How to do Risk Assessment–Establish the Context-Pt2

/ May 25th, 2010/ Posted in How to do Risk Assessment / No Comments »

In How to do Risk Assessment–Establish the Context Part 1, I gave references to risk context in ERM standards, and described a dual purpose for writing the risk context statement (scope/assumptions and risk ID agenda). Also, I posted a template pdf Risk Assessment Template-Establish Context with some commentary to help you (or the project manager) write a context paper.

Here is a little more detail to help anyone responsible for setting up a rigorous risk identification and assessment process.

First, the philosophy that informs this approach says that risk is relative, and identified in relation to planned goals and values – whether for operational or strategic risk assessment. A valid risk assesment process is logically consistent, reasonably comprehensive, and transparent. Using the context paper helps meet these conditions and leads to high quality results.

You know, the more I think about the context paper, it occurs to me how many conceptual difficulties get sorted out when you do the preparatory work.

The project lead can actually write the draft of the context paper. That means that you, as the risk professional, need only provide guidance. Keep the paper concise; use attachments or references to existing documentation to avoid duplication.

If the plan in question is informed by an environmental scan, so much the better. The scan should paint a picture of fairly well understood and predictable conditions (demographics, industry developments, etc.) that have some effect on the organization’s strategy. Once these are set out in a report, it is easier to discern specific threats and thus compile a strategic risk assessment.

The items in the context paper template – project goals and detailed tasks; professional values; stakeholder interests, etc. – should be considered sources of risk. You should list them carefully because you will review each to identify risks that can impede the success of the project. The context paper will help you trace through the project and ask: “What could stop us from achieving this goal?”; “What could affect our efforts to accomplish this task, with respect to cost, quality, or timeliness?”

The value of leading the session participants through such a list is that you “map” several uniquely informed brains against the key elements of the project. Each round table member will have a different response to the context, and different ideas of risk, which means you increase the chances identifying all of the most critical risks.

Well, it happens that people sometimes do not like, for political reasons, the risk profile you develop and the conclusions of your risk report. But when you share the context paper and make your scope and assumptions transparent, critics will be hard pressed to fault your method. More often, you will find that uniting a diverse array of opinion around a common context leads to effective solutions. This only adds to the credibility and strategic value of your risk management program.

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