How to Manage High Risk Projects

In this video, project management trainer Devin Deen, shows you how to manage high-risk projects.

In Review: Tips for Managing a High Risk Project

Devin noted that risk is what drives innovation in business and organizations. High risk can equal high reward. While not every project manager loves the adventure of high risk projects, some find themselves leading them nonetheless.

As Devin explained, you don’t have to avoid risk, but instead better manage it.

He offered these tips on insuring your high-risk project doesn’t go off the rails:

  • Plot and manage the risk
  • Chop it into small bits
  • Get an all-star team
  • Manage Stakeholders

When you’re breaking down milestone markers into smaller tasks to show progress, note that it’s important to see the artifact of that project starting to come together. Bigger projects can be divided into smaller work streams and those into sub-work streams.

If you want to be where the rubber hits the road, then high-risk projects are for you. They’ll provide you with greater rewards in every sense and you’ll never have a moment to complain about being bored.

Pro-Tip:  Getting your team to take ownership of tasks, and be held accountable, helps you share the load and involve the whole team in the risk management process.

Gary Hamilton, Gareth Byatt and Jeff Hodgkinson at CIO Magazine agree with Devin, even going so far as to write that Risk Management and Project Management Go Hand in Hand.

Thanks for watching!



Hi. I’m Devin Deen, Content Director here at

Today, team, we’re going to talk about how to manage a high risk project. Now look, you may think, high risk, don’t want to have anything to do with that. Take me away from a high risk project. But let me tell you, high risk projects are where the all excitement is. It’s where all the action is, because high risk equals high reward. Look, risk just doesn’t mean it’s a risky one in terms of it might go wrong.

Risk is a threat to avoid or an opportunity to pursue. If you’ve got a speed to market that you need to get product out there, certainly a high risk project is something that’s going to be really exciting, because you’re going to try and get that product out to market as fast as possible, thereby getting your company some high reward. Without risky projects, we wouldn’t move forward in business, we wouldn’t move forward in organizations. Let me tell you, go after those high risk projects. They’re exciting. It’s where all the action is.

Now, once you get a high risk project, how do you manage it? How do you ensure that it just doesn’t go off the rails? Well, I’ve got a couple suggestions for you, and we’ll go through them today.

First off, you need to plot and manage the risk. Of course, you do that as part of your risk identification and risk quantification process. You get the project team together. You plot out, at the start of the project, where all the things that could go wrong are, how likely are they to go wrong, what the impacts might be, and to develop mitigation strategies on each of those risks.

Now, it’s important to remember, don’t just leave the mitigation strategy on that risk register on paper. Get somebody to take ownership of that risk mitigation strategy and actually act on it. Don’t just put it on the paper, get them to act on it, and assign a responsible person on your project team to own that mitigation strategy.

You plot the risks at the start, you manage them during the project, and every so often, maybe every couple of weeks, maybe every month, get the team together again and rehash that risk list that you have in your risk register.

Chop it up into small bits. Make sure that you’ve got visible signs of progress being used as milestone markers throughout that high risk project. It’s really important to be able to show progress. It’s really important to see the artifacts of that project starting to come together. Those are the visible signs of progress. Chop up that bigger project into smaller work streams, and those work streams into sub-work streams. Get your project team to take ownership of those work streams, and hold them accountable to delivering the artifacts or those visible signs of progress in each of those work streams, so that you can see those milestone markers being achieved.

Next up, get an all-star team. Look, we all know that the weakest link of a chain is really going to determine how strong that chain is. If you’ve got anybody in your project team that might not be part of an all-star team, they might be dragging their feet, or they might look at things from a negative perspective all the time, you really want to have a conversation with them, to give them an opportunity to lift or change their attitude and behavior, or give them an opportunity to opt out of the project team. High risk projects have a lot of visibility, a lot of time pressure, and a lot to achieve in a small amount of time. So you certainly want to make sure that you get the best people that you can possibly have on that project team.

Lastly, and this is very, very important, good stakeholder management. It’s critical when you’ve got a high risk project. What I mean about stakeholder management is being open and honest in your communications. Look, everyone’s got bad news. Make sure, if you do have bad news, that you’re direct with your project stakeholders or your steering group, you’re delivering that bad news alongside with some solutions on how to recover from that, and that you’re actually doing it in an open and honest way. If you’re always telling them that things are going great, things are going great, and when things go wrong and they’re not actually great, you’re going to lose that trust that they have.

You need to make sure that you earn the trust of your stakeholders and you retain that trust. You want to make sure that you’re communicating with them all the time, just to let them know what to expect and how things are going on the project. It’s really important to go out there, reach out to the stakeholders, and build strong relationships so that you can use those stakeholders to your advantage when it comes to opening up doors or getting them to encourage other teams, that your project may have a dependency on, to start working with you.

As I said at the start, high risk projects are where it’s at. It’s where all the excitement is. It’s where all the action is, and it’s where all the sponsors and stakeholders are going to put their attention to on the projects that are being delivered in that organization. Remember, high risk equals high reward, both for the organization and for you.

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