Thursday, January 22, 2009

Determining the Most Appropriate Risk Response

As a project manager, you can use a risk response plan to ensure that you meet your project objectives. A risk response plan is a document that details an identified risk, its cause, probability of occurrence, potential impact, and proposed responses. An effective risk response plan will help you enhance risk opportunities and reduce risk threats.

A risk response plan, which is sometimes called a risk register, is comprised of a number of different components. A typical project's risk response plan includes the following components:
  • a detailed list of all identified project risks
  • the risk owners responsible for formulating and implementing one or more risk responses
  • the results from the project's qualitative and quantitative risk analyses
  • the established responses for each identified risk
  • the expected level of residual risk
  • the specific actions required to implement the chosen response
  • the budget and timing for all risk responses
  • a description of any contingency or fallback plans.
One of the most important components of a risk response plan is "the established responses for each identified risk." As a project manager, it is your job to select the most appropriate and effective response for managing that risk. Once this selection is made, the agreed-upon risk response is entered into the project's risk response plan.

How do you determine which risk response will be the most appropriate and effective for an identified project risk? There are three important questions that you should ask yourself when making this critical decision.
  1. What are the potential risk responses?
    The first question that you should ask yourself when determining the most appropriate risk response for one of your identified project risks is: What are the potential risk responses? You should apply the four risk response strategies to your risk, discard those strategies that are either impossible or impractical to use, and formulate potential responses from the strategies that remain.

    • Avoidance - should be used when the level of risk is unacceptable, when the means for controlling the risk are not feasible or when there is a potential for harm. This risk response strategy involves changing the project plan to eliminate the risk or the condition causing the risk.

    • Transference - should be used when there is a potential for significant financial exposure. Risks can be transferred through insurance, performance bonds, warranties, and contracts. This strategy shifts the consequences of a risk to a third party, such as an insurance company.

    • Mitigation - should be used when there is an opportunity to significantly reduce the probability or consequences of an identified risk. Throughout a project's life cycle, it may be possible to perform risk mitigation by reducing both the risk probability and the risk consequences.

    • Acceptance - should be used when the probability and consequences of an identified risk are low. This strategy results in no changes to the project plan. It involves leaving a project team to deal with a risk when it occurs or forming a contingency plan to deal with the risk if it occurs.

  2. What are the project constraints?
    The second question that you should ask yourself when determining an appropriate and effective risk response for an identified risk is: What are the project constraints? The PMBOK Guide defines a constraint as an "applicable restriction that will affect the performance of a project." No project is completely free of constraints. As a result, you will need to keep this in mind when selecting an appropriate risk response. Constraints will limit the choices available to you during risk response planning.

    For example, you may initially decide that avoiding a risk by changing the project scope is an appropriate response for a given risk. However, a careful examination of the constraints facing your project may indicate that avoidance is not possible or that it is unwise given your circumstances.

    During the life cycles of your projects, you may encounter many different types of constraints. However, there are some constraints that you will face more frequently than others. A few of these constraints are listed below.

    • An established project budget - An established project budget is one constraint that can affect your selection of risk responses. For example, if your project is restricted by a tight budget, any responses that require a vast amount of funding to implement will be deemed unwise and detrimental to project success.

    • A defined project schedule - A defined project schedule can also act as a constraint when determining the most appropriate response for an identified risk. For example, if your project's sponsors have established an inflexible schedule, the responses that will add time or cause delays to the project schedule will have to be rejected.

    • Contractual obligations - Another constraint is contractual obligations. Risk responses may need to be discarded if they have the potential to deviate from a signed contract. For example, you cannot reduce the risk of cost overruns by paying your contractor less than the amount agreed upon in the project contract.

    • Product specifications - The final constraint that can affect your selection of risk responses is product specifications. If project sponsors are expecting a particular product, they may be unwilling to approve any changes to the project scope. This decision can limit your options when responding to risk.

  3. Which risk response will be the most appropriate for managing the risk?
    The final question that you need to ask yourself when determining an appropriate risk response for an identified project risk is: Which risk response will be the most appropriate for managing the risk? Once you have decided what the potential risk responses are and what constraints are facing your project, you can then determine the most appropriate and effective risk responses for your project risks.

    By eliminating those responses that are not feasible for your project or those that cannot be achieved due to certain constraints, you will be left with only the responses that are appropriate for the chosen risk. These responses will serve to protect the project from the risk's potential impact.
As a project manager, you can determine the most appropriate risk response for a given project risk by answering the following questions: what are the potential risk responses, what are the project constraints, and which risk response will be the most appropriate for managing the risk?

Once this determination is made, you can include your chosen risk response into your risk response plan. This plan will help you enhance risk opportunities and reduce risk threats to project objectives and overall project outcomes.

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