Project Risks: What Can You Plan For Ahead of Time?

We’ve all had a project that goes sideways – whether it takes longer than planned, the stakeholder pivots and wants something different, or an integral team member is suddenly out of office – it happens! Risks are always out there, and by identifying both internal and external project risks, we can start to proactively plan to get ahead before they become a problem.


Schedule Risk

Probably the most common – a project time crunch occurs when things take longer than expected. This can happen due to underestimating the time projects take, amount of steps to complete various components, or overall scope of certain steps. Schedule risk can impact the overall success of a project by throwing off timeline, budget, and resourcing.

To manage schedule risk, it’s important to create project workback schedules ahead of project kickoff, and (an often missed step) vet these timelines against project templates/architectures, or with the team members actually doing the work. You’d be surprised how many project managers work in a vacuum, and this can throw off even the simplest timelines by not communicating with various stakeholders. Another way to combat this is to ensure the team is doing their due diligence on a project before agreeing to a specific deadline. The “unknown” is not our friend here, and it’s easy for a few undisclosed details to throw off a timeline – research, communicate, and plan accordingly!


Stretched Resources

Proper resourcing is a must for any successful project execution. Having the right people in the right seats to get tasks done efficiently and at high quality can make or break a project output. From a resourcing perspective, it’s helpful at the inception stage to ensure all parties assigned to the project have the realistic bandwidth to take it on and devote the time necessary for a successful completion. This includes looking at the other work they have on their plate and other major milestones to make sure the proposed schedule works with their other priorities.

Another element of resourcing includes looking at individuals’ vacation time, upcoming holidays, etc. to make sure that time off during the scheduled sprint doesn’t put undue burden on other team members or crunch timelines where the team becomes overloaded. A manageable workload makes for a happy team, so mitigating any overwhelmed resources is a must-do for any project!


Budget Risk

Budget risk during a project refers to the uncertainty and potential for overspending or underspending the allocated budget for the project. Managing budget risk is crucial for project success, as going over budget can lead to financial strain and potentially result in the project’s failure. First and foremost, you must set a clear and realistic budget; ensure that all costs, including labor, materials, and overheads, are accounted for and include a contingency fund to cover unforeseen expenses. Then, monitor the budget regularly! It’s not a set it and forget it, and it’s more productive to monitor hours spent while the team is in the throes of the projects, and you can course correct throughout if necessary.

As always, maintain open communication between team members and stakeholders regarding the project’s budget so everyone is on the same page with how the project is tracking.


Scope Creep

Halfway through a project, we’ve all had that client or internal exec who wants to change the final output or keep giving revision rounds, without the thought of how this impacts the overall project scope. Scope creep can often start small, and where a bit of flexibility is always needed, it can easily snowball into something that derails a project’s success.

To combat scope creep, it’s imperative to set well-defined project parameters at the beginning of the project. Taking into account what the project is delivering, what it’s not, as well as taking into account revisions and timeline, will help give you the documentation needed to know what is in or out of scope. Scheduling project check-ins as gut checks throughout the sprint can ensure that all parties are staying on task, and no one is going down any rabbit holes that weren’t agreed upon or scheduled.


Overall, it’s the project manager’s job to look at the project from a 5,000 foot view, as well as know the details to make sure all stones are turned before the project is scoped and underway. Being proactive and realistic about risks before and during the length of a project can help mitigate the overall impact and most importantly, keep your teams happy!