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  • Francois Joubert

Who to have in project risk workshops (and just male engineers is the wrong answer)

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

I like working with engineers and have never been to a workshop where I did not learn something from one of them. I also enjoy telling the civil engineers that I will talk slower for them to understand, which they always laugh at.

My project expeditions have been good to me in that regard, where I met some of the world's experts related to concrete curing, port design, port construction management, risk management as well as engineering management. When one works with engineers like Richard Coxe (, Paul Edwards ( and Bill Murphy (Richards Bay Coal Terminal), one realises how little one actually knows. There is no substitute for experience.

When I did work for Bill Murphy, I learnt a lot from RBCT's "not male engineers" during various risk and HAZOP workshops. It was a nearly 4-year project where they replaced 2 ship loaders and 2 stacker reclaimers. Our risk management plan (and I will write a post about these monsters later), included HAZOP3 as well as structure interface risk identification workshops.

When doing those HAZOP workshops, it is mandatory to have people with practical work experience related to the asset, in the workshop. You cannot discuss the issues related to the stacker reclaimer's tripper car, if you don't have people with design and operating experience room. Again, nothing beats experience.

We were discussing security hazards related to the ship loader's operator's cabin. One of the female participants asked that we should please add a latch to the cabin door so that it can be locked from the inside. I couldn't understand the importance of this as they were working on a site with good security. She explained that it was important since stowaways are sometimes found on the large coal carrying ships, and have been known to climb up the ship loader's spout and have threatened the operators working inside in the cabin. An appropriate risk and treatment plan was then added to the HAZOP study. I believe that this important risk would most likely not have been added to the risk register if we only had male engineers in the room.

Which brings me back to the original question - "Who needs to be in risk workshops?". There are various answers to that question. PMBoK® states that "Participants in risk identification activities may include the following: project manager, project team members,

risk management team (if assigned), customers, subject matter experts from outside the project team, end users, other project managers, stakeholders, and risk management experts."

I like the book "Project Risk Management Guidelines" by Dale Cooper better, as it is more a "What and how to do" book compared to PMBoK®. They include "people which have done similar projects before" as part of the list of participants and is something which I could not agree more with. Nothing beats experience.

None of these books, includes "Locals" on their list of participants. This gap was emphasized when I did the risk for Dave Hanley ( on the Tema Port Expansion in Ghana. The local (i.e. non-expat) project personnel were invaluable in identifying risks related to the local geography and infrastructure, such as the undersea West Africa Gas Pipeline. One most certainly does not want to dump dredged rocks on this pipeline.

I prefer to do risk workshops with fewer people in the room, or to talk to individual subject matter experts on their own when adding risks to the risk register. The worst risk workshop I ever had to facilitate had 30 participants, of which 10 were from industry. These 10 participants absolutely hated the people I worked for and nearly hi-jacked the workshop. It was an important lesson - if I had to re-do that workshop, I would conduct a separate one with the industry stakeholders.

I also prefer not to have the (i) environmental and (ii) health and safety, representatives in the workshop for the entire duration. The reason for the environmental specialists is that there is a standard list of risks related to their work which one should include on any risk register, and then review as required. As part of preparation for the workshop, I always include these on the risk register and try to discuss them first during the workshop, after which the environmental specialist may leave.

I also don't believe in adding normal safety hazards (hot works, working from heights etc.) onto the project risk register as there are separate risk registers covering those type of construction activities. Context specific safety risks, such as "Safely moving a 2 400 caisson onto a submersible barge" however, do belong on the project risk register, as it is not a common construction activity.

Ghana, caisson casting yard

People which I most certainly don't require in a risk workshop are people more interested in (i) their social media on their laptops and (ii) what is going to be served for lunch. I am not going to expand on this, but we have all seen these in workshops. They make very little, if any contribution.

The question of "how do you know if you have the right people in the workshop?" should be asked. The answer to this is in two parts:

  • The first is that the identified risks are specific to the project, and can be linked to clearly identified project objectives. And I do not include the normal ones "Approval Delays", "Bad weather", "Skills & Resources" and "Injuries and fatalities" on this list. The latter is, in any case, a consequence and not a risk.

  • The second is when technical and project management risks are discussed, and the participants start to talk to each other and discuss a risk in more detail. This discussion can only happen if the right people are in the workshop.

To conclude, the short answer to "Who to have in a risk workshop?", is a 4-letter concept: appropriate subject matter experts (SME), which is entirely project context specific. And if you only need 4 of them to have a constructive risk workshop, so be it. There is no substitute for experience.

My colleague Quinton van Eeden ( commented that it is always nice to have an SME who is not involved/vested in the project under consideration and who has maybe done a similar project elsewhere – apart from lessons learned in the workshop. Such an independent SME is also be a good candidate to play the clearly identified role of Devil’s Advocate and wear De Bono’s Black Hat.


COOPER, D et al. 2014. Project Risk Management Guidelines, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons Limited.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE 2013. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®)

Copyright 2020 Dr. Francois Joubert

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