Project Management

Process Improvement

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What is the difference between a risk and an issue?
I am working with some folks who are PMs but not in the IT field. I'm a PM in the IS department and couldn't actually come up with a good clear distinction between an issue and a risk for the folks that I'm working with. Can someone help me define these two? Thanks.
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I've always defined this to the business community in these simple terms. An issue is something that IS happening and a risk is something that MIGHT happen.
With an issue, you must figure out how to resolve it now so you can move forward.
With a risk, you establish mitigation plans that will (hopefully) eliminate the possibility of the risk occuring or reduce the impacts if it does occur. Once a risk occurs, it becomes an issue.
I agree with the last post. When working with people from the business (or operations), I have advised people to restate issues in the form of a question that must be resolved. (E.g., "Our estimated development need has doubled. How will we provide enough development resources for this phase of the work?", "The new business model implementation has stalled for lack of clear requirements. Who owes the requirements for the compensation scheme in the new business model?", "The process improvement consultants have been fired. How will we support the business process projects that have already been launched?") This makes issues actionable. If something comes up that seems to land on the fence between issue and risk (the important thing is that you are paying attention to it...), ask for it to be restated as a question (Literally, "What is the question we need to resolve here?"). As a rule of thumb (and as the previous writer suggested), if the question is about something that could possibly happen, it is a risk. If the question is about a problem or situation that needs resolution, it is an issue.

Anyone that has lead successful projects has some competence in this area even if they use different terms (or no terms) to describe what they are doing. When you begin to answer the issue question, you may decide that the resolution to a particular issue is to commit to do nothing and live with or mitigate the RISK. Unresolved issues, almost by definition, represent one or more types of risks. Back to the example... "So, the consultants were fired--what happens if we just let everyone figure it out?" The answer is an informal assessment of the risk associated with a chosen issue resolution. (I hope something in there made sense.)
2 replies by Demetrius Williams and Diogo Simoes
Jul 11, 2016 8:12 PM
Demetrius Williams
Nice explanation.
Apr 23, 2017 6:52 PM
Diogo Simoes
Great answer. You got my vote.
Listen to Tom Wescott's presentation via podcast on the IS SIG website, located here. This presentation is very, very well done and covers risks and risk management quite well!
We usually come across 'Risk Management' in IT field but it has not being effectively used in the process of resolving the ISSUE.

Criticality of issue which leads to customer dissatisfaction is RISK, risk of losing customer, Project and so on.

Issue can be related to project, project planning, project management, project implementation and others but Risk is involved only on not able to delivered the product or service with the given time frame (considering the last limit to achieve the schedule)
An issue is a risk that has already manifested...whether it was on the risk list or not.
I have found each of these posts very interesting and informative. I have two different thoughts to this - (1) As a consultant in my past, I found that many organizations used terms with different meanings. One of the surefire ways to increase the maturity of project management within organizations is to create a dictionary of said terms and help educate people to the precision of this guide. In many organizations one would be challenged if they confused "java" vs "visual basic" in IT or "concrete" vs "plywood" in construction. Yet we are willing to be obscure with the differences between risks and issues. So my thought is a risk and an issue is whatever you decide to to be - as long as everyone understands the meaning clearly. (2) For me, the distinction that people understand is the following: An issue threatens the project plan and, if in an open status is something that can be handled by the core team. A risk is something that threatens the charter and, if it occurs, will need involvement of sponsor or senior management to rectify. In some ways, a risk is often an escalated issue - and a risk event is the distinct occurance of a risk. From an organizational change perspective, I encourage my teams to reimagine "ISSUE" and phrase it as an "OPPORTUNITY." People come to me with small, medium and large opportunities - it helps us focus on solution and every issue is truly an opportunity to shine.

Consensus and clarity on terminonolgy is always a good thing just so long as the clarity is truely clear of vagueness. I would actually go so far as to add examples in those definitions and even some actions that each might evoke.
Nice take on this, Stephen. Never thought about that. Thank you.
One important aspect of Risk management is the risk communication. As a PM , the task is to escalate and communicate the risks. We need to strike a balance between the sky-is falling-whiner vs information distributor
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"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

- Voltaire