Expanding our risk repertoire

to encompass opportunities


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

School of Management
University of Lancaster

United Kingdom



Many of the words and terms we rely upon in project management have varying, albeit related meanings when used in slightly different contexts and by different groups and professions. Project, risk, constraint, assumption and benefit can have such differing interpretations depending on the situation, the user and the observer. Another such term is opportunity.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an opportunity as: ‘a time when a particular situation makes it possible to do or achieve something’. The Collins Dictionary describes an opportunity as: ‘a situation in which it is possible to do something that you want to do’, while the Merriam-Webster dictionary positions it as a ‘favorable juncture of circumstances’. The definitions imply that an opportunity can thus be viewed as a favourable time, or occasion, for achieving, attaining or benefiting from something desirable.

Thinking about opportunities and their underpinning role in management and innovation has long featured in many facets of the business literature. Kevin Plank, US billionaire and founder of sportswear, footwear and accessories brand Under Armour, observed that the purpose of leadership is ‘to make sure you never limit the idea or opportunity’. Almost a century earlier, American inventor and businessman, Thomas Alva Edison remarked that ‘the reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work’.

Opportunity seeking is often associated with costs and more recently with risk. Albert Einstein quipped that ‘in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity’. However, opportunity seeking and exploitation is also recognised as both enabling and underpinning the potential for achievement. Management guru, Peter Drucker, for example, reasoned that ‘the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity’. Opportunity recognition is therefore recognised as a key step in the entrepreneurial process (Venkataraman, 1997), and has often featured in research in the field of entrepreneurship (Bhave, 1994; Gaglio & Katz, 2001; Baron, 2006).

The critical role of opportunity is similarly acknowledged in competitive disciplines such as economics, marketing, diplomacy, strategy and war studies. Yet, opportunity highlights a need to balance different perspectives, needs and priorities. Obstacles and opportunities often come entangled, requiring interpretation, preference identification and some degree of unravelling. Winston Churchill recognising the implied trade-offs noted that ‘the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’.

Opportunities enable potential, achievement and excellence beyond competition. Baron (2006) typifies (entrepreneurial) opportunities in terms of three main characteristics:

  • Potential economic value: the potential to generate income
  • Newness: product, service or technology that did not previously exist
  • Perceived desirability: moral and legal acceptability of the new product or service in society

This notion and definition might be extended further by looking at the impact of missed opportunities. Psychologists often acknowledge and quantify the opportunity cost of failing to act and take advantage of an emerging potential opportunity and therefore the difference between where we are and where we might be can become a fruitful way of appreciating the power and impact of an opportunity, especially in uncertain contexts (Dalcher, 2017).


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2020). Expanding our risk repertoire to encompass opportunities, Advances in Project Management Series, PM World Journal, Volume IX, Issue II, February.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/pmwj90-Feb2020-Dalcher-expanding-our-risk-repertoire-to-encompass-opportunities.pdf



About the Author


Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He is the academic advisor and consulting editor for the forthcoming edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.