Avoid Project Failure by Handling Risks Early


Ever had a project fail because of an unforeseen problem, only to have someone say “I knew that would happen?” If you have, then you’ll know that planning for all risks is a sage move. If you haven’t, then you’ve probably just been very lucky.

Risks are a part of every project, whether small or large and understanding their potential to derail your plans is necessary. However, as uncomfortable as it may be, dealing with them up front and looking at contingency is always better than burying your head in the sand.

Here're our five steps to making sure you don’t get caught out.

Be Open and Accept People Make Mistakes

Good project managers accept mistakes as part of a project life-cycle. These are the people who get the most done. If a manager loses his or her temper when mistakes are made then staff are more likely to try to hide it when they happen. It sounds childish, but the survival instinct will often kick in and mistakes get hidden and problems go ‘unnoticed’.

Also, with an air of fear around them, some staff will be unwilling to accept that mistakes can happen and, therefore, don’t plan for them.

Being open means you’ll accept that your staff might make mistakes. Plan ahead for all the problems that can occur. When you have a deadline, tackle the potential for it being missed and what you’ll do if that happens. Telling a customer that something is likely to go wrong, but you’re attempting to mitigate, is far better than presenting them with a shocking disaster.

Prioritise the Risks

When you’ve got a list of all your potential risks, prioritise them. Your customer may feel any risk is a high priority, but they’re not. Some will be disastrous, for example, a project I was working on needed a new generator on the site on a particular day. Without it, the decommissioning of an entire factory couldn’t take place, the project would be over. This was a high priority.

On the same project, a new office was to be kitted out with equipment. Although the customer saw this as high risk, the old office could cope for a few days in the event of a delay. It was a tough one to resolve because the customer expectation had to be managed, but good communication meant this never became an issue.

Clarify Ownership

Ownership can be a significant problem. Nobody wants to handle a massive part of a project that fails. Many team leaders will attempt to lay low and not get involved in the larger parts of a project, fearing they’ll be responsible if things go wrong.

Ownership is essential, but it goes hand in hand with the first item in this list. Having a blame culture will mean people aren’t willing to risk their reputation or job if things go awry. Although it is important for there to be just one point of contact for a particular milestone or deadline, ensure they don’t bear the brunt of all blame.

Turn this into a positive role. Give your owner, or ‘risk manager’ the task of finding all that can go wrong and ensuring everyone is aware. If the risks are high, make it their only role.

Look for Opportunities

Don’t dwell on the negatives, look for the positives, too.

While looking to find risks, very often team members will find efficiencies. Make sure there is a reward system in place so everyone is looking to find these golden nuggets that can enhance your project.


Projects fail due to lack of communication. Whether it’s via an application, regular phone calls or just meeting face-to-face, communication is essential.

It’s by far the most important aspect of any project, and I’ve seen so many fail simply because one person hasn’t spoken to another when they should have. A couple of words of effective communication can mean the difference between project success and project failure.

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