5 fast and simple ways to make your projects less risky

5 fast and simple ways to make your projects less risky

Creating anything new and putting it out into the world is risky. Here are five quick actions you can take to lower the risk and take the leap with more confidence.

These activities can take as short as 30 minutes to complete. And the work you put in today will pay off over the long term.


1. Map out your stakeholders

Many projects lose traction not because they weren’t good ideas or feasible to implement but because of stakeholder actions. New information about user needs, goals, business processes, or technical support came to light at the last minute. Ideally it’s part of calm, iterative feedback, but sometimes the mismatch is revealed in a dramatic way. Which causes the project to delay or completely stop while a team responds to the issue.

Stakeholder analysis is a quick tool for understanding how to better involve stakeholders in a project so you’re not as likely to be blindsided later on. Beyond identifying the basics like their name and title, you’ll reflect on their goals, personality, plus how and when they like to be involved and what communication style they prefer.

To save some time up front, start with the people who have the most influence on and interest in your project. Once you’ve created your chart you can edit and add to it over time.


2. Examine your decision maker diversity

There have been a lot of articles recently about how some tech companies seem out of touch.

Many companies have a smaller set of people making decisions about what products and services will be built and how resources will be allocated to projects. They may be a product manager, product owner, a set of executives, or a multidisciplinary group.

Typically, these groups are made up of people who share certain characteristics. They have similar experiences, knowledge, and interests. They’re at similar points in their career, around the same age and income level. They probably live in the same country or city. And there doesn’t tend to be a lot of gender or ethnic diversity.

Conversations within that group may feel fluid and comfortable, but injecting a different viewpoint can help the entire group think differently.

Consider who is involved in proposing, exploring, and evaluating potential investment decisions in your organization. And look for ways to increase the diversity. This is especially important if your decision makers aren’t representative of the people who will use or be impacted by the product you’re creating. Try starting with more diverse advisors or collecting input and feedback from a wider group of people and work from there.


3. Create a process model

If your design process involves mainly verbal discussions and task lists, you might be surprised how much risk can be uncovered by sketching a complete process model. Thinking about the process isn’t enough. It can require drawing out each step and the connections between them to realize that there are missing steps or redundant activities going on.

Other types of business, user experience, and technical models can provide similar benefits. They help you externalize your mental model and see where there are gaps in knowledge, issues or inconsistencies. Using visuals and symbols can also lead to more productive discussions because you can use multiple “languages” to communicate the information, instead of just verbal descriptions.

To save time, start with a paper or whiteboard sketch or sticky notes to gain insights quickly.


4. Build a prototype

Notes, diverse discussions and paper models can go a long way. But sometimes you need to go further to gather more information before going all in with the final product. You want to make your ideas more tangible, closer to what they’d be like in the real world.

One mistake that people make when prototyping is forgetting that the role of the prototype is to help you gather information. It’s about making an investment now in order to learn and hopefully save time and money later. A well-designed prototype can help answer your questions about how (or if) your idea will work, look, or fit into the broader context before the fully polished version hits the shelves.

One way to approach designing your prototype is to think about what would have to happen for a bad outcome to occur. It might be that people don’t buy or use the product or that you can’t deliver it on time. What questions would you need to answer or what would need to be true for you to avoid that outcome? Then design a prototype that answers that question as quickly and cheaply as possible. For example, if the riskiest part of your product is that the technical design may not work, focus on prototyping that component of the solution.


5. Track your assumptions

There are a lot of moving pieces and questions during the design process. To bring some structure and clarity in order to move forward we make statements and draw conclusions.

The problem is if we treat all of those statements as facts and don’t verify that they are true. For example, “this will result in a change of X” or “customers are struggling with Y.” If those assumptions turned out to be false, they could cause issues later on when reality turns out to be different than what we thought it would be.

Treat everything as an assumption until you have evidence to support it. Some of the riskiest assumptions tend to be related to what customers want, need, and will use. If we can build and deliver the product, and if the organization can provide it in a cost effective way. Mark your notes and link research tasks or evidence. It can help you see at a glance what has already been confirmed vs. what might not be true and how you’ll mitigate that risk.


Design can be risky but we don’t need to go in blind, even if we’re short on time. What are some of your favorite quick tips for lowering risk?

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