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Risky Business Part 1 (#1 in the series Risky Business)
By Thomas Cutting

The picture to the right is of a Joshua tree in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, California. When you look at the image, what risks come to mind? Your answers probably include:

  • Becoming stranded.
  • Getting pricked.
  • Dehydration.

The answers really depend on your purpose for being there. If you are trying to cross the desert, the answers above may be your key risks. If, however, your purpose is to take pictures of the natural beauty your other risks would include running out of film, over exposure and good angles shots. Suppose your goal was to convince people to preserve the area from development? Or come live there? Each perspective carries its own individual concerns.
Risks are different from issues. The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines them as follows.

Risk – An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.

Issue – A point or matter in question or in dispute, or a point or matter that is not settled and is under discussion or over which there are opposing views or disagreements.
I would add to the issue definition that it has some impact on your project. Otherwise no one would be overly concerned about it.

To help illustrate the different between the two, picture yourself walking down the street. On the lawn up the street you see a dog and identify the risk of being bit. If you don’t take some mitigating steps and the dog bits you, it becomes an issue.

So a risk is something that has a potential impact on your project and an issue is a current event or condition. Issues you have to deal with, but risks are generally overlooked.

Whatever your project, there will be risks involved. In this series I want to lay out some simple steps you can follow to identify risks, prioritize them and either reduce the potential of them occurring or lessen their impact to the project.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge ( and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (

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