Risk Identification Techniques

Written by  ToolsJournal | 04 November 2010
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arrowMany organizations does follow risk management but rarely we get to see an organization following defined techniques to identify risks. There are many techniques to identify risks of which few common methods are listed in this article which can be followed within any company.


The five tools that i would like to list for risk identification are


  • Documentation reviews
  • Information gathering echniques
  • Checklist analysis
  • Assumptions analysis
  • Diagramming techniques

Documenation Reviews

Documentation reviews involve reviewing project plans, assumptions, historical information from a total project perspective as well as at the individual deliverables or activities level. This review helps the project team identify risks associated with the project objectives. Pay attention to the quality of the plans and the consistency between plans. An exceptionally documented schedule is great, but if the budget isn't as well documented, you may have some potential risks. Let’s look at the remaining techniques of this process starting with information gathering.

Information Gathering·


This is probably the most often used technique of the risk identification process. You have probably used this many times for many purposes. Brainstorming involves getting subject matter experts, team members, risk management team and anyone else who might benefit the process in a room and asking them to start identifying possible risk events. The trick here is that one person’s idea might spawn another idea and so on, so that by end of the session you would have identified all the possible risks. The facilitator could start the group off by going through the categories of risks to get everyone thinking in the right direction.

Delphi Technique

Delphi technique is a lot like brainstorming, only the people participating in the meeting don’t necessarily know each other. In fact the people participating in this technique don’t all have to be located in the same place and can participate anonymously. You can use email to facilitate the Delphi technique very easily. The process involves enquiring via a questionnaire with all experts both inside and outside the company and they in turn send the responses back to you. All responses are organized by content and send back to the Delphi members for further input additions or comments. The participants then send their comments back one more time and a final list of risks is compiled by the facilitator.

The Delphi technique is a great tool that allows consensus to be reached very quickly. It also helps prevent one person from unduly influencing the others in the group and thus prevents bias in the outcome because the participants are usually anonymous and don’t necessarily know how others in the group responded.

Nominal Group Technique

Another technique that is similar to the Delphi is the nominal group. This requires the participants to be together in the same room. Each participant has paper and pencil in front of them and they are asked to write down what risks they think the project faces. The papers are given to the facilitator, who sticks them up to the wall or a white board. The panel is then asked to review all the risks posted on the board. Rank them and prioritize them in writing and submit the ranking to the facilitator. Once this is done you should have a complete list of risks.


Interviews are questions and answer sessions held with others, including other project managers, subject matter experts, stakeholders, customers team members and users. These folks provide you with possible risks based on their past experiences with similar projects.

This method involves interviewing those folds with previous experience on project similar to yours or those with specialized knowledge or industry expertise. Ask them to tell you about any risks that they have experienced or that they think may happen on your project.

Root Cause Identification

Did you ever hear someone say you are looking at the symptoms and n to at the problem? That’s the idea here. Root cause identification involves digging deeper than the risk itself and looking at what the cause of the risk is. This helps define the risk more clearly and it also helps you later when it’s time to develop the response plan for the risk.

SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) is an analysis technique that examines through each of these viewpoints the project itself, project management processes, resources, and the organization and so on. It also helps broaden your perspective of where to look for risks.

Checklist Analysis

Checklists used during the Risk identification processes are usually developed based on historical information and previous project experience. If you typically work on projects that are similar in nature, begin to compile a list of risks. You can t hen convert this to a checklist that will allow you to identify risks on future projects quickly and easily. You can also use the lowest level of the RBS as a checklist. However don’t rely solely on checklists for Risk Identification because you might miss important risks. It isn’t possible for a single checklist to be an exhaustive source or all projects. You can improve your checklists at the end of the project by adding the new risks that were identified or modifying old ones if need be.

Assumption Analysis

Assumptions analysis is a matter of validating the assumptions you identified and documented during the course of the project planning processes. Assumptions should be accurate, complete, and consistent. Examine all your assumptions for these qualities. Assumptions are also used as a jumping off point to further identify risks.

The important thing to note about the project assumptions is that all assumptions are tested against two factors:

  • The strength of the assumption or the validity of the assumption
  • The consequences that may impact the project if the assumption turns out to be false

All assumptions that turn out to be false should be evaluated and scored just as risks.

Diagramming Techniques

There are three types of diagramming techniques used in Risk identification

Cause and effect

This method shows relationship between effects of problems and their causes. This diagram depicts ever potential cause and sub cause of the problem and the effect that each proposed solution will have on the problem. The diagram is also called fishbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram after its developer Kaoru Ishikawa.

Process flowcharts

This method shows logical steps needed to accomplish an objective how the elements of a system relate to each other, and what actions cause what responses. This flowchart it’s probably the one you are most familiar with. It’s usually constructed with rectangles and parallelograms that step through a logical sequence and follow for “Yes” and “No” branches.

Influence Diagrams

This method typically show the casual influences among project variables, the timing or time ordering of events and the relationships among other project variables and their outcomes. Simply put the visually depict risks uncertainties or impacts and how they influence each other.


Each of these techniques provides a way for you to help identify project risks. It’s important that you identify all the risks early on. The better job you do of identifying the projects risks at the planning stage, the more comprehensive the risk response plan will be. Risk Identification is not an area of project planning that you should really skip.



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