Project Management

An Expert Guide to Qualitative Risk Analysis: Everything You Need to Know

By | 7 min read | Published

Master qualitative risk analysis and help your projects succeed. Learn all about it in this guide.

Risk is an inherent part of all projects. You can’t eliminate it, but you can manage it. And to do that right, you should understand the different types of risks and their nature. Qualitative risk is a type of risk that can’t be measured, such as reputational, strategic, and legal risk.

If overlooked, qualitative risks can lead to project delays or, worse, failure. These risks significantly impact your projects, but they are often difficult to manage, as they can’t be quantified or measured.

That’s why project managers often feel that they’re flying blind when it comes to analyzing qualitative risk. Without the right guidance, managing qualitative risk can become overwhelming for them.

This comprehensive guide is the perfect resource for any project manager looking to learn about qualitative risk analysis. It covers everything they should know about qualitative risk analysis and how it helps keep projects on track.

What is qualitative risk analysis?

Qualitative risk analysis is the process of assessing and managing risks that can’t be measured.

In project management, its key goal is to provide a holistic view of qualitative project risks such as reputational risk, strategic risk, and legal risk.

This process helps project managers assess the likelihood and potential impact of qualitative risks. With this information, project managers are better prepared to respond to risks and allocate resources to mitigate them.

Qualitative risk analysis takes a subjective approach to risk management, such as using scenarios or expert judgment to identify and assess risks. Quantitative analysis, on the other hand, is more focused on measuring and quantifying project risks.

Qualitative risk analysis

Quantitative risk analysis

  • Focuses on risks that can’t be measured or quantified
  • Provides a holistic view of all project risks
  • Takes a subjective, judgment-based approach to risk assessment
  • Typically used to supplement quantitative risk analysis
  • Used to identify, assess, and respond to risks
  • Focuses on risks that can be measured or quantified
  • More focused on individual project risks
  • Relies heavily on data and numerical analysis for risk assessment
  • Doesn’t depend on any other method and can be used independently
  • Used to measure and manage risks over time

What are the benefits of qualitative risk analysis?

Qualitative risk analysis can be used at any stage of the project lifecycle. Some of its top benefits include:

  • Provides a structured approach to risk management: Qualitative risk assessment breaks down the risk management process into a series of well-defined steps. This helps ensure all potential risks are identified and addressed in a systematic manner.
  • Develops an effective risk management plan: Qualitative risk analysis identifies all potential project risks as well as their corresponding mitigation measures. This helps your project stay on track and within budget.
  • Facilitates effective decision-making: Qualitative risk assessment offers a clear understanding of potential risks and their impact on your project. This allows you to make informed decisions about how to best mitigate or avoid the risks.
  • Improves the overall project communication: Qualitative risk analysis provides a common framework and language for discussing risks. This ensures all project stakeholders are on the same page in terms of understanding potential risks and their impact on the project.

Qualitative risk analysis offers several benefits and can be a great method to identify and mitigate project risks, but it also has some potential drawbacks that should be considered. This video looks at both pros and cons so you can decide if it’s the right method for your project.


Common pitfalls to avoid during qualitative risk analysis

Avoid these common pitfalls to increase the effectiveness of qualitative risk analysis:

  • Not clearly defining project objectives: Without a clear understanding of project objectives and goals, it’ll be difficult to identify risks likely to impact your projects. To avoid this, have a clear and concise project plan that everyone on your team understands.
  • Focusing too much on individual risks instead of the overall risk landscape: Neglecting the overall risk landscape and only focusing on individual risks can lead to suboptimal decision-making. When analyzing project risk, take a step back and look at the big picture to ensure you are taking a holistic approach.
  • Overemphasizing the risk impact: While the impact of a risk factor is important to consider, it’s not the only factor you should take into account when making risk reduction decisions. Consider the probability of a risk event occurring as well as its potential impact when making mitigation plans.
  • Underestimating the dynamic nature of risks: Risk analysis is inherently uncertain, as risks can change over time. Underestimating the dynamic nature of risks can lead to a false sense of security and, ultimately, increase risk exposure. Therefore, reevaluate risks regularly and update the risk management plan as needed.

6 common qualitative risk analysis methods

As a project manager, you can use various methods for qualitative risk analysis, but the most appropriate method will depend on the specific needs of your project. The most common methods include brainstorming, Delphi technique, nominal group technique, bow tie analysis, decision tree analysis, and expert judgment. Let’s read more about them.

  • Brainstorming: Project team members come together to brainstorm and list down all potential risk events. The goal is to identify as many risks as possible, right at the start of the project.
  • Delphi technique: A panel of experts gets together to identify and assess project risks. This technique is used when it’s difficult to gather all your stakeholders in one place or when you need specialized industry expertise.
  • Nominal group technique: In this method, participants first individually identify potential project risks (including both causes and effects) and then come together as a group to make a collective decision.
  • Bow tie analysis: This method identifies risks directly linked to your project goals. You create a diagram that shows the project goal at the top and the potential risks surrounding it, helping you address risks more effectively.
  • Decision tree analysis: It’s a tool that helps visualize how risks impact your project. You make a diagram that shows the different possible outcomes of a decision and the associated risks and costs.
  • Expert judgment: This method includes consulting with people who have deep knowledge or expertise in a particular area. It’s especially used in situations where you need to understand a specific type of project risk (such as technical risks) or when you need specialized subject matter expertise.

Tips for effective qualitative risk analysis

Qualitative risk analysis is a vital tool for project success, but it’s important to use the right approach to ensure you effectively identify and assess all potential risks. Here are some tips to consider when conducting qualitative risk analysis:

  • Start by setting clear goals and objectives for your analysis. This will help guide your decision-making and ensure you focus on the most potential risks for your project.
  • Consult all stakeholders to get different perspectives. This will help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of risks that are the most relevant to your project.
  • Use a variety of methods to identify risks; don’t rely on only one method. This will ensure you’re not overlooking any major risks and make your risk analysis more robust.
  • Be prepared to adapt your approach as needed. The risks associated with a project can change over time, so it’s important to be flexible and adapt your approach as needed.
  • Document your findings and track changes in risks over time. This will help you communicate your findings to stakeholders and make informed decisions about risk management strategies.

Want to learn more about project risk management? Check out these related Capterra resources:

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

About the Author

Shubham Gupta

Shubham Gupta

Shubham Gupta is a writer at Capterra, covering project management and advertising with a focus on emerging small business trends. He believes in ideating and creating purpose-driven content to help businesses succeed. As part of the content space since 2016, Shubham has written about education, technology, lifestyle, human interest, and social relevance. Outside of work, he enjoys annoying his dog, reading Urdu poetry, and watching thrillers while sipping a heavenly brewed cup of coffee.

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