What Does Resilience Have to Do With Risk Management in Projects?

The term resilience is not used that often. New in the PMBOK© Guide 6th Edition it is represented in the chapter Risk Management as “Project Resilience”. Many of you will not know exactly what the PMBOK© Guide means. In this article I will show you what resilience means and specifically what it means for projects and risk management. Curious? Then read on quickly.

Was ist Resilienz?

The PMBOK© Guide 6th Edition introduces the term Project Resilience in the context of Emergent Risk. The term resilience is derived from the Latin “resilire” (for to bounce back or rebound). Originally, it meant the physical ability of a body to bounce back to its original form after changing shape. Resilience is also used in various social fields, such as engineering, energy, ecosystem resilience, and also psychology.

In general, resilience is equated with resistance. That is, having the ability to withstand and cope with crises without suffering major damage—and minor and major crises, you may know, happen from time to time in projects.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Recently I read an interview with an ex-Marine who has become famous in his second career for methods of building personal and team strength and resilience. He was asked if he had seen the movie “Navy Seals” starring Charlie Sheen, and how realistic the portrayal was. Of course it isn’t, but a main point was that Charlie Sheen saw more action in the short time the movie covered than most Seals would see in their entire careers.
The Seals spend 95% of their time planning. They study every possible scenario and develop contingency plans to ensure they have the best chance of success. Navy Seals’ missions are very risky but almost always successful, not only because they are extremely well trained, but because extremely careful planning makes them resilient and able to adapt to “supposedly” unexpected situations very quickly.

How to Increase Resilience in Projects?

Emergent risks are risks that are only recognized after they have occurred. Such risks can be managed (or the damage can be limited) by making your project resilient. But how do you do that?

You can’t prepare for emergent risks with a normal, proactive risk management process—because you can’t see the risks coming. Instead, you need to develop an approach that is effective in addressing emergent risks in projects. Two key strategies will help you when unforeseen risks occur:

  • Flexibility – the ability to bend without breaking. This means being able to adapt easily
  • Resilience – Being able to continue core tasks after major impacts of unexpected risks (the unknowable-unknowns).

To increase flexibility and resilience in projects, the PMBOK© Guide lists the following measures:

  • Plan the right level of budget and schedule contingency for emergent risks in addition to the budget for known risks
  • Define flexible project processes that can cope with Emergent Risk while maintaining overall direction towards project goals, including strong change management
  • An empowered project team that has clear objectives and is trusted to get the job done within agreed-upon limits
  • Frequent review of early warning signs to identify emerging risks as early as possible
  • Stakeholder input to clarify areas where project scope or strategy can be adjusted in response to Emergent Risks.

A sound risk management is of course the best way to make your project more resilient. The key here is to spend enough time in risk identification and be open to new views. In doing so, you should try to go beyond your conceptual framework and broaden your business or world view, thus trying to eliminate your blind spots somewhat. In this way, it is possible to also discover risks that you otherwise do not see because they are outside your experience or awareness.

More on Emerging Risks and Non-Event Risks

More about Reserves in projects (Contingency Reserve and Management Reserve)

More on the Known Unknowns (risks) and the Unknown-Unknowns

Spend more Time Identifying Risks

However, my experience also shows that people often invest too little time to identify risks. When risks occur that have not been identified, they are simply the unknown unknowns that could not have been identified anyway. But I would argue that with a little more time, effort and openness, some of these risks might have been identified.

Often the Covid-19 pandemic, the 9/11 attack on the Word Trade Center or the last two major financial crises of 2000 and 2008 are referred to as so-called “black swans” (rare and highly improbable events). Nothing pointed to this is claimed. Strangely enough, there were people who publicly warned about it but nobody wanted to hear it until the supposedly “unexpected” happened and took most people totally by surprise.

More about the time required for risk management (article follows)

Here You Can Find Even More Knowledge


This was an overview about resilience in Projects What is your experience with this topic? Do you agree with my statements or do you have a different opinion? Share your experience with the readers with a commentary so that we all get to know another view. Thank you!
Would you like to learn more about how to make your projects more successful with Project Risk Management? My book “Project Risk Management – Practical Guide” takes you an important step further!

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