One of Systemation’s most highly sought after single discipline classes within project management is risk management. Directors are hot on it; they feel their PM’s are weak in risk management because of a common pattern they witness. Projects are not being completed as expected and the main culprit it seems is unexpected events, unforeseen risks, which plague these projects. Directors believe that if PM’s receive training in risk management they will be more able to foresee these events and avoid them.

What directors do not fully know is that these unforeseen events are not due to poor risk management skills but poor fundamental project management skills. This is what happens behind the scenes on a miss managed project: The project manager gets surprised when he becomes aware that his project’s schedule or quality of the deliverable is missing the mark. In an effort to draw attention away from himself, the PM creates a story based on events that could not have been seen and therefore mitigated. These stories are not total fiction, they often contain a good portion of fact but are told in a manner that supports the project manager’s position that he was the victim of these unforeseen events.

What probably happened is the PM did not have a handle on the details of what the project’s current state was. He also did not pay attention to the future work that might be impacted by the current reality. As a result, the current reality was vague and its impact on the future was even more so. In this situation everything becomes a surprise.

Symptoms of poor project management display themselves in several specific ways. Here are a few:

  • Not breaking down the deliverables into a detailed set of tasks
  • Not identifying the dependencies between tasks
  • Not knowing what tasks have been fully completed
  • Not knowing how much more remains to be completed on incomplete tasks
  • Not curtailing scope expansion based on the project’s scope statement
  • Not adjusting future estimates based on estimating error trends
  • Not adjusting future work based on current reality and its impact on project completion
  • Not tracking external dependencies
  • Not knowing if the promised availability of partial resources is being met

If we apply the risk management process to the risk above it would go like this: Risk identification tells us poor project management is a potential risk, risk assessment tells us the potential impact is extremely high, and the risk mitigation plan is to ensure PM’s practice good project management fundamentals.

This is easier said than done, but still very doable. Five actions must be implemented to ensure PM’s practice good project management fundamentals:

  1. Project managers must receive training in the fundamentals. The training must cover project planning, execution and control, and it must be sufficiently thorough to give them the practical understanding of the concepts.
  2. There must be a standard methodology that project managers can follow. It must be appropriately balanced between planning, execution, and control, and it must be detailed enough to give them a routine to follow that will help overcome the practices of poor project management defined above.
  3. Project managers must have access to software tools that enable them to easily follow the training and methodology provided.
  4. Project managers must deliver management reports on a routine basis that are metric driven and allow management to verify that good project management practices are being followed as well as an accurate status of the project.
  5. Management must support the practice of project management. This is much more involved than you think. It means acquiring a working knowledge of project management fundamentals so you can talk the PM’s language. It also means giving PM’s the time to do their job right and not asking them to take a short cut or disregard portions of the methodology.

In over 12 years of coaching PM’s on live projects, every other week for six month sessions, Systemation has very rarely encountered unforeseen project risks that result in project failure. The reason is that the five actions above were instituted within the PM’s organizations and were sustained long after the six month sessions ended.

Next time a PM plays the victim and blames unforeseen risks audit him. You will learn that most likely it isn’t unforeseen risk that hurt his project; it is poor project management.