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Risk and Issues Lists within SharePoint Workspaces

In my last article I wrote about custom SharePoint Workspaces and mentioned issues and risk lists and how you can customise their category values and how these bits of “meta data” can then be used in Data Analysis views using OLAP Cube data.

If you are not using the issues and risks lists within SharePoint workspaces you are missing out on a very useful means of keeping track of these inevitable factors in any project of significance. In this article I am going to focus in more detail on how you can use the risk list in a SharePoint workspace to support better risk management in your projects.

Risk is a specialist Project Management subject in its own right. Identifying, analysing and planning for risk and then assigning responsibility for and monitoring for risks should be a key part of your standard project processes.

Risks cannot be avoided but they can be planned for, if you are aware of the potential for risk you can reduce the chances of being caught out by unexpected events. Risks can be categorised as being either avoidable or a fact of life – for avoidable risks the obvious thing to do is to try to avoid them, for fact of life risks you have no choice but to make provision for their potential to occur. Intriguingly these categorisations are not defined by default in the SharePoint risk list in the Project Workspace template so there is scope here for an enhancement!

One comforting factor is that a lot of the things that we fear never come to pass; this does not absolve you from considering the potential impact of risk but does offer you the comfort that a project is not all gloom and doom.

Risk lists in SharePoint give you the opportunity to monitor your risk status, allocate responsibilities for risks and to appreciate your financial exposure to risk. As your project progresses it is likely that some risks will be closed and will no longer have any influence on your project. Other risks may well change as the project progresses posing more or less of a threat to your project than was appreciated in the initial risk analysis and planning process. New risks may arise as your project proceeds. All of these factors can be accommodated by a risk list in SharePoint.

By updating and maintaining your risk list in a SharePoint workspace you should be in a position to manage risks to your project more effectively. Allocating a priority and a cost to risks can also help you manage risks more effectively by focusing on those risks that pose the biggest impact to your project.

Assigning risks to team members is elegantly supported by SharePoint risk lists; this feature allows you the opportunity to delegate responsibility for risks to members of the project team. Ideally risks will be delegated to those closest to and most affected by the risks that have been identified in your risk analysis. As you can link a risk to a project task it makes sense for the person assigned to the task to be responsible for the risk associated with it.

Custom views in a SharePoint list give you the means to focus upon information by any number of criteria giving you differing ways to assess or analyse your risks. For example you might want to view risks grouped by status, owner, assigned team member, priority or impact. If you create additional meta data values for your risk lists such as fact of life or avoidable you can group and sort by these criteria too.

Project Web Access gives team members who are assigned risks for any of the projects they may be involved in a single point of visibility allowing them to self manage the risks they are responsible for. If you have alerts and reminders enabled your team members can also be kept aware of their responsibilities via email.

Being aware of the potential for risk and maintaining your risk recovery plans is essential, imagine how you would feel if you had identified a potential risk and it then manifested itself only for you to discover that your risk recovery plans were out of date or had not been maintained properly? Your watchwords in this case should be “this shouldn’t happen but if it does…”

Assigning costs to risks can serve to focus you upon the cost exposure to risk that your project may have. It may well be that your organisation is unwilling to expose itself to the level of financial risk that your project may entail. Conducting detailed risk analysis early on can at least avoid wasted effort later on if a project is deemed to have too high a risk cost associated with it.

As Project Server 2007 captures information about risks and issues in the reporting database for the first time there is the potential to report on risks in either a project centre or detail view or for more dynamic reporting using data analysis views and the power of pivot tables and graphs to present this information for maximum impact.

If you really want to leverage the potential of risk lists in SharePoint SQL Server Reporting Services can be used to create powerful dashboard reporting across portfolios, programmes and projects.

This by no means covers the entire subject of project risk but hopefully it gives you enough food for thought to consider using risk lists if you are not already doing so and if you are using risk lists it may give you further ideas on how to define and manage risk using SharePoint risk lists in your project workspaces.

In my next article I plan to investigate how issue lists can be used to support your project processes.

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