Submitted by admin on Mon, 04/09/2018 - 10:35

How to Plan Your Membership Website Improvement Project: An Intro to Risk Assessment

By Farhad Khan, BEng & CEO on April 9, 2018

This blog comes with a downloadable Membership Site Risk Assessment Planner & Worksheet.

We all try our best to properly scope our web development projects and establish a timeline and budget, but with the large scale of membership sites that associations build, it is hard to predict every outcome and still be true to the original plans. "Are we doomed to be disappointed, and anxiously overtime and over budget??" We hear you loud and clear!

All membership site projects come with risk. Now, "risk" comes with its negative connotations but not all risks are negative. Some unexpected events or conditions can help our project. When this happens, we call it a blessing... but with feet planted firmly in the group, we handle all uncertainty with seriousness!

Even with risk mitigation in place, there is no predictable path for a complex membership site build. The uniqueness of each association, their membership and how they deliver their member benefits makes each member portal build uncharted territory. What may seem like a simple task can be the hardest to implement. Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Pessimism aside, when we work with this mentality we can prepare for as many hiccups as needed and be prepared to pivot.

This process does not happen in a vacuum. Utilizing the team is key in figuring out the chances of a risk occurring, and furthermore for calculating the potential cost if it were to occur. 

Risk Management Assessment

When preparing the scope of our membership site build project, we need to take a full risk assessment. With some planning and forethought, we can identify any roadblocks up ahead and mentally prepare for the ones that will surprise us!

Risk Identification: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Identifying risks is a process of combining experience, best practice and creativity. This is something the whole team should be involved in. On the creative side of things, make time for brainstorming sessions with your team where you ask everyone to create a list of what could go wrong at any stage in the project. Every team member’s input is valuable as the more ideas you have, the less potential there is for something to get missed or lost in the process. Use common risk checklists during your brainstorming sessions to generate more ideas.

Types of Risk 

Group identified risks by category. These risks are often drawn from experience from past projects or current workflows and experience with members. The development project managers and dev team will use these groupings to plan for potential risks with their current projects. Some suggestions for risk groupings could be technical, cost, schedule, stakeholders, staffing issues and complications.

Finally, using a framework work breakdown structure (WBS), a risk breakdown structure (RBS) can be developed. At this level of detail, we turn to spreadsheets with increased levels of detail. The result of this sorting process provides a clearer understanding of where risks are concentrated and allows to plan the various stages of the project.


Risk Evaluation: Setting Priorities

The brainstorming sessions are over, every team member has been heard and a list of all probable and possible risks sits in front of us. We are at the risk evaluation stage, where we prioritize where to put our energy. Every risk and consequence is not created equal. Identify which events are more likely to occur, and figure out what the overall cost of each risk could be. Once this is done, narrow it down to critical risks, ie. something that could seriously harm your project. For instance, if the risk could increase your project costs by 5%, this could be a critical issue moving forward. Spending effort and focus on these risks should be a top priority moving forward.

Risk Mitigation

We know the risks, and now it's time for the project team to create their risk mitigation plan. There are four basic ways to handle risk and reduce its impact on your project.


The best thing you can do is to avoid the risk completely. If it never happens, it can’t hurt your project. Be warned: even when we think we are taking this path, there will be risks!


Accepting that risk will happen, we attempt to mitigate it. This involves taking an action that will cause the risk to do as little damage to your project as possible. This may seem obvious, but to truly mitigate the risk is to plan for it.


Another effective way of dealing with risk is to pay someone else to accept the risk for you. Commonly, insurance is used to transfer risk from one person or organization to another.


We’ve looked at all our options, and we can't avoid, mitigate or transfer the risk to another organization. Unfortunately, sometimes the risk is completely unavoidable.

Contingency Plan Budget

The risks have been assessed and a plan is in place, but to be safe it's always a good idea to go one step further. Plan B is really plan A. The project team will often create a backup method for accomplishing goals called a contingency plan. It is only realistic to set aside funds to address the eventuality that a project's costs will increase. High-risk projects require a larger contingency budget, while low-risk ones may be easier to squirrel away. These funds are usually set aside during the budgeting process, as a one-line item in the project budget. Some project managers use the one-line option, while others stray towards individual budgets for high-risk items, allocating each line its own contingency budget.

Success Starts with a Plan
In the end, you get a risk mitigation plan that will create a more realistic roadmap for your project with a buffer against the problems that any project can face. Even though it's more fun to jump into the design and implementation process, the possible damage that comes with being unprepared is more than can be afforded in most cases.