Managing Projects: Risks and Issues (part 4 of 5)

Third sector projects present their own unique set of challenges and risks – make sure you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying and managing them. Managing Projects: Risks and Issues is a 5 part series providing practical advice and a brand new ‘CARE’ model to third sector project managers.

Part 4: Evolving as a result of project risks and issues

Risks are inherent in all projects and risk management is central to the role of a Project Manager. Now that you know the risks your project faces and why (see part 1: Identifying Project Risks) , you have assessed the risk level (see part 2: Assessing Project Risks), and responded to your project risk and issues (see part 3: Responding to Project Risks), the next step is to use your learning to help your project and organisation evolve.

How you manage and respond to risk and issues, and the learning you gain from this is one of the most important aspects of a project manager’s role.  Lessons learned can have a very positive impact on both your project and your organisation overall.  They can also be shared with other similar projects, across the sector, feeding in to best practice and adding value to your projects’ impact. However, this can often be a missed opportunity, and often once the risk or issue has been dealt with the next step fails to take place.

Many projects will produce a lesson’s learned report in their final project report.  We recommend using a lesson’s learned log throughout your project, enabling you to analyse and most importantly act on learning throughout the project – not just at the end!  By capturing these as quickly as possible it prevents details being lost, and allows you to begin implementing recommendations straight away to improve the rest of your project (where this applies).

A lessons learned log will typically include:

  • Event – What happened?
  • Date – When did it happen?
  • Cause – Why did it happen?
  • Learning – What have we learned?
  • Recommendations – What will we do about it?
  • Integration – How will we embed this learning?
  • Person responsible – Who will implement the recommendations

This is often formatted as a table in word or excel. What goes into your log may come from several sources. Yourself, your project team, your management team, your stakeholders and project beneficiaries will all provide valuable feedback.  Give these groups the opportunity to feed into this.  You might do this informally, or you might choose to facilitate a specific discussion on this.

This information can then be used to produce your final lessons learned report within your project closure processes. The purpose of this whole process is to ensure we avoid repetition of negative experiences and increase the likelihood of positive experiences recurring. Although these blogs relate to risks and issues learning comes from both negative and positive experiences, and your log should reflect this. We also want to draw on our successes and repeat them as much as possible.

The lessons learned log should be something everyone can make use of, so it should be held centrally and shared with other projects, who may be able to use the recommendations to improve their projects and reduce their risks. It’s important to share, integrate and embed these lessons throughout your organisation. When auditing one programme we found that several project managers had recorded the exact same lesson learned on each of their projects at differing dates. Hardly a lesson learned then!

Previous experience shows that many organisations and Project Managers agree the importance and value of learning and sharing of best practice in their continuous improvement, but only a small percentage are using tools and processes for capturing and sharing lessons learned and applying recommendations.  The main reason for this was lack of time.  But as the saying goes, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”.  A bit of time invested now can save a lot of time later down the line and helps to improve the quality of all our projects.

In our next and final article in this series, we will be sharing guidelines for creating a risk management strategy.

If your organisation would like support to design risk or quality management tools for your projects get in touch with us now for an informal discussion by emailing nikki-dee@pm3.org.uk

Nikki-Dee Haddleton is Director of PM3 – Project Management for the Third Sector.  Incorporating feedback from Third Sector organisations and Project Management professionals they have designed a framework specifically for Project Managers in the Third Sector.   PM3 – Project Management for the Third Sector delivers high quality, affordable Project Management consultancy and freelance services, training, support and more. 

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