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Project Portfolio Management

What’s the Difference Between Managing a Risk and Managing an Issue?

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

One of the most widespread project management trends in recent years has been the increased focus on risk management within a project. Enterprise project managers in every industry have recognized the importance of identifying and avoiding project risks, and have begun to take a more formal approach to risk management in every phase of the project.

difference between managing risk and managing an issue

Ideally, all this extra attention to risk management would mean that project risks never materialized and became issues. The reality, of course, is that even the best project managers sometimes have to deal with risks that they are unable to avoid. As with risk management, issue management at the enterprise level requires a formal, well-thought-out approach.

Here’s a look at the difference between risk management and issue management, plus how today’s most successful enterprise project managers are managing their risks and issues.

Risk Management vs. Issue Management: What’s the Difference?

Basically, a risk is a potential issue – an issue waiting to happen, if no mitigating action is taken. To use a medical analogy, risk management is preventative care whereas issue management is all about the cure.

Does that mean good risk management makes issue management unnecessary? Not at all. Ideally, the two inform and bolster each other. A significant part of your risk management program should be dedicated to defining the processes you’ll follow if and when certain risks become issues – i.e., defining specific issue management processes.

Below, we’ll break down each type of program in more detail.

Enterprise Risk Management

As noted, risk management is the process of identifying potential problems that might arise over the course of a project and creating a plan for avoiding those problems.

In the past, this was once a fairly informal process—if it happened at all—but many organizations now require that project managers build a risk management plan into their project plans from day one of the project. While the risks to a project will depend in large part on the specific goals of the project, PMs in every industry should follow a few basic best practices.

Risk Management Best Practices

  • Start the risk management process as early as possible in the project, and have a definite plan for how risks will be identified and monitored throughout the project.
  • As you identify each risk, also define which team member (or team members) will be responsible for tracking and reporting on the risk.
  • Prioritize your project risks based on the likelihood that they will occur and the severity of the problem if they do occur.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Many project managers build time for a risk management discussion into their daily or weekly calls with senior stakeholders and the rest of the project team.
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Enterprise Issue Management

While a project risk is a problem that may or may not occur at some point during a project, a project issue is a problem that is actively disrupting a project or putting its success in doubt.

It’s important to note that not every issue can be foreseen ahead of time. However, project managers should have a framework in place that allows them to tackle any issue logically and effectively.

Issue Management Tips

  • Include an issue management plan in your overall project plan, outlining the process you will use to evaluate and address any issue that occurs.
  • Use your organization’s project management tools to communicate with the team about issue status, responsibilities and outcomes.
  • Just as with project risks, it’s important to prioritize issues. While some may have the potential to disrupt the entire project, you may find that others require little to no response.

With these tips, and effective team management strategies, you should be able to identify project risks and issues before they become a major issue.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork