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Making the Most of Risk

Making the Most of Risk

23rd September 2007

This time, we’ll look for hidden opportunities and I’ll invite you to one of mine!

Have you been away recently? I have. Last week, I returned from a sailing holiday on the East Coast of England. Tranquil scenes with seagulls, water and lots of mud everywhere didn’t prepare me for coming back into the ‘real’ world. The news was full of horrific images: the project to split colonial India into two independent states, India and Pakistan, ‘went live’ sixty years ago. What followed was a bloodbath – more than a million people died.

I’m focused on risk for a piece of work with a large UK company. We’re developing the skills of their high-potential project managers, especially in the crucial early stages of projects and bids. So risk is on my mind as I write to you today. 

What’s your Biggest Risk?

For us, even if the very worst happens with our projects, genocide isn’t likely. But there will be risks that could have long lasting effects. And the good news is that those won’t all be negative.

After all, risk is all about uncertainty. These can be positive opportunities just as much as negative threats. 

I live in Loughborough, a market town in the centre of England. Loughborough University is famous for sports. As part of their marketing programme, they’ve realised that the London Olympics in 2012 are a huge opportunity. They want to become the training base for the England team. The benefits would be huge publicity for the university as well as a big boost to the local economy. 

So, how many positive opportunities do you have that could really make your project take off? Could your biggest risk actually be a huge opportunity that you haven’t spotted yet?

Finding Your Hidden Opportunities:

Risks can be difficult to identify. I find that risk workshops can work well. Most groups find it easy to think of all sorts of things that could go wrong in their projects. However, coming up with positive opportunities seems to be much more difficult!  

Much of our education teaches us to analyse and criticise. At work, we get very good at focusing on problems rather than at building on what works. This would explain why we find threats more easily than opportunities. How do we break this way of thinking?  

The Key is to Look Back from Success

One way to get a group to see positive opportunities is to go ‘into the future’. Imagine a time in the future when your current project is a huge success. From that point in the future, ask everyone to describe what it feels like, what they can see and what they can hear people saying around them. Then ask them to describe all the things that helped the project to be such a success. Make sure that none of the output is criticised and more will flow.

Capture what is said –> there’s your start.

Once you have all your risks, both threats and opportunities, they can be managed – but that’s for another day!

For support with handling risks – from understanding it through to helping you to run effective risk workshops, contact us at Making Projects Work on +44 (0)1509 821691.

+++ Penny hits the City of London +++  

I have been invited to speak to the Project Management Institute in the City of London. Do come along – it’s on the 5th September in the evening. PMI members can earn PDU points and it’s a chance to see an amazing, high tech venue as well.

The subject is ‘Making Project Meetings Work’, and I’ve been set


124 meeting issues by project managers!


Details here: www.pmi.org.uk/events/downloads/PennyPullan5Sept.pdf


All the best with your opportunities! See you next month… (in London?)


Penny Pullan

Making Projects Work Ltd.

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“By Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work Ltd.”

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