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Risk Thinking Blocks


Risk is one of the major reasons why projects fail. It can be deadly to projects. Wait! Do we still have to manage Risk in agile projects the same way as traditional projects? Agreed! A great portion of Risk is mitigated by using Agile practices which has an emphasis on delivering value by continuously reducing Risk. However, the concern is Agile teams don’t explicitly think about Risk and communicate it enough. Teams should always be encouraged to expose Risk – Agile provides the right forums to expose and action Risk early and often through Inception/Discovery Workshops, Release Planning, Sprint Planning, Backlog refinement, Story grooming/3 Amigos, Daily Scrum, Sprint reviews, Retrospectives etc. My approach is to ensure teams understand why it needs to be considered but to achieve Risk thinking in a Lean spirit (Agreed! you really have to be creative to Lean it up in some environments).

Agile ceremonies facilitate and provision avenues to expose potential Risk. Agile teams can therefore address Risk in the delivery of features, by incorporating them into design, user stories, acceptance test, automated tests, feature toggling, A/B testing etc. The attributes of Agile that help to force the conditions are short sprints/iterations, collaborative planning and re-planning, early involvement of end users or business and faster feedback loops. These attributes empower the team to constantly ensure potential Risks are exposed and actioned. I prefer that Agile teams strive for a consensus on Risk by establishing the probability, Impact to goal and priority against every other Risk highlighted.

It’s all very well to create the atmosphere to allow Risk to be openly raised, discussed and actioned however, teams still Forming, Storming and Norming may need support with Risk thinking tools. Whilst I was in a team a little while ago, I employed the following as a tool to help the team identify Risk in categories and discuss the Risk. Risk thinking tools can initially employed during discovery workshops with the wider stakeholder group and the output of the exercise should always be visible for further action. The team is encouraged to review Risk thinking as often as possible to ensure things are correctly actioned and new Risk are added. It does wonders for communication to stakeholders to be able to quickly see the kinds of Risk highlighted in order to extend support. This is another key discipline for Agile teams, “Transparency”. I should however stress that the real value is not in creating a new artifact but is in the conversation between team members on Risk.

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