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Louise Worsley's design narrative: Risk management for project managers: Reflect & Learn

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Louise Worsley
5 April 2015

Title: Risk management for project managers: Reflect & Learn

Narrator: Designer and facilitator of learning


A team of 20 people working in IT project management for a large South African Insurance company. 

 Constraints defined by the client: Staff not to be taken out of work for more than 3 hours at a time.  In total the engagement was not to exceed 30 hours and must be performed within the annual budget cycle of one year.  Approach should draw upon professional project management standards and should be linkable to internal group practices for risk management.

 Key actors 




IT senior management (6 managers)

Want to see improvements in project management practices that would be visible to ‘clients’ of IT department.

Varied views about what should be done and how.

Ambitious goals.

No single voice.

Knee jerk reactions from this group to ‘just-do-it’ without being clear what ‘it’ is.

The group rarely considers themselves part of the problem and don’t contribute to solution.

Some of the group see themselves as project experts and they probably aren’t!

Head of Project Management Office

Recently given responsibility for project manager capability development.  Visible results built into performance measures. 

Concerned that the limited time available would result in sustained, visible improvements in capability (people and processes).

Previous training had no measurable results.

Feel PM know but don’t implement practices.

Existing processes need updating.

Project community:

Senior Project Managers (5 PMs)

Senior PMs share responsibility with PMO for ensuring processes and overall capability is improved.  These PMs will often take on coaching of more junior PMs.

General feeling that these people are experts and are supposed to know these things.

This group need to be positive as they influence the broader group.

Varied capability amongst the senior PMs.


Other PMs

Mixture of permanent and contract staff.

Generally positive to personal development.

Have been on course and been taught risk but…

Varied capability amongst the PMs.

All PMs under great pressure to deliver on projects – difficult to release time on personal development.



Profiling of project community using assessment centre techniques had identified risk management as an area of weakness.  This was recognised as an important area for capability development by Senior Management and the Head of the PMO.  Project managers generally felt they were doing it OK.

 Aim: To improve risk management practices

Measure of success:

  • Risk workshops run effectively by project managers (stakeholders engaged and report positively in the experience)
  • Risk logs used appropriately by project managers specifically:
  • Risks prioritised and measured consistently allowing portfolio views of overall risk exposure


This learning programme was completed over a nine month period.

 Reflection stage 1

  •  Recent risk logs extracted and analysed in terms of their effectiveness.
  • Workshop 1 (all PMs): Results reviewed and discussed with all PMs in lunchtime forum session
  • Workshop 2: (all PMs) Best practice reminder – review of risk management practices – PMs work in groups to compare what they are doing with best practices.  Action plans developed.

 Action stage 2

  • Workshop 3 (Senior PMs and PMO) – Detailed review of best practices in risk management. Standards for quantifying risk debated and agreed.
  • Coaching on packs provided.
  • Workshop 4 (all PMs) – The xxx way for risk management – briefing session on the new approach to risk management.  What should be done, why and how?
  • Coaching on risk workshops – Senior PMs

Reflection stage 3

  • Workshop 5 (Senior management) Briefed on new process and discuss how they can support process
  • PMO manager does spot checks on risk logs and provides remedial action coaching support
  • Internal audit asked to review risk practices and advice on whether improvements are seen
  • Workshop 6 (Other project groups in other parts of organisation) – Shared lessons learned with project managers from other groups.



  • Audit confirmed improvements in risk reporting
  • Senior managers gained confidence in risk reporting and now demand it as an input to their decision making around projects


  • Reflect and learn process to capability development preferred to simply sending people on training courses.  Annual reflect and learn on a selected project process has now been performed for last three years.
  • 18 months after this training the risk management practices were seen to dip down again.  We believe this is because of high rates of staff turnover – new people coming in were not briefed into the process.



  • ‘Holding up the mirror’ – showing the team how they were currently performing and why they needed to improve was very important.  This must be done with no blame and must show that all members of the team can contribute to the improvement – use of the word ‘we’ very important.
  • Sometimes it’s better to take more time to really embed the capability change in one area than try to address too many improvement areas at once. 
  • Learning programmes over time are good in that the team could try and reflect and try again but they introduce other problems, most notably – how to deal with staff turnover during this period.   This is something we must build into future programmes – one approach to this is the use of e-based learning supported by coaching by senior PMs.




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Caroline Roberts
1:05pm 16 April 2015

Very comprehensive narrative

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