6 Ways to Manage High Risk Projects Successfully

by Jennfer Bridges, PMP

Just the concept of high risk is frightening in itself, but if we deconstruct what a high risk project is and apply a few rules of project management we will find that it can be simplified.  What does managing high risk projects mean? Managing is looking to see if something is on or off track; and, if it’s off track, identifying how to get it back on track, manage and control it. The most important thing is to define what high risk means to you, because it can mean different things to different organizations. For instance, high risk means one thing to a company launching a new product, and another thing to an organization rolling out untested inoculations in healthcare. The risks created by initiating a transformational initiative across an entire organization will be different than the risks involved with a disaster relief effort.

Back in my college days, I worked for a soda company. They had rolled out a new product line and it was a total disaster because of an issue with the formula. Customers were really upset about it and talked about going to the competitive product.  The risk had jeopardized the customer base. In healthcare, when certain diseases or health conditions arise and an inoculation is untested, there could be high risk. The risk during a company-wide transformational initiative is retaining people; throughout the changes or afterwards people may start looking around for jobs and leave. In natural disaster relief efforts there are high risks involved in clean up or rescue; people responding to a natural disaster face conditions they’ve never faced before. We need to identify and evaluate the risk and determine the risk mitigation strategy. As you deconstruct what high risk means to you, here are six things you need to do or have, and how to do them. 

1. Have a detailed plan. However familiar we are with the concept of a project plan in project management, the reality is that keeping a plan up-to-date is not always a priority. With a high risk project, it’s critical to have a detailed plan that we monitor, control and rebaseline accordingly. Generally, high risks require that we always evaluate them, so as things change it’s critical to update the detailed plan and rebaseline.

2. Engage the stakeholders and your CCB (your change control board), and leverage them constantly. It’s important to keep them engaged and informed. As decisions need to be made, leverage their expertise, experience and knowledge about the company or the situation.

3. Have an effective communications plan. A communications plan needs to be effective for all parties involved. The team or the project or stakeholders need to be informed regularly and consistently.

4. Have a very thorough risk plan. The key word is risk; it’s critical to evaluate and update the risk plan appropriately. So many times projects have a risk log, but it’s not maintained. Risks are evaluated once in the beginning but then the risk plan is neglected.

5. Have an efficient escalation plan. The escalation plan enables you to escalate things so that they are done quickly. An efficient plan escalates issues appropriately to the right people at the right time, and requires that you follow up regularly to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

6. Have talented people. Really search for your A team, those who have the experience and expertise needed for your specific high risk project. Listen to them, trust and support them wholeheartedly. Make sure they have what they need, that they are being responded to, and that the information they provide to you gets incorporated.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt) of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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