From Risk, to Issue, To Crisis

Is Your Program Prepared?



By Deidre C. Hicks

Washington, DC, USA



As program and project managers, we are all raised on the idea of managing risks and issues. It is a part of our DNA to identify and manage risks, including developing mitigation plans to try to avoid the risk and developing contingency plans in case a risk is realized. We are also well versed in issue management―whether it is a realized risk or an unplanned event. We know that the success of our projects and programs is dependent on utilizing a structured risk and issue management processes. What about a crisis?

More importantly―what is a crisis? Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the word was abused in our society―not having coffee available in the morning was a crisis to some, or a question from senior leadership or oversight entities, or news coverage of your program was viewed as a crisis. Those things are simply events and not a crisis.

A crisis is “a catastrophic event, or series of escalating events, that threatens the strategic objectives, reputation, or viability of the program or its parent organization.”

While crisis management is related to risk and issue management, crisis management has its own set of international standards and best practices. Please note that crisis management is focused on how an organization prepares for, manages, and is impacted by a crisis.

Good examples of a crisis include Hurricane Katrina and last year’s Boeing 737 MAX airplane crashes, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

What do these events share that make them a crisis? It is how these events affect the program or organization responsible for managing the program when:

  • Objectives are not met.
  • Reputation is severely damaged.
  • Viability of the organization is threatened.

So what about your program? Do you need to consider crisis management? I would urge you to ask yourself: Do I have any risks that, if realized:

  • Could jeopardize lives?
  • Would break the law?
  • Would jeopardize the reputation of the organization?

If you do, you should consider implementing a formal Crisis Management process.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 7th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2020.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Hicks, D. C. (2020). From Risk, to Issue, To Crisis: Is Your Program Prepared? presented at the 7th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2020; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/pmwj95-Jul2020-Hicks-from-risk-to-issue-to-crisis2.pdf



About the Author

Deidre C. Hicks

Washington, DC, USA




Deidre Hicks, PMP serves as an Assistant Division Chief in the Decennial Census Management Division at the Census Bureau. Ms. Hicks heads up the Program Management Office, which is responsible for defining and implementing program management policies, processes and the control functions for planning and implementing the 2020 Census. She spent the first 15 years of her career as a DoD contractor project manager over software development and since 2004 has been a federal employee of the Census Bureau. Ms. Hicks has been a PMP since 2006 and holds a FAC/PPM-IT Level 3 and FAC/COR Level 3.  She can be contacted at Deidre.C.Hicks@census.gov