Project Management Risk

As a project manager, you’re hired to be the decision maker. While you do your best to make the right decisions for your team, you also have to face the reality that sometimes those decisions aren’t the right ones. In fact, experts estimate that nearly 40% of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are mistakes. Part of effective project management is managing those bad decisions, along with other risks, to ensure the success of the project as a whole.

In this final installment of our Project Management blog series, we’ll give you four secrets to successfully managing risk for your project, whether you’re leading a cloud deployment at a Fortune 500 company or planning a spaghetti dinner.


Risk management starts with prevention. It’s your job to make sure that all risks are properly assessed and understood so that they can be prevented if possible or managed if they are unavoidable.

Start by looking at the entire scope of the project—from the high level to the individual, discreet tasks that need to be carried out. What are some of the areas that you see as being problems later on? It’s important to keep those hot spots in mind, particularly if they are major hazards to the success of the project. Defining risks is essential to preventing them. How can you address them if you don’t know what they are?

When planning a spaghetti dinner, you might look at various potential risks, such as kitchen equipment failure, food supply issues, or a sudden unavailability of staff. Having contingency plans in place like backup cooking equipment and food or on-call volunteers could help you prevent risks and prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

Professional project managers often perform something called a “pre-mortem.” Basically, it’s a strategy that helps you prevent risks by imagining that the project has already failed and working backwards to determine what went wrong. Pre-mortem’s are a great way to facilitate a positive discussion of the threats to your project and greatly increase the likelihood of averting them before they strike.


“Pre-parade” is pretty much the opposite of a pre-mortem, although it’s probably not an industry-accepted term. Pre-parade is just another name for defining success. Rather than imagine the project has failed, imagine that the project has been a roaring success. What does that look like? What are the specific details that need to occur in order for this project to win?

Being clear and precise on what success looks like is a critical element of identifying and managing risk. If members of the group are not clear on the expected outcome of the project, then there is bound to be confusion about how to achieve it. It’s like trying to follow a treasure map with 10 different X’s—you’re going to get lost. Successful project management includes being as clear as possible about the desired results of the project and aligning team members around a common goal.

For your spaghetti dinner, an effective way to do this might be to have an initial meeting a few months before the dinner to decide how many people are expected to attend, what the quality of food is supposed to look like, what the desired attendee reaction is, etc. Once that’s decided, it’s important to keep focused on those goals and align each decision to that vision of success.

Be Proactive

As soon as you’ve established what the factors are that could lead to success or failure, it’s time to get proactive! Are you doing everything you can to actively work towards your desired end goal while sidestepping and managing any impending risks? As the project manager, it’s your job to look downstream for any of these “tripwires” that could derail the project and eliminate or find a way around them.

The enemy of proactivity is, of course, reactivity. A reactive mindset is like a ship captain deciding to change course after running aground. As the captain of your team’s vessel, it’s your job to climb on top of that crow’s nest and survey the area ahead, adjusting your trajectory if necessary to avoid obstacles.

Being proactive means thinking a few steps ahead, making sure that your team is consistently moving forward towards your shared vision. As the leader of a spaghetti dinner committee, a proactive approach could include finding out what food allergies your attendees have so that you can have some alternative choices prepared for them. It sure would be embarrassing if your guest of honor showed up and announced that they are gluten-free and all you have is noodles and bread.

The Takeaway

Managing risks is an essential part of effective project management. As the project manager, you are the first and last line of defense when it comes to the project’s success. It’s your job to assess and mitigate any and all threats to the success of the project, while helping your team ride the wave when something inevitably goes wrong. Even though 40% of the decisions we make are mistakes, that doesn’t mean they need to be fatal. That also means that we can learn from our mistakes and continually improve our project management skills.

You've got the five keys, now what?

If you’ve been keeping up with us, you’ve now been given what we at Zumasys feel are five critical keys to project management. We hope that by using the knowledge in these blogs, you can improve your own project management skills, both at work and at home.

Of course, the overarching theme to this whole series is collaboration and teamwork. Each of these five keys requires your team to work together as a unit to achieve success. As the leader, you can use good communication, stakeholder management, scope management, effective time management, and risk management to rally your group behind a common goal and win big!

Thanks for joining us for this special series. Keep tuning in to the Zumasys blog for more tips and tricks, exciting industry announcements, and tasty tech tidbits.

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