Using a Risk Assessment Template: How to Identify and Manage Business Risk on a Risk Assessment Matrix

Using a Risk Assessment Template: How to Identify and Manage Business Risk on a Risk Assessment Matrix

Business risk assessment can sound daunting. But the fact is, we assess risk and take risk control measures every day. We set alarms to address the risk of sleeping in and being late to work. We assess risk when we do research before purchasing a big-ticket item. Traffic is full of safety hazards, so we wear a seatbelt and keep our eyes on the road to mitigate safety risks. We take our health concerns to a doctor to assess any rising risks to our physical or mental health.

Business risk assessment is no different. It’s just a preventative measure to protect the health and safety of the organization. To help your team identify key risks and implement control measures, the Whiteboards app includes a Risk Assessment template. Use this template when developing product features or before launching a new project. 

Add product features or project tasks to virtual sticky notes. Identify the risk level of each issue by sorting them on the template according to likelihood and consequences. Decide which risks you’ll guard against, which risks you’ll control, and which risks you will just accept. Identify control measures and convert your sticky notes to Jira issues right from the template. Issues appear automatically in Jira using Whiteboards’ native two-way Jira integration. Users receive tasks right away, and risk control is underway.

Sign up for a free Whiteboards account to start using the Risk Assessment template and dozens of other templates. Address business risk proactively to protect the health and safety of your organization. Keep reading to learn more about Agile risk assessment and how to use the Risk Assessment template.

How do Agile teams do risk assessment?

The first step in Agile risk assessment is making sure you’re truly Agile.

Agile methodology has been criticized for not including a standard risk assessment protocol. It’s true that Agile principles don’t dictate specific risk assessment methods. Because of this, Agile businesses manage risk in a variety of ways. However, Agile processes also include certain risk control measures by design. Here are some ways being Agile can reduce major risks found in more top-down business approaches:

  • Iterative development: Agile product features are planned, designed, tested, and adjusted in relatively short iterations. Iterative development cycles ensure early and continuous delivery of value to the customer. Regular testing and adjustment lower the risk of doing too much work before discovering a project is off track.
  • Feedback loops: Agile teams follow a system of feedback loops throughout the development cycle. Regular input from knowledge workers and end users keeps all stakeholders on the same page. Diverse feedback minimizes the risk of missing key development considerations.
  • Collaborative decision-making: Collaboration is at the heart of Agile product and project management. Team members collaborate regularly with each other, with other departments, and with external stakeholders. Everyone stays in the loop and contributes their ideas and expertise. Regular collaboration and continuous information exchange minimize the risk of “siloed thinking” – where knowledge is different from department to department.
  • Customer-centered approach: Agile product development prioritizes the needs of the client or end user. It doesn’t matter how brilliant new features are if they don’t satisfy the target consumer. Agile teams update external stakeholders frequently and seek feedback proactively. Continuously assessing customer priorities reduces the risk of investing resources in the wrong initiatives.

Control risk upfront by building your workflow around these core practices. To review the basics, download our beginner’s guide, How to Go Agile the Right Way. Use this guide to help assess if your business is “being” Agile or just “doing” Agile. (There’s a big difference!) Take advantage of the ways Agile principles control risk and prevent common hazards in both product development and project management.

If you don’t follow one already, choose a tested framework for managing Agile workflows. Identify an approach that fits your team’s preferences for structure vs. flexibility. Scrum, Kanban, and their hybrids cover a range of options. To get started, read our Top 9 Types of Agile Methodologies, Beginner’s Guide. We’ve outlined the most popular methodologies and included helpful links for more information.

Being truly Agile is the front line of risk control measures. But even the most Agile of teams need to perform targeted risk assessment. Don’t assume the basics will cover you. Assemble your team and address risk proactively to guard the health and safety of your organization.

How do I approach risk assessment?

Risk assessment can feel like an overwhelming task. How do we identify, let alone control, each risk a business faces? The truth is, we can’t. But we can keep refining our risk assessment process and risk control measures.

To de-mystify risk assessment, consider how we manage risk daily. We take daily measures to protect our own health and safety and that of pets, children, and other adults. To examine this concept more closely, let’s consider one high-stakes risk assessment example: parenting small children.

Parents do risk assessments and take risk control measures every day. They modify their risk assessment over time to fit changing health and safety considerations. When a child learns to walk, parents must identify each new safety risk in the home environment. They block stairs with child gates and move fragile objects off the coffee table. Addressing well-known safety hazards, they keep small objects and plastic bags out of the toddler’s reach.

Parents continue to assess risk throughout all stages of the child’s development. They regularly identify additional risks to the child’s health and safety. They also identify risks the child presents to the safety of other people, pets, and property. Although this risk assessment is informal, parents follow similar procedures as a project manager conducting a business risk assessment. To manage the “project” of keeping kids safe and healthy, parents:

  • know their child’s risk tolerance and risk-taking tendencies
  • learn about common safety hazards from other parents, books, or information online
  • draw from their personal experience (parents were kids once, too!)
  • scan the child’s environment to identify potential health and safety hazards
  • prioritize each risk based on the likelihood and consequences of the risk scenario
  • guard against the most likely and/or catastrophic hazards (plastic bags, stairs)
  • control mid-level risks (keep pens out of reach to protect the child from choking on pen caps or writing on walls or important documents)
  • accept low-level risks (well-designed playground equipment is low risk and high reward)
  • plan for unavoidable incidents (have a first aid kit and health provider information on hand)
  • choose child caregivers who align well with the parent’s risk priorities
  • adjust their risk assessment framework as the child grows and new information comes in

A business approaches risk assessment and implements control measures in much the same way. Parents don’t use a checklist, but this simple thought experiment shows the main points of any risk assessment strategy. We can translate each step in this risk assessment example to apply to business risk assessment. Instead of the health and safety of a child, Agile teams guard the health and safety of the product line, work projects, and the organization as a whole.

Like attentive parents, good managers know the risk tolerance of clients and knowledge workers. They use all available information to identify and prioritize risks. Then they implement targeted control measures. They give tasks to the right workers and adapt to new information to maintain the health and safety of the project. Like parents, Agile teams are already aware of many risks and control them every day. We manage risk each time we circle back for client approval, double-check an outgoing email, or submit a compliance report.

If your current projects seem healthy, formal risk assessment may feel unnecessary. Don’t let this lead to underestimating the need for systematic risk assessment. Formalize your risk assessment process and meet regularly to talk about risks and how to deal with them. Collaborate to identify risks from a number of angles. Establish risk control measures and create contingency plans for unavoidable risks.

Use our Risk Assessment template to help keep your risk assessment focused and effective. Sort your risks on the color-coded risk matrix to determine their priority level. Revisit the template regularly to account for new or changing risks. Think of risk assessment as a preventative step to protect the health and safety of the business and its stakeholders.

How do I prepare for a business risk assessment?

Get started by addressing risk assessment basics.

Whiteboards’ Risk Assessment template guides your team through a thoughtful risk assessment session. Before using the template, read through the questions and answers below. Decide when you will do a risk assessment, identify an assessment team, and create a risk assessment checklist.

When should my team do a risk assessment?

Companies typically perform a business risk assessment at key business junctures, or in response to new risk information. Here are the most common business risk assessment scenarios:

  • Product risk assessment: Product managers assess risk at the start of each product development cycle. They analyze proposed features to determine risks involved in designing, developing, and marketing the product.
  • Project risk assessment: Project managers perform project-specific risk assessment. They identify risks inherent in the project tasks as well as risks posed by the project. For instance, unbalanced workload distribution across projects risks bottlenecks in the larger corporate workflow.
  • Pre-project risk assessment: Project managers also assess the risks of accepting a proposed project. This type of risk assessment is especially important when considering a project with unfamiliar parameters. Risk increases when a proposal differs significantly from past projects in scope, criteria, or resource requirements. (For a pre-project risk assessment, we recommend the Pre-Mortem template, which is tailored for doing risk assessment at this project stage.) 
  • Regular risk assessment: Some teams build risk assessment into their schedule. For instance, a Scrum master may do a simple sprint-focused risk assessment at the start of each sprint.
  • Responsive risk assessment: Consequences of unforeseen or underestimated risks can trigger a targeted risk assessment of a particular workplace practice.

Who should be involved in risk assessment?

Collaboration is key to effective Agile risk assessment. Involve key stakeholders in your risk assessment process. Design, marketing, and sales teams will each identify different risks and risk control measures. Diverse stakeholders also bring different levels of risk tolerance to the table. Collaborative risk assessment helps align everyone around a unified corporate risk control strategy.

Remember that collaboration itself is a part of risk mitigation. Certain risks may worry some team members more than others. Some risks may not occur to workers uninvolved in a certain part of the project. The way one team operates may even create risk for another team or the company as a whole. 

Honest and collaborative risk assessment creates space for each concern to be heard and addressed. Doing risk assessment and determining control measures collaboratively also reinforces shared risk ownership. Ultimately, everyone can rest easier knowing the main business risks are accounted for. Use the Risk Assessment template to identify risks and put them in perspective for the whole team.

How do I structure a risk assessment?

Business risk takes many forms. There are internal risks, such as team disorganization resulting in missed deadlines. There are external risks, such as a natural disaster affecting a supply chain. Each type of risk calls for different control measures.

In light of this complexity, there is no one right way to structure risk assessment. Any risk checklist you make will have overlapping categories. This is actually a good thing! Redundancies help you identify risk from different angles. Develop a working risk assessment checklist and refine it as new information comes in.

Here’s an example risk assessment checklist to get you started. We’ve arranged it by broad risk areas and included examples of how each area can pose risk to the organization:

  • scope (unclear scope, inappropriate scope, scope creep)
  • budget (unexpected costs, missed projections)
  • scheduling (uneven workload distribution, poor estimations)
  • quality (persistent bugs, unmet customer requirements)
  • design (limited functionality, poor visual appeal)
  • marketing (inadequate research, misleading advertising)
  • morale (workers overloaded, confused, or unsupported)
  • personnel (poor capacity, training, or competence levels)
  • communication (key information not reaching external stakeholders)
  • technology (outdated tech, tools don’t support workflow)
  • economy (market fluctuation ripple effects, sector-specific market slump)
  • compliance (costly or changing government regulations)
  • procurement (supply chain slowdowns, vendor goes out of business)
  • client (difficult to reach, unreasonable expectations)
  • customers (target market ill-defined, shifting preferences)
  • contractors (outsourcing difficulties, unreliable third parties)
  • competitors (rising threats, innovation pace outstrips yours)

Again, don’t worry about creating the perfect risk assessment checklist. Cast a wide net. Identify key areas of risk control and update your list as you go.

How do I use a Risk Assessment template?

Gather your cross-functional risk assessment team. Have your risk checklist and any other relevant information ready. Estimates of how long a task will take, the latest budget report, and an analysis of the competition all help with risk assessment.

Add the Risk Assessment template to the whiteboard. If you’re doing risk assessment for product development, add proposed features to virtual sticky notes next to the template. When doing a pre-sprint risk assessment or a risk assessment for a project, write down upcoming tasks on sticky notes.

Risk Assessment template on
Risk Assessment template on

1. Sort risks by likelihood and consequences on the risk assessment matrix.

How you manage a given risk depends on the probability and severity of that risk. To reflect this, the Risk Assessment template ranks each risk according to its likelihood and potential consequences. 

Estimations, budgets, and market analytics provide hard numbers to help establish risk. From there, risk assessment relies on the collective input of the risk assessment team. Address each sticky note and identify the team’s main concerns. How likely is it that this task or product will present risk? What are those risks? What is the level of potential impact? Answers may vary. Reach a consensus or take a vote to establish each note’s risk level. Continue until all the sticky notes are added to the risk matrix.

2. Turn your risk assessment into actionable steps.

Once all sticky notes are on the template, use the color-coded matrix to target risk control measures. Manage each risk based on your available options. Your risk response will fall into one of four categories:

  • Control the risk. High-level risk calls for high-level control measures. Start with your red and orange squares. What can you do to bring the risk level down? Can you shift a likely/critical risk to an unlikely/critical risk? Or can you prevent the worst-case scenario, shifting the risk level to likely/marginal? Identify the source of the risk. You might be able to control an internal risk through measures such as reorganizing workflow or streamlining technology. If the risk is external, consider the factors you can control. Can you switch to a more reliable vendor or contractor? Identify control measures and move the risk to its new square on the matrix.
  • Share the risk. Can you redistribute a risk internally, or outsource it? A rare/catastrophic external risk like a severe weather event or a lawsuit is generally outsourced to an insurance company. The possible/marginal internal risk of a missed deadline may prompt you to shift certain tasks to a different team member. See if you can share risk better to shift your sticky notes left/down on the matrix.
  • Accept the risk. Sticky notes on the green squares of the template will likely fall in this risk response category. No project is free of risk. If you can’t control or share a low-level risk, it may be worth accepting. Identify your contingency plan and move on.
  • Avoid the risk. Any risk that doesn’t fit the other categories will end up here. If you still have sticky notes in the red and orange squares, your best option may be to avoid the risk altogether.

If your risk control measures require extra steps (like “search for a more reliable vendor for X”), write them on sticky notes and put them outside the Risk Assessment template.

3. Take action right from the Risk Assessment template.

Your risk assessment is done! All that’s left is turning your actionable steps into actions. Jira users can launch an action plan right from the whiteboard using Whiteboards’ deep native integration with Jira. If you did a product risk assessment, convert your sticky notes into Jira user stories. If, instead, you worked on a project risk assessment, convert your sticky notes into Jira tasks. Don’t forget the risk control measures you gathered outside the template. Choose Jira attributes and assign tasks to users. All issues sync instantly in Jira. 

Whiteboards-Jira integration works in both directions to support any type of Whiteboards meeting. Whatever template you use, simply import, modify, and create Jira issues. Update issues in batches to speed up the process. All updates appear instantly in Jira, and updates in Jira also appear on the whiteboard.

Sign up for the Whiteboards app to start using the Risk Assessment template today. The app has over 100 other templates that can help your team with product mapping, troubleshooting, retrospectives, and more. Store all your templates and meeting notes on Whiteboards’ vast virtual canvas. With flexible tools and strong two-way integration with Jira, you can hold more productive meetings on a virtual whiteboard. Part of mitigating risk is using better-integrated internal platforms. Use Whiteboards to streamline your Jira entry work and keep your collaboration centralized in one location for all users.