Risks, Problems, Issues and Impediments – What is the Difference?

Impediments, Risks, Issues and Problems - What is the Difference

A project without risks and problems exists as little as a life without death, because projects are by definition risky and associated with problems – and this is also the case with agile projects. With risk and problem management, project management offers effective tools for meeting these “challenges”. However, I notice repeatedly that the difference between risks, problems, issues and impediments is not clear to many project participants. However, knowing this difference is crucial for effective risk and problem management. This article will show you the difference so that you know how to react when they occur in your project.

Risk or Problem?

The answer to this question has a big influence on your further project activities. As you may already know: A risk is an uncertainty. When this uncertainty becomes certainty, that is, when the risk occurs, you have a problem. This will almost always have an impact on the cost, time or quality/performance of your project.

What is the difference between Risik and Problem?
The difference between risk and problem

For example, “lack of resources” or “too little budget” is not a risk, as is “too little time to complete the project”. If it is known that the time available to complete the project is too short, then this is no longer an uncertainty, but a fact, or a problem for you. You have to deal with such facts and take them into account when planning your project.

Knowing the difference between risk and problem is crucial.

These general statements, which are often found in risk reports, definitely do not correspond to risks, but to facts or current problems:

  • We have never done a project like this before.
  • We have too few resources or budget.
  • Our professionals are not trained enough.
  • Our supplier is not reliable.

But there is one thing you have to consider: Although these statements do not represent any risks, they could be causes for future risks.

  • Fact (cause): Our specialists are not trained enough
  • Risk: Assembly problems may arise due to insufficient training of our skilled workers

Is a risk with an 80% probability of occurrence still a risk? The 80% means that the risk is fairly certain. That’s why this is actually no longer an uncertainty, but almost a certainty, i.e. almost a fact or a current problem. Such risks should be directly transferred to problem management. The following figure shows again the difference between problem and risk in a differnt way.

The Characteristic of Risk and Problem and their time-horizion
The Characteristic of Risk and Problem and their time-horizion

The following diagram shows the course of a risk in the context of risk and problem management. Often one also speaks of crisis management when a risk occurs – whereby crisis then tends to point to something very serious that requires highest attention. Note that many risks fortunately do not materialise and disappear into thin air over time.

Risk and Problem Managmement from Risik identification to when a risk occurrs

Tip: In the case of risks that you cannot reduce or avoid with measures, pay attention to early warning signals (triggers) so that you are better prepared should the risk actually occur.

Another important point you should keep in mind: If you do not talk about risks in your project, then you will probably often have to struggle with problems. These problems have certainly arisen from risks that no one has paid attention to in the past. Unfortunately, the following statement applies to many projects:

Talking about risks is not well received … you already have enough problems!

What are Issues?

A risk is an uncertainty. The definition of an issue is not so clear in project management and even the PMBOK does not provide more clarity. In the next section I’ll show you what I mean by an issue.

Issues are not uncertainties. Issues are problems, conflicts or open questions. They often suddenly appear somewhere and are issues that need to be solved, dealt with or clarified. Even if a risk occurs, you have a problem or an issue.

What are Impediments?

The term impediments is used mainly in agile projects. Impediments are obstacles and problems of any kind that hinder the Scrum team, but especially the developers, in the efficient execution of their work. Impediments are e.g:

  • Missing software licenses
  • Sick contact persons without deputies
  • A developer is repeatedly and strongly required by customer support
  • Mainframes for tests on Saturdays are not available

One of the many tasks of a Scrum Master is to support the developers in the documentation and removal of impediments.

If no one cares about these impediments, the achievement of the sprint goal may no longer be guaranteed. Most of the time you encounter impediments during the Daily Scrum Meeting or the Sprint Retrospective. Either if the participants themselves mention them or if an attentive Scrum Master recognizes impediments during the meeting.

Even in normal project life (without the use of Scrum) there are so-called impediments. In this case it is simply problems or issues that prevent the project or the project team from making progress. These have to be solved in the same way as the impediments in Scrum.

React Correctly

Whether you are working in a waterfall model project or in an agile project. You should know the difference between risks, problems, issues and impediments. Only in this way can you react correctly to such situations and, if appropriate, take measures. I wish you every success!

More articles that might be of interest to you:

What experience have you had with Risks, Problems, Issues and Impediments? How do you deal with them in risk management? Do you agree or disagree with my statements? Share your experience with a commentary so that we can all get to know another point of view. Thank you!

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