Embracing the Upside: The Power of Positive Risks in Project Management

Risk is often associated with danger when it actually represents uncertainty. And where there is uncertainty, there is the opportunity for good outcomes, as well as bad. 

It might be helpful to think of positive risk as a visit to a new restaurant. Perhaps a friend drags you to a place you are unfamiliar with. There might be some intriguing items on the menu that sound good, but you are reluctant to try them when you know a burger will hit the spot. 

If you decide to order something new, you may be disappointed (and potentially disgusted!), but there’s also the possibility you will find a new favorite food. 

This risk is positive because it has the potential to add a new dish to your list of likes. But not only that, it may open up a whole new culture of food for you to explore and enjoy—and it all would have started with that initial risk or uncertainty. 

The same is true of project management. Embracing the power of positive risk in project management can pay off not just with your current project, but it may add value to other projects well into the future. 

What Is the Difference Between Positive and Negative Risks?

Every project has certain known quantities that will present challenges. Risk, however, represents the unknown quantities that may pop up during the execution of a project. They might happen, but there is no guarantee.

Positive risks are those that provide an opportunity to improve the project outcome. Negative risks are those that pose a threat to the project, potentially causing it to fail.

Examples of Positive Risks.

Here are just a few examples of positive risks you might encounter in project management:

  • Early project completion.  An example of positive risk could be the impending release of new software that would boost the productivity of your team. If released sooner than expected, it could speed up the trajectory of your project allowing you to finish early and below budget. 
  • Innovative solutions. -Though it can be risky tackling a problem in a new way, it may not only solve an immediate problem, but it might lead to efficiency changes in process that will improve outcomes for projects that follow.
  • Enhanced stakeholder engagement. Increased input from stakeholders could be stifling, but if handled properly it might result in a better understanding of the client’s needs, as well as increased support and buy-in for the project overall. 

Positive Risks Management.

Positive risk presents the potential for some type of gain if it materializes. A negative risk does just the opposite. You can use the same tools for managing positive risks that you do in managing negative risks.

To assess the potential impact of positive risk on your project, you’ll want to start with a risk assessment meeting.

Just as you would with the pursuit of negative risk, the project manager will hold a meeting with team members, stakeholders, subject matter experts and potentially the project sponsor (depending on the scope of the project).

During this meeting, the group will identify project risks that could present an opportunity. Then, they will qualify those risks by the likelihood they will occur, and where on the timeline they are most likely to happen. The risk response will also be determined at this time. 

After the meeting, the risks will be logged into a risk register for day-to-day management. This is a critical tool for project managers as it includes information such as risk scores, triggers, responses, and risk owners.

The risk management plan is where the “meat and potatoes” can be found. This is where the team details information such as how risk was assessed, the top three risks that were identified, how risk will be monitored and what the response will look like. 

5 Strategies for Dealing with Positive Risks.

According to the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide, there are five strategies for managing the opportunities that come with positive risk. Which approach you plan to take in regard to each identified risk should be noted in the risk register.

  1. Enhance -This is when a team tries to increase the probability that a particular risk will happen.
  2. Exploit – This is a response that seeks to do everything it can to ensure the risk will materialize.
  3. Escalate – When the suggested response exceeds the authority of the project manager, and a higher level of management must be involved to take care of it.
  4. Share – A strategy where the team shares the opportunity with another group who will benefit from this positive risk, and whose help you need to realize the benefit. 
  5. Accept – As with a negative threat, the risk is acknowledged, but there is no proactive plan associated with it.

Don’t Ignore Positive Risks.

A complete risk management plan should include both positive and negative risks. While it is tempting to focus only on the threats to a project, positive opportunities can add a lot of value by saving time, money, and effort.