Risk registers - expecting the unexpected

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Expecting the unexpected


If you are carrying out an R&D project, the unexpected will happen, which is why you will need a risk register. This is a useful tool in the management of any project. If you are receiving grant funding, it will probably be a part of the required documentation to be supplied to the funding body.

Risk management is about planning for things which might not happen. Things which may cause a hold-up, but which you already know about (perhaps a key team member has booked extended leave for part way through the project), should already be incorporated in the project plan.

Some measures of a successful project are that the timings, quality and budget meet the set targets. Your risk planning should take a good look at what could go wrong (optimism has no place here); how you can reduce the risk or impact of predictable difficulties; and what you can do when things go wrong. The risk register should contain the answers to all three of these questions.

What are the risks?

  • Staff difficulties - management, sickness, recruitment, loss
  • Project timeline - delays
  • Supply/ sub-contract management - not delivering on time, poor quality, supplies unavailable
  • Budget over-runs
  • Project results not meeting expectations
  • Disappearance of target market/ competitor getting there first.

This is not an exhaustive list: there are likely to be additional risks unique to your industry or project.

What can you do to offset predictable risks?

  • Not all risks you have identified will become issues, but many risks can be managed by planning at the outset. What follows are simply suggestions: your planning will vary according to your project and circumstances.
  • Staff - consider having staff shadowing all aspects of the project so that they can step in quickly, should someone become ill or leave. Also consider whether such provision will need to be added into project costs from the start.
  • Timeline - Schedule additional time for parts of the project which are at risk of being more complex than originally expected. Suppliers/sub-contractors - set and agree deliverable dates at the start. Consider whether penalty clauses are appropriate and enforceable.
  • Budget - carefully consider from the start where all your costs will be. Take hidden costs into account and do not underestimate the costs of management effort.
  • Project results - carry out early testing to avoid unexpectedly disappointing results too late in the project's lifespan. have a test plan with performance targets at each stage.
  • Marketing - plan in regular market reviews. Keep an eye on what trends are developing in your field.

How will you handle the unpredictable?

  • For every plan you have to counter risk, also have a back up.
  • Keep a back up supplier list of people you can turn to if your chosen supplier or contractor cannot deliver.
  • Be prepared to consider alternative materials or equipment if your original choice does not function as expected. In a staff crisis, be prepared to subcontract: have a list of people you can approach, and ensure that you have a clear, succinct project description and that your project plan and other documentation are clear and up-to-date so that a new team member can step in and quickly get up to speed.

Keep your funding body informed!

If your risks have become issues, or the unexpected has happened, tell your funding body sooner rather than later. In the area of risk management surprises are never a good thing, and a funding body which is kept informed of issues as they arise is more likely to be sympathetic than one which has been kept in the dark.


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