Project Risk Checklist

Quick Summary
Drafting a risk list can be a daunting proposition. This risk checklist prompts your team to consider common risks across a wide variety of categories, to reduce the odds of missing one of those dreaded "unknown-unknowns."

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What this is

A checklist of likely sources of project risk, covering a range of categories. This list can be adapted to address a wide range of project efforts.

Why it's useful

Drafting a risk list can be a daunting proposition. The rules all say to consider everything, but how can you ever be sure you haven't missed one of those dreaded "unknown-unknowns"? This risk checklist serves as a thinking tool or discussion prompt to ensure the team has looked at the project and its environment from all angles when they sign off on the risk list. Thorough consideration can help you avoid getting blindsided by foreseeable risks like staffing changes at a critical vendor or shifting regulatory requirements.

How to use it

  1. When drafting your initial risk list—alone or with the team—review the checklist for discussion prompts. Even if you're convinced a category doesn't apply, toss it out to the team for at least cursory discussion. For example, even if there are no vendors directly involved in your project's design or execution phase, the testing department may use an outside firm to assist with QA during high-volume periods.
  2. When the team is confident they have identified as many risks as possible, and all likely/significant risks, prioritize the list according to your organization's procedures and standards. Assign owners to each risk item, to be in charge of monitoring it and taking action if it occurs. (See the list of Risk Management templates at for several different ways of accomplishing this.)
  3. When any major element in the project changes, revisit the applicable section of this checklist to see if any new risks have emerged or if previously identified risks have been affected. Update the project risk list accordingly.
  4. Review the project risk list regularly and take action as needed. A risk list that isn't actively managed will do very little to increase the odds of your project's success.
  5. When closing out the project, review the risk list and this checklist with the team to determine if any significant risks were overlooked during the initial risk assessment. If any are identified, add appropriate prompts/categories to this checklist. Over time, you will develop a customized risk checklist that reflects your unique project structures and environment. (Beware of the temptation to delete items from this list; just because they haven't applied to past projects doesn't mean they won't be a factor in the future.)
About the Author

Sinikka L. Waugh, PMP, is the founder and head coach of the project management coaching firm Your Clear Next Step, L.L.C. Sinikka is an actively practicing project management consultant, known for consistently helping teams find innovative ways to leverage effective project strategies across multiple disciplines and technologies. With over 10 years in project roles (primarily program manager, project manager, and business analyst) Sinikka has successfully applied project and leadership expertise to improve project performance in a wide variety of industries, including publishing, education, product fulfillment and distribution, insurance, event and travel management, human resources, and financial services. As a coach, Sinikka's down-to-earth, "try this now" approach blends with her passion for helping others improve. Her energetic and engaging style helps make both the art and science of project management accessible to those she works with.

Sinikka holds a BA from Central College, an MA from the University of Iowa, and is a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute.

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