Determine and manage project criticalities and risks (second part)

Let’s go back to our discussion about the detection and management of project criticalities already started with the previous article.

Effective criticality management

Regardless of how well and thoroughly you plan, there are countless unknown variables in any project.

It would be foolish to think that a few chats about potential risks at the beginning of the project are enough to ensure that you don’t run into obstacles and critical issues along the way.

Project managers must therefore assume that problems will arise, and they should develop criticality management skills that will help them address these issues in a timely and effective manner so that the project can continue.

Critical issues that arise during a project may be unforeseen, but may also arise from risks discovered during the project planning phase.

To minimize the impact that critical issues have on the project, it is necessary to quickly set up an action plan and solve the problem before it becomes serious.

When a criticality occurs, the first step is to comprehend and fully understand the issue: it is necessary to understand what happened and what or who was “hit” and to what degree.

A criticality cannot be tackled effectively if the potential repercussions are not realized beforehand.

It is also necessary to verify whether this criticality has been reported as a potential risk in the planning phase. If so, a response plan should already have been drawn up to mitigate the impact of the problem.

Only once all aspects of the problem have been fully understood can we begin to address it in the most effective way.

Ways to address criticalities

One of the most efficient ways to address the criticality found is to get the project team together, present the problem and make sure everyone is on the same page and there are no misunderstandings that could only worsen the situation.

The project manager can then work alongside their team to find a solution to the criticality that will work for everyone.

Working on problems as a group enables opinions and ideas that the individual may not have thought of to be heard, which means that critical issues can be resolved more quickly or in a way that results in unexpected benefits.

It is worth remembering that both the risks and the critical issues are not always negative, but can also represent opportunities.

Once a successful solution is found, the next important step is to ensure that this solution is shared with the whole team, stakeholders and customers – if necessary.

Letting everyone involved know that a criticality has been found, but for which you have a solution, means not having to work against unrealistic expectations.

This way, if there are delays to the project, stakeholders will know exactly what happened and there will be less room for dissatisfaction or negative feedback.

Then, the response plan will be put in place, most likely to be delegated to a person who can guarantee that it will be implemented in the way that everyone has agreed.

After having addressed the criticality…

Once the criticality has been addressed and the response strategy implemented, it is advisable not to carry on as if nothing had happened and not to forget what happened.

Instead, it is important to reach out to the person, team or process that has been impacted to see if the action plan has actually solved the problem.

By reviewing the criticality and how it has been resolved, you can obtain information relevant to future risk management strategies to avoid similar events in future projects.

In this regard it might be worthwhile for you to read this article about lessons learned.

One last remark we would like to underline: the project manager must make sure to address problems to the team and stakeholders only after the critical issues have gone beyond their control and decision-making powers.

If the project manager raises issues that the management committee and stakeholders believe could be solved by himself, his trust as project manager is at risk.
manage risks

Warning flags indicating that you’re drifting towards failure

1. There is no project risk

If you cannot spot a single project risk, it is likely that you will encounter unpleasant surprises during the project lifecycle.

2. Some risks remain unidentified

To effectively address risks during implementation, it is important that risk identification is also based on the residual risk and not just the initial risk. This allows the project manager to understand the project’s exposure to risk as the program progresses and to monitor developments in the risk elements. Focusing only on initial risks does not provide an accurate overview of the remaining risks as the project progresses through its cycle.

3. Risk identification is incomplete

The project manager and the project team often neglect some major risk elements. The application of risk analysis to every project that is implemented in an organization can lead to an improvement in the risk identification process. However, as in all things, practice improves the process.

4. You don’t have a risk mitigation plan

If one simply lists the risks without preparing a risk mitigation plan specific to each of them, the future of the project is uncertain. Every material, likely and extraordinary risk needs a clear response strategy to ensure that the risk does not become a reality or that its impact totally affects the project.

5. There is no clear owner for the risk mitigation strategy

A risk becomes a reality and begins to have some weight on the project, but because there is no owner responsible for implementing the mitigation strategy, precious time is lost and the impacts of the risk become greater and greater. Every action plan needs an owner who is capable of implementing it at the appropriate time and following the chosen strategy.

6. The project sponsor or the management committee are not used effectively to solve risks

The project manager must be careful not to exacerbate problems when they shouldn’t be or to not report them when they should. Time is limited when it comes to project sponsors and management committees, and the project manager must ensure that this time is spent on serious issues that require analysis and approval that he or she, as an individual, is unable to provide.

7. The project team does not have a clear picture of the risks the project is facing

If project team members are surprised or confused by the impact of the risks, it means that timely and clear communication is not taking place or that warning flags for early risk identification have not been agreed upon.

8. No one knows when a factor is going to become a risk

If you are often caught by problems affecting the project without any warning, you probably do not have the right alarm system to detect potential risks so that you can act promptly. Surprises are certainly fun on other occasions, but not in the case of projects.

Tips for dealing correctly with project risks and criticalities

1. Define risks and find clear mitigation strategies for each risk

This step should be taken before starting the project. The project manager and their team should take some time to consider the potential risks which, as mentioned above, are material, foreseeable and extraordinary. Once the list is developed, it is used as a starting point to start thinking about response strategies for each risk.

2. Give the right scale to each single risk

The project manager needs to clarify which risks can be solved by them individually, which by the project team and which need the help and support of the project sponsor, management or other interested parties.

3. Know who is responsible and owner of the risk

The project manager shall appoint, for each risk, an owner responsible for managing the mitigation strategy. If the risk is about to become a reality or already is, this person will be in the forefront to implement the response plan as planned. In this way there will be no waste of time and the response will be immediate.


Certainly the tips and strategies explained in this article are good rules to follow for the general management of risks and project criticalities.

However, sometimes circumstances require much quicker decisions and you simply don’t have time to bring the whole team together to examine the details.

It may happen that the project manager is forced to make a quick decision over the phone or the problem is simply not big enough to justify bringing more people on board.

Regardless of whether the project manager makes the decision alone or works in collaboration with the team, it is vital to record everything.

It is therefore a good idea to create a document that reports and outlines all risks identified, mitigation plans prepared and those actually undertaken, along with all the critical issues the project has encountered along with the steps the project manager and team have taken to resolve them.

These risk and criticality records must be tracked and updated throughout the project lifecycle.

At the end of the project, the project manager should be able to provide clients, stakeholders, and managers with an explanation of why the project has stalled, been delayed, or exceeded budget.

Effective risk and criticality management is therefore crucial to a project manager’s career development.

Showing that the project manager has the right attitude to work efficiently and effectively to detect and mitigate the impact of risks and critical issues will demonstrate their expertise even if the single project fails.

Manage project criticalities

One try is worth a million words.

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