill or knowledge will be able to identify specific project risks, such as financial or technical risks.

Another characteristic that your potential interviewee should have is experience and training on similar projects. Experts with relevant experience can help you identify risks that are common of the type of project you are managing.

The third characteristic that your potential interviewee should possess is the ability to think objectively and critically. Experts who think critically and objectively can help identify risks that others involved in the project may overlook.

Step 2: Prepare the interviewee.
The second step in the interviewing process is to prepare the interviewee for questioning. At this stage, you should tell the interviewee what the project goals are, how long the project is expected to last, and what the constraints facing the project are.
Each selected interviewee will also need specific information that can be found in the project definition, scope documentation, and in the project's high-level WBS.

For example, a project manager informs several interviewees that the project under examination involves the development of a new kind of pain reliever. This project is expected to be delivered within one year of the start date and have less than a four-percent probability of harmful side effects. In addition, the project is faced with a limited amount of contingency reserves and may encounter budget problems if any of the critical path phases are delayed.

By briefing the interviewees on this type of project information, the project manager has adequately prepared the interviewees for the questioning process. They will now have sufficient knowledge of the project to identify potential risks that may negatively affect the project in question.

Step 3: Direct the interview.
The third step of the interviewing technique is to direct the interview. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that your interview stays on track. You must use the experience and knowledge of your expert, combined with all relevant project information, to identify as many project risks as possible.
There are three key questions that will help you focus and direct the interview. They are:
1. What could go wrong during this project?
By asking your expert what could go wrong during the project, you will be able to identify risks that may affect your project. Imagining a worst-case scenario will increase your chances of identifying risks that have the potential to negatively impact your project.

2. Where have similar projects failed?
By questioning where similar projects have failed in the past, you will be able to identify risks that may be common or typical of all projects of this nature. Your expert may be able to use previous experience to provide you with insight about project areas that are sensitive to certain risks.

3. What are the consequences making unresearched assumptions?
By asking your expert the consequences of incorrect project assumptions, you will be able to identify risks that may arise due to inadequate or poorly researched project information. Asking "what if's" is a good way to pinpoint risks that may otherwise go unnoticed.
There are three essential steps that should be followed when using the interviewing technique to identify risk. Project managers should select the right interviewee, prepare the interviewee, and direct the interview.

As a project manager, you can use the interviewing technique to gather vital information about potential project risks. This technique will also help make your project's risk identification process easier and more accurate.

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