Risk Mitigation, Monitoring and Management in Software Engineering


All of the risk analysis activities presented to this point have a single goal—to assist the project team in developing a strategy for dealing with risk. An effective strategy must consider three issues:
risk avoidance
risk monitoring
risk management and contingency planning

If a software team adopts a proactive approach to risk, avoidance is always the best strategy. This is achieved by developing a plan for risk mitigation. For example, assume that high staff turnover is noted as a project risk, r1. Based on past history and management intuition, the likelihood, l1, of high turnover is estimated to be 0.70 (70 percent,rather high) and the impact, x1, is projected at level 2. That is, high turnover will have a critical impact on project cost and schedule.

To mitigate this risk, project management must develop a strategy for reducing turnover. Among the possible steps to be taken are
Meet with current staff to determine causes for turnover (e.g., poor working conditions, low pay, competitive job market).
Mitigate those causes that are under our control before the project starts.
Once the project commences, assume turnover will occur and develop techniques to ensure continuity when people leave.
Organize project teams so that information about each development activity is widely dispersed.
Define documentation standards and establish mechanisms to be sure that documents are developed in a timely manner.
Conduct peer reviews of all work (so that more than one person is "up to speed”).
Assign a backup staff member for every critical technologist.

As the project proceeds, risk monitoring activities commence. The project manager monitors factors that may provide an indication of whether the risk is becoming more or less likely. In the case of high staff turnover, the following factors can be monitored:
General attitude of team members based on project pressures.
The degree to which the team has jelled.
Interpersonal relationships among team members.
Potential problems with compensation and benefits.
The availability of jobs within the company and outside it.

In addition to monitoring these factors, the project manager should monitor the effectiveness of risk mitigation steps. For example, a risk mitigation step noted here called for the definition of documentation standards and mechanisms to be sure that documents are developed in a timely manner. This is one mechanism for ensuring continuity, should a critical individual leave the project. The project manager should monitor documents carefully to ensure that each can stand on its own and that each
imparts information that would be necessary if a newcomer were forced to join the software team somewhere in the middle of the project.

Risk management and contingency planning assumes that mitigation efforts have failed and that the risk has become a reality. Continuing the example, the project is well underway and a number of people announce that they will be leaving. If the mitigation strategy has been followed, backup is available, information is documented, and knowledge has been dispersed across the team. In addition, the project manager may temporarily refocus resources (and readjust the project schedule) to those functions that are fully staffed, enabling newcomers who must be added to the team to “get up to speed.” Those individuals who are leaving are asked to stop all work and spend their last weeks in “knowledge transfer mode.” This might include video-based knowledge capture, the development of “commentary documents,” and/or meeting with other team members who will remain on the project.

It is important to note that RMMM steps incur additional project cost. For example, spending the time to "backup" every critical technologist costs money. Part of risk management, therefore, is to evaluate when the benefits accrued by the RMMM steps are outweighed by the costs associated with implementing them. In essence, the project planner performs a classic cost/benefit analysis. If risk aversion steps for high turnover will increase both project cost and duration by an estimated 15 percent, but the predominant cost factor is "backup," management may decide not to implement this step. On the other hand, if the risk aversion steps are projected to increase costs by 5 percent and duration by only 3 percent management will likely put all into place.

For a large project, 30 or 40 risks may identified. If between three and seven risk management steps are identified for each, risk management may become a project in itself! For this reason, we adapt the Pareto 80–20 rule to software risk. Experience indicates that 80 percent of the overall project risk (i.e., 80 percent of the potential for project failure) can be accounted for by only 20 percent of the identified risks. The work performed during earlier risk analysis steps will help the planner to determine which of the risks reside in that 20 percent (e.g., risks that lead to the highest risk exposure). For this reason, some of the risks identified, assessed, and projected may not make it into the RMMM plan—they don't fall into the critical 20 percent (the risks with highest project priority).
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