Making Smart Career Moves: Are You Ready For A Risky Project?


You have just been asked to take over an important project - is this cause for celebration or panic? Before you decide to jump for joy or head for the hills, you need to take a step back to examine the situation, and answer certain key questions.  It's time to evaluate the risks and take action to prevent disaster. Read on to find out more.

Let's start with the key questions that must be addressed when faced with a new (and potentially risky) project management opportunity:

  • Why is this opportunity available? 
  • Why is the opportunity being offered to you?
  • Are you ready to take it on? 
  • Do you have a choice?

Unexpected project management opportunities can pop up at any time, for any number of reasons. Perhaps the current project manager is leaving the company, or just moving on to another project? In this case, the management opportunity is just that – an opportunity. But, what if the project manager is leaving because the project is failing? In this case, an apparent opportunity may also be a risk.  A troubled project could be a boost to your career, or it could bring an uncertain future.  

Considering Readiness for a Risky Project

These are the questions you must consider to determine whether you are ready to take on a project that might bring significant risks (along with rewards):

  • Why is the project management vacancy available? ("i.e. normal course of business opportunity" or "problem" opportunity?)
  • If you are being asked to step in to save a troubled project, why is the project in trouble?
  • Is there any reason to believe that the project problems were caused by the departing project manager, or were the problems related to the project itself?
  • Has anyone in your organization ever succeeded at this type of project, or will organizational politics stand in the way of success, no matter how hard you try?

How to Turn Risk Into Opportunity

Even if you can’t say no, don’t just say "yes". A risky assignment brings consequences. Success can make your career, and failure can certainly break your career. If you accept an assignment without voicing any doubts, particularly when those doubts should be fairly obvious, failure could mean the loss of your job, or at the very least, loss of your reputation. Institutional memories can be short, and your manager may suddenly forget that risks ever existed if you fail to voice your concerns. Even if you are compelled to accept the assignment, take steps to protect yourself by clearly stating the risks and negotiating the terms. 

Step 1: Identify risks and issues.

Examine the project opportunity carefully to identify and pinpoint all potential problem areas, which may include one or more of the following:

Step 2: Raise your objections.

Make management aware of any and all problems in writing. A clear specification of risks will serve as a basis for negotiation, and at the very least, will make your concerns a matter of record for future disputes.

Step 3: Negotiate details. 

Identify the tools and resources you will need to mitigate the problems and risks you have identified, and negotiate practical solutions. For example, if you feel that the project is failing because the scope is too large, negotiate a smaller scope. If the schedule is too aggressive, try to negotiate new deadlines. In other words, change the assignment to lower the risk and raise the likelihood of success.

Step 4: Keep management informed. 

Whenever you take on a risky assignment, you need to keep your manager fully apprised of all problems and progress. Ask for help whenever you need it, and be sure to continually document any open issues in writing.  Make management a partner in the risk.


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