What is Positive Risk on Projects?


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You know what’s big and scary? Monsters… And risk. Just the word risk can evoke the same kind of primal, fight or flight fear as monsters can, whether real or imagined.

But risk isn’t a monster. It’s just another part of the project to manage. All projects have some element of risk, and then there are other projects that are inherently high-risk. (We’re talking about the former here.) Thinking of risk as a bad thing can lead to a poor outcome. You don’t take risks like going skiing without the right equipment, or eat poisonous puffer fish that has not been properly prepared, right?

In our personal lives as well as our professional lives, risk taking is something we do, but it must be carefully considered before we dive in.

Why Risks Can Be… Good?

We’ve all been conditioned to think of risks as negative. But risk is a way to safeguard yourself by preparing for the possibility of failure or danger. That brings us back to the skiing example. The risk of going skiing without the right kit is that you will fall over and break your leg, ruining your holiday and having to rely on your friends and family to make you cups of tea while they would rather be out on the slopes themselves.

Sure, that’s obvious. Always be prepared. However, what about the things you can’t prepare for? The happy accidents that may lead you done a road you’d never have thought to explore. What if taking that risk meant discovering a whole new way of skiing that started a fabulous new trend and saved people lots of money on their ski holidays?

Risks can have positive outcomes, both in our personal lives and on our projects. Sometimes risk is really an opportunity.

Types of Positive Risk

Figuring out what is a positive risk (which can take a number of forms) can be hard because our brains are so conditioned to think of risks as bad. A simple way to identify positive risk is the same way you would identify negative risk: by working with your team to come up with a list of opportunities that could impact the project.

Brainstorm all the good things that could happen, such as:

  • Receiving so many signups for our new product that it crashes our website
  • Selling more copies of our widgets than anticipated, so the warehouse is swamped with orders.
  • Getting swamped by press requests because our project is so popular.

Once you have identified all the risks that would have a positive impact on your project, you can think about how to respond to them.

3 Ways to Respond to Positive Risk

These are your risk response strategies, and they are a bit different to the types of response you would use to deal with negative risk.

  1. First, exploit the risk. Exploiting a risk means do everything you can to increase the chance of it happening. For example, if you want to get more hits on your new website, devote lots of time drumming up positive publicity by contacting journalists, writing press releases and getting your in-house communications team involved.
  2. Share the risk with someone else, as sometimes you can’t get the full benefit of an opportunity working alone. For example, if you want to make sure that the warehouse is ready to cope with all those orders, work on the order process with that team. Put in place a just-in-time shipping process so not to have too much stock lying around, but have it available at short notice when customers need it. Your project benefits by customers being able to get their hands on the product quickly, and the warehouse team benefits from not having to deal with too many orders that are difficult to fulfill at any one time.
  3. Do nothing. This is always an option for negative risk too. Knowing possible scenarios – good and bad – is sometimes planning enough. You can choose whether response is merited if the eventuality occurs.

How to Manage Positive Risk

Manage positive risk in the same way that you would manage negative risk. Use your online project management software to record risks and the action plans that go with them. Remember to allocate an owner to the risk, add a date that the risk was first noted (your software may do this for you) and any follow up actions that happen. Build up your risk log with all this information – you don’t need a separate risk log for positive risk. Use the same one as you do for recording your other risks.

Go back regularly through your positive risks and check their status. Are they more or less likely to happen now? How effective have your action plans been? What can you do now to make any improvements? Keep your software risk log updated with the latest status and actions, as this will also be useful when you come to review the success of the project in a post-project review.

Positive risk or opportunities can be great for your project and for you as a project manager. Managing them effectively and show how much value you add to the company.

ProjectManager.com can help you keep risk logs up-to-date. You or your team can collaborate on project status, including all forms of risks, and monitor risks online.

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