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20 Common Project Risks - Example Risk Register

Download our risk register of 20 key common project risks.

This is a FREE risk register that contains 20 common project risks with mitigating and contingency actions that you can take against each one.

20 Common Project Risks

These are the 20 common project risks which we have included in the risk register along with suggested mitigating actions and contingency plan. Learn the Risk Mitigation techniques you need to reduce project risk.

1. Project purpose and need is not well-defined.

2. Project design and deliverable definition is incomplete.

  • Mitigating Actions: Define the scope in detail via design workshops with input from subject matter experts
  • Contingency Plan: Document assumptions made and associated risks. Request high risk items that are ill-defined are removed from scope
  • Example status: Design workshops scheduled.

3. Project schedule is not clearly defined or understood.

  • Mitigating Actions: Hold scheduling workshops with the project team so they understand the plan and likelihood of missed tasks is reduced. 
    Share the schedule and go through upcoming tasks at each weekly project progress meeting. 
  • Contingency Plan: Revisit the schedule with the project team.
    'Relaunch' the project schedule.
  • Example status: Workshops scheduled.

4. No control over staff priorities.

  • Mitigating Actions: The Project Sponsor will brief team managers on the importance of the project. Soft book resources as early as possible and then communicate final booking dates asap after the scheduling workshops. Identify back ups for each human resource on the project.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to the Project Sponsor and bring in back up resource.
  • Example status: Project Sponsor has agreed to hold briefing. Now making arrangements for a meeting room.

5. Consultant or contractor delays.

  • Mitigating Actions: Include late penalties in contracts.
    Build in and protect lead time in the schedule.
    Communicate schedule early.
    Check in with suppliers regularly. Query '90% done'. Ask again and again if they need anything else.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to Project Sponsor and Contracts Manager. Implement late clauses.
  • Example status: Lead time from each contractor built into the project schedule. Late penalties agreed to and contracts signed. 

6. Estimating and/or scheduling errors.

  • Mitigating Actions: Break this two risks 'cost estimating' and 'scheduling errors'.
    Use two methods of cost estimation, and carefully track costs and forecast cost at completion making adjustments as necessary.
    Build in 10% contingency on cost and scheduling.
    Track schedules daily and include schedule review as an agenda item in every project team meeting.
    Flag forecast errors and/or delays to the Project Board early.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to project sponsor and Project Board.
    Raise a change request for changes to budget or schedule.
    Pull down contingency. 
  • Example status: Contingency agreed by Project Board.

7. Unplanned work that must be accommodated.

  • Mitigating Actions: Attend project scheduling workshops.
    Check previous projects, for actual work and costs.
    Check all plans and quantity surveys.
    Document all assumptions made in planning and communicate to the project manager before project kick off.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to the Project Manager with plan of action, including impact on time, cost and quality.
  • Example status: Team managers attending scheduling workshops.

8. Lack of communication, causing lack of clarity and confusion.

  • Mitigating Actions: Write a communication plan which includes: the frequency, goal, and audience of each communication.
    Identify stakeholders early and make sure they are considered in the communication plan. Use most appropriate channel of communication for audience e.g. don't send 3 paragraph email to Developers, have a call instead.
  • Contingency Plan: Correct misunderstandings immediately. Clarify areas that are not clear swiftly using assistance from Project Sponsor if needed.
  • Example status: Communication plan in progress.

9. Pressure to arbitrarily reduce task durations and or run tasks in parallel which would increase risk of errors.

  • Mitigating Actions: Share the schedule with key stakeholders to reduce the risk of this happening.
    Patiently explain that schedule was built using the expertise of subject matter experts. Explain the risks of the changes. Share the Dennis Lock quote at Why you should never arbitrarily reduce task durations
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to Project Board with assessment of risk and impact of the change.
    Hold emergency risk management call with decision makers & source of pressure and lay out risk and impact.
  • Example status: Awaiting completion of the schedule.

10. Scope Creep.

11. Unresolved project conflicts not resolved in a timely manner.

12. Business Case becomes obsolete or is undermined by external or internal changes.

  • Mitigating Actions: No ability to reduce likelihood, but make sure early warning is given by reviewing business case on regular basis with the Project Board.
  • Contingency Plan: Initiate escalation and project close down procedure.
  • Example status: Project close down procedure confirmed with Project Board.

13. Delay in earlier project phases jeopardizes ability to meet fixed date. For example delivery of just in time materials, for conference or launch date.

  • Mitigating Actions: Ensure the project plan is as accurate as possible using scheduling workshops and work breakdown structure. Use Tracking Gantt and Baseline to identify schedule slippage early.
  • Contingency Plan: Consider insurance to cover costs and alternative supplier as a back up.
  • Example status: Awaiting completion of the schedule.

14. Added workload or time requirements because of new direction, policy, or statute.

  • Mitigating Actions: No ability to reduce likelihood.
  • Contingency Plan: Consider insurance and use Project Board to get advance notice if possible.
  • Example status: Project Board reviewing insurance options.

15. Inadequate customer testing leads to large post go live defect list.

  • Mitigating Actions: Ensure customer prepares test cases/quality checks and protect testing/quality assurance window.
  • Contingency Plan: Raise risk immediately and raise issue if it is clear testing inadequate. Customer could extend testing & bring in additional resource.
  • Example status: Customer preparing test cases.

16. Legal action delays or pauses project.

  • Mitigating Actions: Ensure all contracts signed before starting the project. Follow all regulatory requirements and complete stakeholder management plan.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to Project Board who will notify legal department. Follow instructions from legal.
  • Example status: Contracts issued.

17. Customer refuses to approve deliverables/milestones or delays approval, putting pressure on project manager to 'work at risk'.

  • Mitigating Actions: Ensure customer decision maker with budgetary authority is identified before project start and is part of the Project Board. Communicate dates for sign-off points up front.
  • Contingency Plan: Escalate to Project Board and recommend action e.g. to stop the project.
  • Example status: Customer project manager is confirming their sponsor / senior supplier.

18. Theft of materials, intellectual property or equipment.

  • Mitigating Actions: Follow security procedures, ensure Non-Disclosure Agreements, & compliance certificates are in place. Verify all physical security measures in place. Secure insurance.
  • Contingency Plan: Notify appropriate authorities e.g. police, Project Board and initiate internal investigations.
  • Example status: NDAs issued. Security certificates confirmed for contractors.

19. Acts of God for example, extreme weather, leads to loss of resources, materials, premises etc.

  • Mitigating Actions: Check insurance is in place. Familiarise project team with emergency procedures. When cost effective put back up systems in place e.g. generators.
  • Contingency Plan: Notify appropriate authorities. Follow health and safety procedures. Notify stakeholders and Project Board.
  • Example status: Public Liability Insurance confirmed along with additional premises insurance at site B.

20. Stakeholder action delays the project. For more on the damage stakeholders can do see our case studies of real world projects that faced costs running into millions, because of stakeholder actions.

Download the Risk Register of common Project Risks

Excel 1997 - 2003 download (.xls) - FREE Risk Register of Common Risks

Excel download (.xlsx) - FREE Risk Register of Common Risks

MindMap download - FREE MindMap of Common Project Risks

Video - How to edit the risk register

More on risk management

The Top 50 Business Risks and how to manage them!

Checklist of 30 Construction Risks

Download a Risk Register template

Overall Project Risk Assessment Template

Simple Risk Register Template

Resources used in this article

Lock, D. (2007) Project Management Nineth Edition, Aldershot, England and Brookfield, Vt: Gower Publishing Limited