Project Practitioners > What's the Worst That Could Happen?

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

By Kent McDonald

Has this ever happened to you? You are facilitating the kickoff meeting for a new project. You have a good, cross functional project team that has been very interactive so far. You get to the part where you want to identify keys risks for the project. "OK," you say holding a permanent marker in front of a big sheet of news print, waiting with great anticipation to write down all of the profound statements that your team is about to share, "what risks do we face on this project?"

Crickets, as in the group is so silent that you can hear crickets chirping, and it's the middle of winter.

Let's face it, even though thinking about and dealing with risk is a fact of life for project managers, for most members of your project team do not naturally think about risk. You often have to pose the question in a different way to jump start the project team members thinking.

Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco, in their book Waltzing with Bears, provide a helpful technique for identifying project risks called Catastrophe Brainstorming. Basically, you encourage the project team to imagine what are the worst things that could happen as a result of the project, the things that keep them up at night in effect. Then, you ask them to identify the scenarios where those things could happen and the root cause of those scenarios. It's these root causes that are the risks for your project.

Of course just identifying the risks facing your project is not sufficient, you actually then have to so something with them (aside from merely writing them down of course) but this approach to structuring the discussion will help you identify the key risks, and can often be a bit more entertaining. Plus it will keep you from wondering what crickets are doing wondering around in January.

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