While thinking about what could potentially go wrong in a project may seem like an unfruitful waste of time, it’s actually a core leadership skill, and one that IT professionals, in particular, should have. There’s plenty of potential for risk in IT projects, which is why it’s essential to have an understanding of how to manage it.
Risk management involves identifying, evaluating and prioritising potential project issues, so if they do happen, you have a plan in place to minimise their effects. Learning to better understand and plan for potential risks can result in more effective and successful projects.
This article explores why IT professionals should make risk management their best friend.
A case for risk management: common IT risks
When it comes to the information technology (IT) sector – or any area involving tech – there are plenty of potential obstacles that may negatively impact project outcomes. The interconnected nature of technology means that if one thing goes wrong, it can have a ‘domino effect’ on the rest of the project, resulting in significant delays or difficulties.
IT professionals may experience a range of threats, such as:
- unforeseen complications resulting in delays, such as technical issues, external failures or inabilities for systems to integrate
- technical inabilities for specific features, which may impact multiple aspects of the project
- mid-project changes in scope, which may demand radical changes that can inflate costs or timeframes
Risk management practices can help to mitigate issues, allowing you to identify and plan for difficulties ahead of time. There is a range of benefits you’ll experience in having risk management skills as an IT professional.
The benefits of risk management in IT
Awareness of project weaknesses
By identifying potential risks, you can plan for them in advance. This requires having systems and solutions in place if something doesn’t go as planned. For example, you may be launching a new digital product that requires your team to rely on an external provider. This raises the risk of the external provider being unable to deliver the services needed to complete the project. A project manager should highlight this risk and put a process in place – in this case, perhaps having a backup provider on hand.
Identifying project weak spots can be done by carrying out an audit at the start of the project. This will allow you to identify what risks are present and which ones pose the biggest threats.
Risk management forces teams to ask difficult questions and deal with potential causes of conflict. It’s important for these issues to be discussed and explored before a project is underway, as it will likely allow your team to avoid frustrations down the track if an issue does occur.
Project managers in IT should have advanced communication skills, to help facilitate these conversations. You need to encourage open communication with all team members, service providers and management. Engage your team in a suitable briefing process, and organise regular check-ins to ensure the project is running smoothly. This will allow your team to highlight early on if any potential risks are present.
One of the biggest threats to IT projects is overdrawn budgets. This may present a significant risk to the outcome of a project, as lack of budget can result in delays, lack of resources or even project abandonment.
Risk management practices force you to consider possible threats to budgeting, so you can develop a contingency and build in a buffer for the project spend, in case costs are blown out. Risk management in budgeting helps to take the ‘guesswork’ out of it, and ensure there’s a budget on hand for the project to be carried out successfully.
Improved team management
Nothing demotivates a team more than undesired ‘surprises’ that affect their ability to move forward. A system crash, technology not working, or significant project delays can lead to the team getting frustrated or losing sight of the overall project goals. People may start to skip important processes to speed things up or get distracted with the wrong things.
Risk management should identify potential issues with team motivation, performance and focus, and outline scenarios for when senior management needs to be brought into the equation.
Another area in which risk management can help IT professionals is prioritisation. This involves gathering and utilising data in order to make better decisions.
Project management tools can allow you to collect information in real time, based on the latest data, so you can respond effectively. For example, a project management tool may indicate that your team is spending far too long on a certain part of the project. If you can identify what’s slowing them down and rectify the issue sooner rather than later, the project will be better positioned in future.
Take your risk management skills to the next level
Understanding risk management is key to delivering successful projects in the IT space. It’s beneficial to continue developing your risk management knowledge and skills through ongoing professional development. One way to do so is by completing an online Graduate Diploma in Project Management (IT) at RMIT Online.
This qualification can help you learn practical tools in mitigating risk, designing projects and leading successful teams. Put your project in the best possible position, and make risk management your friend. Learn more about RMIT Online’s Graduate Diploma in Project Management in IT today.