Risk Management on Small Projects

Filed under Risk | Posted by PMStudent

Having managed small/simple and large/complex projects, risk management is something that I know I have neglected on the small/simple ones in the past, but the need for it becomes apparent on the large/complex ones.

There was a discussion recently Inside pmStudent e-Learning about this.

I’ll share my thoughts, and I’d like to hear yours.

Scaling it Down

photo by Soggydan Dan Bennett via Flickr

A basic principle for me on small projects has been scaling down the important project management processes to suit the environment, not eliminating the need for the process at all.? I didn’t always feel this way, but after managing larger projects my perspective changed.? I now see the value in thinking about even the smallest projects in a structured way.

Sometimes distinct activities become merged on smaller projects, but I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t optimal either.? I find there is a clarity of purpose and thought that comes from respecting the boundaries between discrete project management processes; a focus that yields better results and maintains the integrity of the process.


The smaller and more simple a project, the easier it is to intuitively have a grasp on the risks involved.? If your project is 2 weeks in duration, you are going to be thinking about risks while planning the project whether you want to or not.? And because of the short time frame, you’ll probably be pretty good at it if you know anything about the domain and your team has done projects like this before.

The longer a project stretches out, and the more moving parts get involved, the less validity our “gut feel” has in identifying and assessing risks.? That is why on a longer term project you want to do continuous risk management, making sure to identify and assess risks along the life span of the project.? If a project is only a month long however, you may only do this activity once or twice and it’s not going to be a 2-hour discussion for the team.? It should more likely be a 5 minute conversation.

Steps for Risk Management on Small Projects

  1. Ask the question “What worries you about this project or your piece of the project / what opportunities do you see” to team members?.individually or in a group setting
  2. For a short project, pick no more than 3-5 that seem likely or would have a?big impact
  3. Formulate these in terms of “Given [situation] there is a possibility?of [event] resulting in [impact].
  4. Prioritize these risks, figure out who the owner is, and figure out 1) how to mitigate if possible and 2) what you might do if it happened.
  5. Follow up as necessary (at least weekly in your one-on-ones) with the risk owner to hold them accountable for their planned actions.
  6. Report status of the continuous risk management process in your project status reviews.

On a short term project, I wouldn’t spend too much time on risk management.? It’s important, but should be scaled down.? This could be reviewed monthly or so if the project is long enough for that.? Plus on a short project I would consider the PM as the “risk board” and perhaps the technical lead and sponsor too.? It’s all a matter of scale and your particular project’s environment.

What do you think?? How do you manage risk effectively on small projects?