Project Risk Management in 2024: The Ultimate Guide

As a project manager, you’ve likely seen it all: days when everything’s smooth sailing, with your project passing every test, your team’s productivity skyrocketing, and clients showering you with five-star reviews.

But then there are those tough days, too, when it feels like you’re just putting out fires. Maybe your project team is losing grip on the scope, or the person responsible for a key task is out sick.

Have you considered a risk management strategy, so you can finally avoid getting stuck in this rollercoaster of ups and downs?

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By adopting a structured risk management process, you’re not just waiting for problems to pop up – you’re getting ahead of them. In this article, you’ll learn to identify risks, categorize them, and put together a solid risk response plan.

What is project risk management?

Project risk management is an essential part of project management, focusing on identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks throughout the project life cycle to ensure project objectives are met.

It starts with understanding ‘project risk’ as the potential for events that could adversely impact the project. The process encompasses risk identification (determining what risks might occur), evaluating risk probability (how likely they are to occur), and assessing their potential impact.

This approach, central to effective project management, ensures that risks are managed proactively. As one of the main responsibilities of a project manager, project risk management is crucial for steering the project smoothly through its lifecycle and achieving its intended objectives.

The word RISK written in wooden blocks

What are the most common project risks?

When tackling project risks, you’ll find that they are different: internal, external, and technical. The risks you’ll encounter also hinge on the specific environment and the dynamics of your project team.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) points out that depending on your industry and the methodologies you use, the types of risks can vary significantly.

Note: Remember, not all risks are bad news. There are ‘positive risks’ too, which are essentially opportunities that could benefit your project, if you play your cards right.

A big part of your risk management process will be to identify and prioritize project risks. This means you’ll need to figure out which risks need immediate attention and which ones can wait. It’s all about making sure you and your project team members are prepared and can steer the project toward success!

Here’s an elementary list of categories of potential risks in project management:

Internal risks

Internal project risks are those tricky issues that come from inside your organization, and they’re entirely in your control. These risks can appear at any level, including a specific department, the project team, or the project itself.

Let’s look at some typical examples of internal project risks:

  • There’s schedule risk, a common headache where your project’s timeline gets thrown off due to internal hiccups or slip-ups.
  • Health risks within your team, like project team members falling sick or facing burnout, can also derail your progress.
  • Cost risks are another big player. They’re about the financial side, where you might end up spending more than you planned or not allocating your budget efficiently.

Now, this is where your project team’s skills in managing risk events shine. With a strong project risk management plan, you’re aiming to spot these possible risk events before they turn into major issues.

It’s all about identifying risks early on, understanding their potential impact, and crafting risk management strategies to keep them at bay.

And when a risk does show up? If you’ve got your risk mitigation and response plan in place, you’re ready to tackle it head-on, ensuring that your project progresses as planned.

Get to know how time estimation can help you reduce internal risks in project management.

External risks

External project risks are those curveballs that come from outside your organization, completely out of your team’s control. Think of them as challenges that neither project managers nor project stakeholders can directly influence.

A few examples?

  • Government policy shifts
  • Environmental changes
  • Big economic shifts

Take the Covid-19 pandemic – it was a massive global health crisis that no project could sidestep. It threw supply chains into chaos, messed with international trade, and even shook up the workforce and the tech tools companies rely on.

For project managers, this means keeping a keen eye on the world outside during the planning process. It’s not just about crafting a path to successful project completion; it’s also about having a solid risk-monitoring strategy.

This way, when something unexpected does pop up, you’re not caught off guard and can manage projects and adapt your plans accordingly.

Read also: Project management reports

A team looking at a computer that was hacked

Technical risks

In project management, technical risks can pop up across different types of projects. These risks are tied to the tech-related resources you’re using.

This means dealing with potential software issues, hardware malfunctions, digital network glitches, or problems with your digital assets. At the same time, there are challenges like cybersecurity threats, keeping up with new technology, and adjusting to evolving regulatory requirements.

Managing these potential risks is a key part of your project risk management process. It’s about being on your toes for any tech trouble, whether it’s a shaky internet connection or a computer malfunction.

PM risks

It’s all about tackling the challenges in managing a project, from honing your project management skills to nailing time estimation and keeping project budget on track.

Key tools such as a risk register and quantitative risk analysis should be considered. They help you spot potential issues early and measure their impact, keeping you and your key stakeholders in the loop.

Handling these potential project risks will not only help you accomplish your project objectives, but also sharpen your ability to improve future projects, and increase your team’s risk tolerance.

And remember, sometimes calling in a tiger team can be a real game-changer in tough situations.

A tiger team might be the solution you need to fix something in your project.

TIP: Learn how to track and manage risks in our guide about Project Tracking.

Free eBook: The Project Manager’s Handbook on Time Tracking

Get your step-by-step guide to master time tracking as a Project Manager

Examples of risks in project management

Unexpected risks are almost inevitable, so, to get the project outcomes you are engaged to, having an effective project risk management plan is paramount.

By doing this, project managers feel more confident in managing risk in multiple scenarios. Check out some of the most common risks:

  • High costs – sometimes projects go over budget, and this can happen due to unrealistic budgeting in the project planning process. Going over budget might still occur with a perfect plan, but it’s best to detail all costs that may occur and the cost risk impact on the project.
  • Underwhelming performance –  it’s difficult to pinpoint its cause, most of the time. Nonetheless, with a thorough risk identification process, you could stay on top of potential risks( miscommunication, burnout, working overtime, etc.).
  • Scheduling issues – in any project plan there are buffers allowing for delays. However, with an initial risk assessment plan and the right tools, such as a time-tracking tool, project managers can prevent any delays in delivery days and others.
  • Lack of resources – resources can include time, money, tools, and people. Project managers are responsible for securing resources and staying updated on any risk event that stretches their resources and prevents their project success.
  • Operational issues – an operational risk occurs when project management software changes or there are changes in management or team roles. This category also includes the implementation of new processes.

Find out why a project management communication plan is important to reduce risks in project management.

a illustration of a project risk management cycle

How to manage project risks in 6 steps

The best way to approach risk management is to simply build a risk management plan and the entire team to follow it:

Here are the underlying steps for a project risk management plan:

1. Identify the type of risk and circumstances

To solve a problem, you need to identify it. Afterward, add it to your risk register and collect as much data as possible about its context.

Involve your team to discuss the identified risks and brainstorm solutions to them.

a team analyzing the risks of a projects with data

2. Analyze the risk 

Once you gathered all data (which, remember, can be a continuous process), you need to start a risk analysis process on individual risk events.

good project management software helps with risk analysis. If you don’t have one, you might already have an internal risk management framework in your company.

By thoroughly analyzing your data both qualitatively and quantitatively, you’re empowered to prevent any risk event occurring, regardless of the type of project.

3. Prioritize what matters

Different risks have different degrees of impact. Once analyzed your risks, now categorize any risk event by: high, medium, or low.

This way, you can have an effective risk management plan, as you’ll know which risks need immediate action, and which can be delayed.

Read also: The best tools to prioritize work

4. Assign a risk owner

Every risk identified should be assigned to someone who’ll be leading the work toward its resolution.

The project manager is responsible for choosing the suitable person, considering the person’s skills, experience, and expertise.

5. Create a response plan

Now it’s time to put the risk response plan into practice. When building your response plan, remember that you can think of other positive repercussions of it. Any problem with your risk register can come up with unexpected benefits, too. Stay creative!

From there, the manager and the risk owner act according to the risk management plan developed.

a man monitoring a project

6. Monitor the risk

In this phase, the responsible person has to keep the manager in the loop through calls or e-mails to have an accurate picture of the project’s overall progress and any changes in the risk management plan.

Read also: The importance and benefits of project monitoring

What are the challenges in project risk management?

Project risk management is challenging. As stated, challenges depend on many factors, including the type of project and the risks it entails, whether they were already identified or not. Here are some:

  • difficulty in correctly identifying the project risks – can happen due to a lack of collaboration or dedication to identify any risks.
  • handling too many projects simultaneously – one project already demands attention to every risk and individual mitigation plan, having more projects at a time, adds complexity. Even the best project management skills can be surpassed in this case.
  • the risk management plan is ignored – it’s developed and exists in the risk register, but it’s not given importance or implemented.

TIP: Read our blog and learn how to manage multiple projects at once.

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How you can mitigate risks

Mitigating risks falls mainly on anticipating them and planning. Considering the examples discussed, it’s clear that every one of them requires planning for the worst-case scenario, anticipating new risks, creating alternative plans, and sticking to all of them very closely.

Additionally, we can list five mitigation strategies to help with risk mitigation plan:

  1. Accept – By accepting the risk, its analysis defines the consequences of each risk event to see which ones are acceptable. What can be done to solve it, and what team members can help mitigate it?
  2. Avoid – By avoiding the risk, the team members come up with ways to avoid the possibility of the risk happening. The goal is to create a plan for a hypothetical risk and have a preventive attitude to avoid it.
  3. Control – If the risk cannot be avoided, it must be controlled. What action(s) needs to be implemented to control the risks’ impact?
  4. Transfer – This strategy involves attributing the responsibility of the risk and its consequences to a different party, such as insurance.
  5. Monitor – It’s critical to monitor all the risks in understanding changes that happen during a project’s lifespan. Team members must take responsibility for monitoring risks, new risks, and project changes.

Read our article and find out why having a project management checklist minimizes the risks.


What is a project management risk plan?

A project management risk plan outlines how a project’s risk management process will be executed. This document defines how to approach risk management, how to understand best and manage the risks related to the project, and the responsibilities of each team member in managing the identified risk.

What are the steps of project risk management?

The steps of the project risk management process are identification, analysis, prioritization, ownership, response, and monitoring.

What are the best risk management tools? 

The essential tools to support your risk management plan can be found within your project management tool or easily found online: marketing analysis, budget tracking, a risk register, or collective brainstorming sessions.

Moreover having a quality assessment and risk analysis process or designing a probability matrix and performing a good root cause analysis, can lead you to project success.

What is the risk matrix formula?

risk matrix is used for risk assessment. One of its axis is used to assign the probability of a risk, and the other is used to determine the consequence or severity. So, risk equals probability times severity.


Having a project risk management plan can cut down on the unpredictability of potential project risks and keep your project on a steadier course.

While it’s not possible to eliminate risk, as there are risks out of your control, it’s paramount to have risk management and mitigation plans implemented in every project stage.

For this to be successful, everyone involved, from the manager to the staff and even the administration of the company, needs to be trained to implement various risk management practices.

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