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Identifying and mitigating project risk

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

This quote from one of boxing’s all time greats Muhammad Ali encapsulates why risk is an inherent part of any venture.

If you want to create something worthwhile, there is always going to be significant risk attached. This is no different when it comes to researching, developing and building a digital product.

Success can be weighed by your ability to identify, understand and prioritise the risks that you face. Once these are in place, you can begin to mitigate those risks.

There are a number of different challenges you may face that you need to overcome. These include:

Business risks – A user’s behaviour with your product may differ from your expectations or your product may not meet the needs of your end user.

Design risks – How can a great design be clear, seamless and effective? It is also prudent to identify potential hindrances to the design process in terms of extra client requests and time

Technology risks – Are there any technical challenges that can stop a product from realising its potential, such as integration problems with your existing technical framework?

Financial risks – Have all financial elements been included in the original quote for the product? Is scope creep possible in the project, where a customer requires more deliverables as it goes on?

An initial workshop before any design sprint is usually a good place to identify user behaviour and journeys. Identifying risk is crucial at this early stage to avoid problems coming about later.

According to a survey by PMI in 2018, 29% of respondents said opportunities and risks not being defined early in the project was one of the primary causes of project failure. This is why it is so important to identify and mitigate risk.

Communication is key

It is absolutely critical that all team members communicate risk to each other clearly. What is the risk? Why is it a risk? Are similar risks being identified across different teams? By sharing what risks there are, the entire team can tackle them holistically. Talking through each risk allows your team to ask questions and gain clarification. If this risk later surfaces throughout the design process, you have already forecasted your response.

When communicating risk, it is important to explain how it can affect the project, how likely it is to materialise and what the steps are to mitigate it.

When talking about risk, we are often talking about ‘bad news.’ It is critical that a friendly environment is fostered so that risk can be openly talked about. If someone feels uncomfortable, the risk may not be communicated, which means it cannot be dealt with properly and can lead to problems later down the line.

What is the biggest risk?

When you are with your team, it is worth asking each member of staff what they think the main risks are. Prioritisation should also be given to the biggest risk, the second biggest risk, etc. This will give a project leader an indication of the degree of risk. A high-level risk can completely destabilise the entire project, whereas a low-level risk is probably something that your team can manage.

How do you mitigate these risks?

You now need to delve into each of these risks and figure out a strategy for dealing with it. An example may be that a design is not meeting user needs enough. Conducting greater user research to identify behaviour that will fulfil this need could be a great strategy to combat this risk. Once the strategy has been ironed out, it needs to be communicated to stakeholders to find out the feasibility of the solution.

It is then important to monitor how your solution is working out from a financial, business, design and technology perspective. If the solution isn’t working satisfactorily, it’s time to come up with other mitigation strategies.

Keeping risk front and centre

Once you have figured out a prioritised risk list and strategies to mitigate these risks, you should take these considerations into your first sprint planning session. It is important that everyone involved is aware of the risks and the measures taking place to mitigate such risks.

Risk should be something that is front and centre throughout every process. It is important to constantly address risk so that it is properly mitigated. One method you could use is to have a risk column with any project delivery roadmap. This visibly shows the risks to all staff day in and day out, keeping it at the forefront of your team’s mind.

Reporting on how you responded to risks and what the outcomes were can also prevent similar problems from occurring again in future projects.

Ultimately, you will always face risk when it comes to creating worthwhile digital products for customers or service users. The size of the risk and how it is mitigated is what is important here. If you manage this properly, you can deliver a product that fills a gap in the market and provides real worth for the people who use your product.

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