The Great Unknown - Anticipating Unexpected Risks

Sarah Fister Gale

Ignoring a problem won't make it go away. The same holds true for project risks.

Known risks, such as fluctuating material costs or potential project skills shortages, can be monitored and mitigated. But unknown risks present a much bigger problem for practitioners. Whether it's the discovery of infrastructure limitations on an IT project or ancient burial grounds on a construction site, unforeseen risks can trigger delays and inflate budgets. And without advance notice, project managers might find themselves scrambling for a solution—or facing project failure.

According to PMI's 2015 Pulse of the Profession: Capturing the Value of Project Management, 30 percent of organizations cited poorly defined opportunities and risks as the primary cause of project failure. The Pulse report also found that 83 percent of high-performing organizations (organizations that achieve 80 percent or more of projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals) frequently use risk management practices, compared with 49 percent of low performers (organizations that achieve 60 percent or fewer projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals).

That's because proper due diligence, contingency planning and a commitment to the risk registry can help project managers spot unknown risks early on—and help project teams expect the unexpected, says Alexander …

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"The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them."

- Mark Twain

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