A Guide to Risk Identification in Software Projects
I have seen many challenges with risk identification and identifying potential risks and their impact on a project. One of the biggest issues that arise is the lack of knowledge and experience in risk management, especially when dealing with an overly complex software project.
Failure to identify potential risks early on in the project is extremely problematic. I have personally overlooked risks that seemed inconsequential at the time but ended up tanking the entire project. Missing risks can lead to delays and unexpected costs down the line, and impact the psychological well-being of all stakeholders.
Collaboration and communication must be emphasized, as well as spending time early on identifying potential risks.
Here are some recommendations on how to make sure you identify the risks in your projects:
Involve stakeholders in risk identification
One important principle to follow is involving stakeholders in the development process, especially early on. This means that everyone who is affected by the project should be involved in identifying potential risks and their impact. This includes not only the development team but also project managers, customers, and other stakeholders.
In one of the first project meetings, simply ask everyone three things:
- What do they feel are the potential risks?
- What portion of the project can be affected?
- What must be done to keep this risk from occurring?
Bringing this up at the start of the project allows everyone to plan appropriately, and lets stakeholders to bring up all concerns. Adequate testing can be planned to make sure all risks are covered.
Everyone involved should have a better understanding of the overall project. Also, this involvement will promote ownership across all stakeholders for the project’s success.
Encourage active communication and collaboration
Communication and collaboration are essential in for any successful project.
Every project should encourage regular communication with all members and stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page. While outlining the risks at the beginning is critical, evaluating those risks and their impact on the project while adding new ones as they are found is just as important.
These risks should be brought up in the regular meetings held so action items can be assigned to team members to mitigate the risks.
Use risk management tools
Risk management tools can help teams identify and track potential risks and their impact on the project. For example, a risk management plan can be created that outlines the potential risks, their impact, and the actions that will be taken to mitigate them.
Risk assessment tools can also be used to evaluate the likelihood and impact of each risk. By using these tools, teams can identify potential risks early on and take proactive steps to mitigate them.
Examples of risk management tools
- Task Burndown Charts
- Mitigation Strategies
- Risk Scoring Matrices
- Impact/Probability Charts
- Monte Carlo Simulations
- Heatmaps to test user behavior
Sometimes a risk won’t be discovered until you see active users using a product. What you expect to happen may not be true, which is why heatmaps are a useful tool.
Also, if you have past data for your product or project, consider a Monte Carlo Simulation. It’s possible using this mathematical technique to predict likely outcomes in the future. You can put in various scenarios into this simulation, and results of possible variabilities will be returned. You can see a range of possibilities based on past datapoints, all in a nice graph.
An example of this would be to show a historical stock price of company. While many factors can impact a stock’s price, the report can show you volatility (which is relevant to any project).
These reports are often part of an Agile project management tool, such as Jira.
Continuously monitor risks
You need to continuously monitor known risks, and evaluate new risks. While this may not be part of your original project, it needs to be part of any ongoing maintenance of the project.
I have seen many Product Owners get caught by a risk that was not discussed. Whether your project is for the web or desktop or someplace else entirely, the environment is constantly changing. Operating Systems get updated, plugins get enhanced, browsers get new functionality, and servers get patched. While your project is safe today, tomorrow it may have a gaping security hole due to a new set of factors.
If possible, you can outline scenarios (i.e. – a particular area of an Operating System changing) that would prompt a re-evaluation, but that is fairly difficult to know in advance. Regular retrospectives can be held to discuss the effectiveness of risk mitigation strategies and identify new risks that may have emerged.
Penetration testing (Pen Testing) is a common security-related risk tool that safely tests known security bugs in an application. Many companies use these tools routinely in order to stay ahead of problems. So if you are worried about security risks, schedule a Pen test.
Identifying potential risks and their impact on a project is a crucial aspect of software development. If you are facing challenges in risk management or if you have any questions, please reach out to me. I am always happy to share my knowledge and expertise with others in the industry.