About The Author
Jessica Everitt 2 articles
Residence: CA New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
The Change Expert

more about Jessica

All Authors


The Unified Project Management Dictionary


A temporary endeavor (with a defined start and finish) undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Project success is measured by whether it meets its stated objectives.

more terms

Five Barriers to Risk Identification

Project managers understand that risk identification is a longstanding and important part of successful project management.


But the reality is, it’s often neglected or inadequately completed. And without proper identification of risks, you cannot successfully manage or mitigate them. This oversight results in projects that are more prone to scope creep, schedule delays, and cost overruns.


So, the question becomes: why are we not doing something, even when we know the avoidance of it could be setting our projects up for failure?


The reality is that there are five barriers that stand in the way of successfully completing the risk identification process.

1. Lack of imagination

To adequately capture potential risks, some imagination and out-of-the-box thinking is required.

Sometimes teams are unwilling to even try to picture what could go wrong, because they don’t want to *jinx* the project. Other times, they’ve simply become so used to a status quo that they seem unable to even consider other possible risks.

For instance, if your team does housing construction projects, they may immediately come up with risks such as materials being delayed or weather events holding up painting. Likely, they’ve experienced these issues before.

But imagine they’ve working on housing construction for five years and never had an inspection fail. So, they immediately, and maybe even subconsciously discount it as a potential risk. But it is one. One that could delay the entire project schedule.  

To overcome a lack of imagination, you may need to walk your team through brainstorming techniques and/or bring in some outside people who can provide new, fresh ideas.

2. Lack of specificity

It can be challenging to get specific about something as uncertain as a potential future issue to your project. However, if risks are too vague, broad, or general it becomes nearly impossible to adequately monitor for them or create actionable mitigation plans.

A tried-and-tested approach is to make sure each identified risk meets the criteria of SMART.

In other words, is the documented risk

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

3. Lack of planning

If you’re on a tight schedule and under a lot of pressure to move fast, you may not allocate enough time to brainstorming, identifying or recording potential risks. The less time you’re given for risk identification, the fewer risks you’re likely to come up with.

Sufficient time needs to be set aside for you, your team, and any other key project stakeholders to go through the risk identification process.

Once a risk register is created, it should be routinely revisited. Not only to track changes in the recorded risks, but also to see if you think of new ones to add as the project progresses.

4. Lack of knowledge

When you’re doing risk identification, it’s critical that you have the right people involved.

You need to ensure that you have subject matter experts from each area of the project involved. Going back to the house building example, you don’t want to just ask the carpenters for potential risks. You need to also ask the roofers, electricians, painters, plumbers, and so on.

Including your project sponsor and other key stakeholders in the process can bring in even more viewpoints and ideas.

Referring to the risk logs and lessons learned of similar projects can also help you identify potential risks that your team may not have thought of.

5. Poor risk culture

If your company does not embrace and promote proper risk management, it can be difficult to motivate your team members to go through the risk identification process. By having strong upper management support of risk management you can help foster adoption.

In some cases, employees are hesitant to get involved with risk discussions because they fear the outcomes of risks could negatively impact them.

For instance, have team members been held accountable in the past for failing to identify risks? Or have they been pressured to provide quantitative amounts for the potential impacts of risk, only to be penalized when the risk outcome was much greater?

Teams that feel like risk identification is a lose-lose venture for themselves will try to avoid the process at all costs. To overcome this, you will have to demonstrate that the risk identification process is ‘best-guess’ and no one will be held accountable for a poor guess.

By going through the risk identification process as a team, and focusing on other team and trust building activities, you can help show that you’re all in this together and there is no need to fear punitive repercussions.

In Closing

By being aware of these five barriers and how they can impede your risk identification process, you can work to overcome them and reduce the risks to your projects.

Published at pmmagazine.net with the consent of Jessica Everitt