Mudassir Iqbal

The risk is a future uncertain event which could have a positive or negative impact on the Project or one of its objective

A project issue is a problem that is actively disrupting a project or putting its success in doubt

I am sure with the above definitions you have understood that they are different concepts and need to be handled in completely different ways. Even with outstanding planning, the project would have a huge number of unknown variables.

An issue is an event or situation that negatively influences the project. The term infers a condition that can be recovered or eased in some way. It’s important to focus on the uncertainty or probability aspect of risk. The event hasn’t occurred yet but there is a chance it could happen. Considering it from a mathematical viewpoint, the probability of risk is anywhere between 0-100% but it can’t be either 0 or 100. On the other hand, the probability of an issue is 100%.

Risk and Issues
Source: Strategy Execution,  Risks and Issues – They are not the same!

Another way to determine the difference between the two terms by considering how these are managed during the execution of a project. While managing risks, you enumerate them and keep a risk standby both in terms of cost and time. The project plan is not changed or modified until there is any risk. On the other hand, resolving issues lead to change in the project plan immediately. One of the most significant tasks in the project managing monitoring and controlling is regulating project risks and issues. Both of them often go hand in hand considering the fact they often result from the identification of obstacles to the project progress. Also, they are commonly interchanged by project team.

Suppose a situation where your project has an external dependency in a functional subdivision which is not providing sufficient support for project implementation. You might be thinking whether this is an issue or a risk. For instance, the operations team is not providing networking support resources to organize current groundwork for backing the new system. This problem can be considered both as an issue or risk. As an issue, it needs resolution. Also, it’s a risk since it may affect the quality, timeline, and project resources.

Risk management is the process of identifying future potential problems that might arise over the course of a project and creating a plan for avoiding those problems.

Issues can be linked with Risks i.e they are not identified as Risks or they may have not passed the test for being Risk. Good Risk Management exercises may reduce the issues drastically.

Not every issue can be foreseen ahead of time; however, project managers should have a framework in place that allows them to tackle any issue logically and effectively.

According to PMBOK,

an issue is a matter of question or dispute that is under discussion. Two or more people involved in a project might have opposing views.

While risk is an uncertain event or condition that affect project objectives.

Let’s go back to the networking example. The operation team is primarily disputing the idea that they are obliged to provide support for the system connection. Consequently, the issue log needs to be updated to reflect the dispute between the project team and the networking team.

One key difference between an issue and risk is the term “uncertain”. Risks are frequently projected into the future making them probabilistic in nature. One of the major roles of a project manager in risk management is to assign a probability to the occurrence of the risk event. Issues are matter in dispute with disagreement among the project stakeholders. In the above-mentioned example, the lack of support is not undefined since it is already occurring and therefore it doesn’t quantify as a risk. There is no chance regarding the occurrence of the event. Though on further research, you might find something probabilistic about the statement. This improbability lies in whether the problem will be resolved on time. For that reason, risk register can be updated to redirect the likelihood that the issue will be resolved before effecting the critical path and strategies regarding the acquisition of alternate resources and support. This impact and mitigation evaluation serves as an important justification in the issue resolution process. To conclude this, issues are directed to resolution while risks accepted, avoided or mitigated.  The keywords to figure out whether a problem is an issue or risk are “dispute” and “uncertainty” respectively.

The key difference is an “issue” already has occurred and a “risk” is a potential issue that may or may not happen and can impact the project positively or negatively.**

Major Differences

  1. The main differences are related to timing and probability. Because of these differences, the language used to describe risks is future tense: “If this happens, then this will be impacted.” For issues, the language used is in the present tense: “We have this problem. How should we deal with it?”**
  2. Issues always have a negative impact whereas Risk could have both negative or positive
  3. Issues are part of Issue Log, risk goes to risk register with probability and impact identification
  4. An Issue is defined as “Something that has happened or will definitely happen in the future and threatens the success of a project”
  5. Not every issue that occurs will have been on the risk log;  it might be nice to assume that it would.

When risks actually happen, they may be called as issues. Issues require immediate attention and action in real-time. In addition to identified risks, they may have come from an unseen area.

Risk, Issue and Change

  • Risk is a problem that could happen
  • Issue is a problem that has happened
  • Change fixes the problem that happened

Further Readings

  1. Event-based Risk and Non-Event Risks
  2. Risk vs Issues by PMI**
  3. What’s the difference between managing a risk and managing an issue?
  4. What’s The Difference Between Risk Management And Issue Management?

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