Facilitating risk workshops for a new technology project

The client was in the process of running a pilot project that would automate the handling and tracking of items around an airport, something that was previously done manually with attached barcode tags.  The project was at the stage of developing the system requirements with the supplier, something the project team was finding it difficult to do.  It was becoming apparent that this project may not be as simple as it seemed, with many variables and different ideas of what could or should happen.

There were several parties involved in this project – the end users who would operate the system if it ever went live, the client’s IT department who were leading on the development and coordination of the project, and the supplier of the tracking technology who were keen to move quickly to provide a showcase of their capability with a high profile client. There were also a number of other parties representing various staff and other groups potentially affected if it all went ahead.

We knew the project manager and had discussed his project several times.  His increasing frustration with the different stakeholders and their varying perspectives was apparent.  We suggested that one way to move this forward and to get everyone understanding each other’s perspective was to hold a risk workshop.  This would have the advantage of allowing everyone to contribute from their own perspective and area of expertise, while at the same time hearing what others had to say.

So one afternoon armed with no more than lots of flipchart paper, pens and Blu-Tack we got some 20 or so people in a room with the sole aim of identifying risks.  We set a time limit of one hour, an aim of only identifying and analysing the risks, and a ground rule that no one was to interrupt or object to anything said, only questions for clarification would be allowed.  Any discussion of what to do about the risks was banned.

One exhausting hour later we had walls full of sheets of paper, about 150 possible risks, and a room of people who had all had a chance to speak.

The follow up to the workshop involved rationalising the list of risks, identifying suitable responses, and building these responses and how the risks would be monitored into the project plan.

The feedback on the workshop was that it was the first time all these parties had been in a room together, they all felt they had a chance to speak and they now understood the project from the perspective of others.  The risks were actively managed thereafter, but perhaps the most interesting outcome was that engagement in the project increased dramatically with the project manager saying he felt there was a shift from an “us and them” mentality to a “we” based approach.