How to Manage Archival Project Risks and Assumptions

Margot Note

Margot Note

June 03, 2019

As you plan your archival project, analyze its risks and their impacts. Assessing and proactively mitigating risks guards against problems. Projects also have assumptions that should be explored before executing the project.

Risk refers to circumstances existing outside your control that impact the project. Successful projects ensue when your team addresses problems before they occur. They may not foretell all difficulties, and unlikely obstacles may still arise. Reactive project managers resolve issues when they happen, but proactive project managers determine issues beforehand.

Risk Responses

There are several responses to dealing with risk. One approach is to list and prioritize them, and describe their probability and impact—then create response strategies depending on the circumstances. Another choice is avoidance, which refers to activities that circumvent risks. Mitigation, on the other hand, reduces the probability or impact of the risk. A standard risk mitigation technique—especially in complex projects—is the purchase of insurance. You’d rarely buy insurance on small projects, but you could use reserves against cost overruns. Another option, transference, reassigns the risk to someone else. Another approach is active acceptance— recognizing problems and creating a contingency plan. Conversely, passive acceptance realizes risks, but delays deciding what to do about them until after they occur.

Reducing Risks

Reduce the likelihood or effect of a risk, if you can. For instance, if a team member is new or inexperienced, the possibility of them creating a poor-quality deliverable may be diminished by setting expectations. Asking the team member to show his or her work throughout the project may address quality concerns and mitigate the risk.

The likelihood of risks should be monitored to determine whether they’re becoming issues. For example, if there’s a risk that the scheduled time will end before the user acceptance testing, that prospect can be assessed by tracking the number of problems being recorded daily. If the amount rises, so will the probability of the risk. If the number falls, the chance diminishes.

Never Make Assumptions

Assumptions are a critical factor in determining a project’s fate. Projects rest on assumptions, whether or not they’re acknowledged. As archivists in charge of projects, we make many assumptions and don’t always realize we’re doing so. Take the time to identify, analyze, and validate what you implicitly assume.

Listing assumptions is often one of the most challenging sections of the plan to complete, but continuous conversation will ensure that we don’t keep our presuppositions for long. Since you don’t know what you’re assuming, continue your communication to identify assumptions and agreement on their resolutions.

Because assumptions express uncertainty, they are also risks, and should be considered in terms of their likelihoods and effects. For example, you may assume that team members will work full days until the project is completed. The project will, therefore, carry the risk that some people may work fewer hours or be asked to work on other projects.

Tolerance and Contingency

Make allowances for the unforeseen by including elements of tolerance and contingency. Tolerance is the amount of time you can add to the plan without reporting it or seeking permission to continue. Contingency is an estimated amount of money to address project risks.

Tolerance and contingency are related to risk; the higher the risks, the more likely that the archival project will have higher costs and an extended schedule. For example, a 10% tolerance and a 15% contingency are suitable for a medium-scale archival project taking six months or less.

By taking the time to identify and analyze your risks and assumptions, and plan accordingly, you allow your archival project to thrive. You can then select the project management approach best suited to each individual issue.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist and consultant, writes for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s. Read more of Margot’s posts with advice on running successful archival projects.

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