Risk Analysis: Underlying Guidelines for Project Management

Quim P.
Quim P.
Risk Analysis Project Management Thumbnail
Link Icon
arrow up

As humans, we are no strangers to risk. Every day, we make decisions and choices that expose us to risk analysis. Will smoking this pack of cigarettes now increase your chances of getting lung cancer in 10 years? What's the probability of getting hit by a car if you jaywalk? These are all matters of risk analysis.

The same concept applies to project management. After all, every project has unique challenges that could hinder its success. In this guide, we will discuss the fundamentals of risk analysis in project management and you'll learn how it's possible to take an analytical approach to minimize risks and their potential effects on any project.

Table of Contents

Risk Analysis in the Context of Project Management

Before diving into the details of risk analysis, it's important to understand what it actually means in the context of project management. Risk analysis is essentially a process for determining potential risks, understanding their severity and likelihood, and then taking steps to mitigate them.

Anything that can affect a project's people, processes, resources, or technology is considered a risk. Having a strong understanding of the risks involved in a project can help you make better decisions when it comes to managing those.

Primarily, issues arise from one of the following three sources:

  1. 1
    Internal Risks

    - These are risks that originate from within the project or company itself. If these risks are not addressed promptly, they can lead to costly delays and even project failure. Examples include poor budget planning, lack of communication, inadequate talent, or unmet expectations.

  2. 2
    External Risks

    - These are risks that come from outside of the project or company. They may stem from changes in government regulations, shifts in customers' needs, or changes in the industry. Environmental events can also affect external risks. In other words, they are caused by external factors outside your control.

  3. 3
    Inherent Risks

    - These are risks that arise naturally as part of the project due to its complexity or scope. For instance, a project might require complex technology that has yet to be implemented. Or it may involve a large team that needs to stay on the same page despite working remotely.

In any case, it's crucial to understand the risks involved in a project before you attempt to mitigate them. Let's take a closer look at the steps of a risk analysis process in project management.

1. Identify the Risk

Perhaps the hardest part of risk analysis is accurately identifying the risks involved. Remember, these aren't issues that have already occurred but rather potential issues that may arise during the course of the project. As such, thinking outside the box and considering a wide range of potential risks is essential.

The best way to do this is by involving all stakeholders in the project. That includes team members, vendors, customers, and even outside consultants if necessary. Alternatively, you can use examples of similar projects to identify potential risks.

Create a list naming each risk, no matter how minor. A potential risk list might look like this:

  • MVP completion delay (14 days late)
  • Marketing cost overruns (10% over)
  • Unforeseen legal issues

2. Evaluate Its Probability

The next step is to evaluate the probability that a specific risk will occur. It's helpful to assign each risk a numerical value (e.g. 0-10 or 0%-100%) to help you make better decisions. This value should reflect the likelihood that a particular risk will occur. You can also color-code the risks (e.g. red, yellow, green) to further illustrate their probability.

Risk Assessment Matrix

Keep in mind that this is an ongoing process. As you progress through a project, the probability of certain risks will change. For instance, as the date of your MVP launch draws nearer, the likelihood of a delay might increase if you haven't completed the necessary milestones.

3. Calculate the Impact

Next, you should calculate the potential impact of each risk. This step will help you decide which risks require mitigation and how much time and money should be allocated to that effort. The effect of risk can vary significantly depending on the nature of the project. Keep in mind that the impact can also vary in nature.

Calculating Risk Impact Project Management Table

For instance, a risk might have an immediate financial impact, but it could also result in long-term damage to customer relationships or your reputation. Like probability, it helps to assign a numerical value to each risk. The value will be based on your assessment of the severity of the impact. The more severe the impact, the higher the number should be.

4. Define a Trigger

Defining a trigger is one of the most often overlooked steps in risk analysis. A trigger is an event that indicates the risk has occurred or may occur soon. Without it, you may only discover the risk once it's too late.

Triggers can vary depending on the nature of the risk. If you anticipate cost overruns, a trigger might be when the actual costs exceed a certain threshold. Or if you are concerned about delays, a trigger might be when all tasks are not completed by a specific date.

5. Estimate a Timeline (Optional)

Finally, you may also want to estimate when the risk might occur. Not all risks can be predicted this way, but it's helpful to have a rough timeline for those who can. It will help you plan your risk mitigation strategy accordingly.

Why Is Risk Analysis Essential?

Many companies see risk analysis as an unnecessary burden that complicates the project management process. In reality, however, risk analysis is essential to successful project management.

For starters, it helps to identify potential risks before they cause any damage. That can save time and money in the long run, as you won't be dealing with costly mistakes that could have been avoided. Risk analysis also provides a framework for contingency planning, allowing you to map out a plan of action if something goes wrong.

Finally, it will help you get ready for Industry 5.0. According to experts, the fifth wave of industrialization will be driven by human-centered designs, sustainability, and resilience. This last factor is where risk analysis comes in, as it will help you create a robust system that can withstand changes and unexpected events.

Two Types of Risk Analysis

When performing risk analysis in project management, it's important to remember that there are two different types. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. A mix of these approaches is often best.

Quantitative Risk Analysis

Quantitative, meaning numerical, is the type of risk analysis often used to determine the potential financial impact of a risk. The analysis is objective and focused on the likelihood of certain outcomes. It's typically done with complex mathematical formulas and spreadsheet models.

Qualitative Risk Analysis

In contrast to quantitative risk analysis, qualitative risk analysis is less structured and more subjective. It relies on expert opinion and risk modeling to assess the risk occurrence probability. The results are typically expressed as a rating (e.g., high/medium/low).

Core Methods of Risk Analysis in Project Management

In order to properly analyze risks, it's not enough to simply think of potential risks. You need to use a systematic approach to ensure all possible risks are accounted for and assessed. There are several methods you can choose from, including the following.

Probability Matrix

The most basic method, and one of the most common, is a probability matrix. It involves assigning a numerical value to the probability and impact of each risk. The values are then multiplied to calculate each risk's overall score. The matrix has the added benefit of making it easier to compare risks and prioritize mitigation efforts.

Bow Tie

The bow tie method is a more complex version of the probability matrix. It involves breaking down each risk into two parts – the causes and the consequences. With the chosen risk in the middle, you can then draw a diagram to help visualize the risk and its related elements. This approach is particularly useful when dealing with risks that have multiple causes and potential consequences.

Bow Tie Method Risk Analysis Project Management Illustration

Decision Tree

When dealing with risks involving multiple decisions, a decision tree can map out the different possible outcomes. Place the chosen risk at the top of the tree, and then draw branches for each decision that needs to be taken. At each branch, assign a probability of success or failure and an associated cost. Doing so will help you determine which course of action will most likely lead to the desired outcome.

Decision Tree Analysis For Risk Probability


Another option is the "Structured What-If Technique" (SWIFT). It's a brainstorming method used to identify and assess risks. Start by defining the risk and then ask "What if?" questions to explore potential consequences. You can use it to come up with potential solutions and contingency plans. Having your team involved in this analysis can help ensure all possible risks are considered.


In a similar vein, the Delphi method is a consensus-based approach used to identify and prioritize risks. It involves gathering a group of experts and having them use their experience and intuition to answer questions about potential risks. A facilitator then collects the answers from each expert and compiles them into a report that can be used to create an action plan.

Creating a Risk Management Plan

With your valuable data in hand, it's time to develop a risk management plan. You can achieve this in several steps.


Based on their numerical values, your judgment, or the results of your analysis, prioritize the risks from most to least urgent. A combination of impact and probability can help you assess the potential severity of each risk.


Once the risks have been assigned a priority, analyze each one to identify potential solutions. You'll have many options when it comes to mitigating risk, such as:

  1. 1
    Avoiding the risk

    - Take steps to eliminate the risk entirely. For instance, if a certain supplier is causing the risk, consider switching to another one.

  2. 2
    Transferring the risk

    - If you can't avoid the risk, transfer it elsewhere. This could be done through insurance or contracts with third-party providers.

  3. 3
    Accepting the risk

    - In some cases, avoiding or transferring the risk may not be possible. Thus, you must minimize the potential damage and accept the risk.

  4. 4
    Reduce the probability

    - This method involves taking steps to reduce the likelihood that a risk will occur. For instance, you may need additional employee training. You can also develop new processes and procedures.


You'll also want to assign responsibility for managing each risk. Ensure the designated person has the necessary knowledge and experience to handle the task. The project manager usually oversees the entire risk management process. Technical risks can be managed by IT personnel, while human resources risks can be managed by HR staff.


Finally, you'll need to monitor the risks continuously. Periodically review the list of risks and make sure that each one is managed correctly. This will help ensure that nothing slips through the cracks and that all risks are dealt with effectively.

Tools to Help Risk Analysis in Project Management

In addition to risk registers and matrixes, a variety of tools are available to help you with risk analysis.

However, project management software often comes with enough risk management features, allowing you to document and track risks more efficiently without having to expand your toolset in terms of software.

Some solutions also come with the ability to create automation and great layouts for managing risks, which helps you prioritize, assign tasks, and monitor threats in real-time.

Bottom Line

Risk analysis is an essential part of modern project management. It's not something to be feared or ignored, but instead embraced to ensure any project's successful completion.

By understanding the risks associated with your project and taking proactive steps to mitigate them, you can ensure that nothing stands in the way of achieving your desired outcome.

To further streamline your processes, check out our list of the best project management software. With the right tools, managing your risks and workflows becomes much more organized, which ultimately helps you keep everything in sight and not become a risk by yourself.

Link Icon
arrow up

Project management enthusiast who loves building a good working atmosphere in organizations. Good project management means making team members and clients feel comfortable at every stage of the process. Change my mind.