Friday, 13 June 2014

Assessing risks in digital projects - sort-after skill but elusive

If you look at the job adverts for any Project Manager/Team Leader in digital companies then one of the top ‘wants’ is assessment / mitigation / avoidance of project risks. Once you try to find a definition of such risks to check if your experience meets the need, you get unstuck. A definition seems to be the ‘holy grail’ for iMedia!

The problem at one level is that there is a school of thought that wants to define and control risks while the other approach appears to accept that risks are necessary and that without them you’re not innovating, not moving forward, not succeeding in digital. Where does your company sit on this fence? How do they define the skills they want for a Project Manager? Can you do both – control and innovate?

Naturally, you don’t want your projects to fail, so you need to define and control or avoid as many lurking pitfalls as possible. But each digital project will throw up some variations in delivering the solution and these need the innovation/creativity to provide the workable answers. It’s true that the greater the innovation the greater the risks all round. Others may well learn from your mistakes and reap the rewards on your innovatory shoulders – but can you afford this? Can you afford to take the hit from an innovatory project on the premise that you’ll reap rewards later? It’s a business conundrum. Most businesses take the view that primarily you have to meet your clients’ needs and your budget. If there are risks, your clients have to know them and accept them. Many clients don’t want you learning on-the-job at their expense. Research - well isn’t that innovation - is a costly item.

The UK government’s Major Projects Authority has estimated an increase of over 15% in projects at risk between 20012 and 2013. This is billions of pounds. It doesn’t define which of these projects have a digital component but you can be sure that many do. It’s a sobering thought.

The Technology Strategy Board have defined a need for an innovator centre that is meant to help digital companies experiment in an attempt to get ideas to market more quickly and cheaply because this will contribute to the UK’s economy. You may be able to take advantage of this. The centre is due to open later this year.

Risks in projects can come from a variety of sources, including the diverse number of people involved across clients and developer teams as well as the actual software and hardware components and processes involved. So it might well be that a Project Manager should coordinate risk assessments across the expertise sectors involved in the project. This might include a risk assessment from the clients as to how the project might be received by their company and end users.

Why should the expertise for risk assessment reside with one person when a digital project crosses so many functions? If any marketing personnel are involved, they should be made aware of the very high threat of risk as perceived in their area. 58% of European marketeers, in a recent survey about their fast-changing role in the digital environment, foresaw risks in success for them caused by lack of skills, confusion over roles and responsibilities in their company and resistance to new programs. See the ‘key findings’ section in Discerning Digital’s summary of the Five most interesting takeaways from the Adobe summit (21.5.2014).

Perhaps the most down-to-earth recent account of risks in digital projects that should help you define the areas you might need to include in Risk Assessment is at Simpleweb in their blog Risk Assessment: How to avoid a disaster when you’re growing rapidly (29.5.2014).

They cite:
  1.  Look for changes (including indirect risks)
  2. Avoid if you can, mitigate if you can’t
  3. Know your strengths and weaknesses (lead the tech, don’t let it lead you)
A good start, but not the whole answer. Anyone got any risk assessment forms/templates for iMedia?

1 comment:

  1. Project manager is the one who manages all the factors for the successful project completion. There are many risks associated with the project. By thoroughly going through all the possibilities and doing rigorous Health and Safety Risk Assessments a project manager lead of the team of developers to complete the project in time.

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