Risk Management 101 – How To Identify Risk

Today’s contributor to this post on Risk Identification is Shiaw-Shyuan Yaun, a graduate student in my Risk Management course at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies.

My project (The Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer) is an international consortium of cohort studies with the goal of analyzing diet and cancer associations http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/poolingproject/about.html. We have 2 major goals: grant funding and meeting the deadlines for analyses, and paper publication. 

Below is how we identify risks:

  • Annual meeting for principle investigators from more than 20 studies over the world – we engage in higher level brainstorming
    • Group leader reviews project scope, and reports progress
    • Researchers present ongoing analyses, discuss strength and weakness  and head statistician introduces pioneering statistical methods
    • Brainstorming after all participants have a solid understanding of the project progress:
    • This meeting has given us the opportunity to look for external factors (both positive and negative) that might affect the possibility of future grants.


  • Within our Harvard search group, timely delivery of meaningful and correct manuscripts/papers is our scope. We use several approaches to identify risk
    • Documentation review/checklist analyses: reviewing project documents, assumptions from the project overview to make a prompt/checklist-list. Since the project was funded since 1991 and being renewed several times, we have strong background to provide information to identify risks.
    • Brainstorming – bi-weekly meeting for progress report, identifying risks, ideas, or solutions to issues.
    • Interview: face-to-face meeting
      • Annual performance review: project leader and team member – open discussion between manager and team member
      • Project leader and other researchers whose primary jobs not within our group anymore – in person or via phone – to identify risks which would delay the progress of their analyses.
    • Root-cause identification (retrospective), we learn from our own mistakes or from other groups to avoid risk recurrence.

Of all the techniques we use, brainstorming is the most effective one, since we can get the most ideas in the shortest time! And we integrate risk management into project management by constantly monitoring any existing risks and paying attention to the external environment for any new risks.

About Ms. Yaun

Sherry works as a biostatistician at Harvard School of Public Health on an international project of diet and cancer. She is a student in the program of Master of Science in leadership, specializing in project management.  Sherry expects that this program will prepare her to be project manager of a new project of serum vitamin D and cancer.


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