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SMART planning is:
     S: Specific
    M: Measurable
    A: Attainable
    R: Risk Informed
    T: Timely

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Tips, Tools & Techniques

Last updated: 16 October 2014

Using a Risk Register in Feasibility Studies

    A feasibility study will continually ask how additional detail will affect the next planning decision. Where is the uncertainty? Will more data mean a better decision? What are the consequences of a wrong decision? One technique for executing this strategy is to develop and use a risk register.

    The risk register collects information about:

    • Risks and their causes.
    • Consequences of risk.
    • Likelihood of the risk occurring.
    • Confidence of the risk consequences and likelihood of its occurring.
    • PDT recommendation about the risk.

    What is it? The Risk Register (RR) is an important risk management tool for USACE. The RR is a log (spreadsheet) in which you record the relevant details of the risks that could result from actions taken or not taken during each stage of a project’s life cycle. The Project Delivery Team (PDT) and all levels of the vertical team have input and joint ownership of the RR.

    Why is it used? It is a tool for identifying risks throughout the feasibility study iterative planning process. The risk register should be used as a guide for decision-making in a timely manner, making and accepting decisions based on information available to the PDT at that time. The risk register is also a read-ahead for the feasibility study’s Alternatives, Tentatively Selected Plan and Agency Decision Milestone meetings.

    The risk register:

    • Identifies the risks the PDT and the Corps is willing to tolerate.
    • Identifies ways the PDT will manage risks that are not tolerable.
    • Documents risk mitigation strategies being pursued in response to the identified risks.
    • Grades risk mitigation strategies in terms of likelihood and consequence.
    • Provides the vertical team with a documented framework to report risk status.
    • Represents an actionable document prepared early in the study.
    • Helps ensure the communication of risk management issues to key stakeholders.
    • Provides a mechanism for seeking and acting on feedback.

    Why Should the PDT Use a Risk Register?
    The utilization of a risk register during a planning study to document and evaluate the risk associated with planning decisions helps the PDT anticipate the potential effects of uncertainty on both the quality of their study decisions and project outcomes. In order to promote a more efficient and effective planning methodology and process, only necessary data should be gathered and only analyses needed should be performed to make good planning decisions.

    Uncertainty and the Level of Detail
    Throughout the Feasibility Study, the PDT must ask how added detail will affect the next decision:

    • Where is the uncertainty?
    • Does the uncertainty affect the decision?
    • What are the consequences of a poor decision?

    The risk register compiles the data needed to answer these questions. Multiple strategies can be used to collect and analyze the data. The planner can prioritize data gathering and analyses in areas critical for differentiating among alternatives and rely on a feasibility-level of design for the tentatively selected plan.

    Using the Risk Register throughout the Feasibility Study
    The register is a living document that should be maintained and kept current throughout the feasibility study. The risk register will evolve with the study and the recommended actions. The register should be prepared as early in the study process as possible, but only when the PDT assesses what data it has and what data it truly needs. Ideally, an initial risk register would be completed early in the study and aligned with a Decision Management Plan

    New risks may be identified from time to time. The risk register will also change regularly as previously identified risks are reassessed in light of new information, or based on the effectiveness of the mitigation strategy. Risks that are identified in the planning study will continue to be evaluated, monitored, and managed through the life-cycle of the project, from planning to design, construction and operations.

    A Closer Look at the Risk Register
    Properly maintained, the risk register is a valuable tool to communicate risk management issues to the PDT, the Sponsor, the USACE Vertical Team and key stakeholders.

    A risk register generally includes:

    • Grading risks in terms of their likelihood of occurring and seriousness of impact on the study/project.
    • Initial plans for mitigating each high level risk, the costs and responsibilities of the prescribed mitigation strategies and subsequent results.

    The risk register includes the following columns on each of the tabs:

    ColumnValue Described
    SMART Milestone or IPRList the milestone or major decision. Use this column for summary page only, as the tabs in the spreadsheet are already organized by Decision Management Plan.
    Risk numberA unique identifier for each risk. Identifiers can be associated with the discipline / area of risk (e.g., 1 Eng; 1 H&H)
    DateDate entry was last updated
    Scoping Choice or EventThis is the scoping choice (task, decision, problem, question, issue) or event (action, hazard or opportunity) that is to be managed.
    Risk and its causeBriefly identify the risk associated with the action. Considering the Action, what can go wrong and how can it happen?
    Risk TypeStudy Risk (Analytical error, study delays, study cost increase, poor planning decision), Implementation Risk (schedule and cost of implementation, redesign), or Outcome Risk (hazard risk and project performance risk) Consequence Describe the consequence of the risk. If things do "go wrong" in the way described what is the specific consequence for the study or project outcomes? (List the most significant consequence first if more than one.)
    Consequence ratingIf the most significant consequence occurs what is its potential magnitude? (High, Medium, Low)
    Evidence for consequence ratingSpecific evidence used to support the consequence rating. If relying on an event from a previous study, list study and date.
    Likelihood ratingWhat is the likelihood that the most significant Consequence will occur? (High, Medium, Low) Evidence for likelihood rating Specific evidence used to support the likelihood rating. If relying on an event from a previous study, list study and date.
    Uncertainty ratingHow great is the uncertainty about either the consequence or likelihood of the risk identified? (High, Medium, Low)
    Risk ratingQualitative risk rating based on Consequence and Likelihood from lookup table on "Risk Rating Tab" (High, Medium, Low)
    Risk management optionsEnter options for reducing the risk and estimate time/cost impacts associated with the management option. Be specific. If you can identify the cost or schedule impacts of implementing these instead actions of the chosen action, please do so to help inform PMP options.
    Conclusion / RecommendationIdentify the preferred course of action for managing the risk you have identified in previous column. Tolerate the risk is the default option.
    Point of ContactName(s) of person(s) assessing the task and responsible for the task.
    Affected Study ComponentWhat other analyses of the study are affected by this risk? For example, what other analyses use outputs from the scoping choice as their input.
    OutcomeDescribe the result of the risk management action.
    NotesMake note of any significant information not otherwise provided.

    Confidence Rating Terms

    • High—the consequence of this risk is unacceptable
    • Medium—the consequence of this risk can be tolerated
    • Low—the consequence of this risk is a relatively insignificant concern

    Likelihood Rating Terms

    • High - the probability of undesirable result is unacceptable based on evidence. A significant deviation from the expected value is more likely than not.
    • Medium - the probability of undesirable result is borderline tolerable/unacceptable based on evidence. A significant deviation from the expected value is as likely as not.
    • Low - the probability of undesirable result is tolerable or acceptable based on evidence. A significant deviation from the expected value is less likely than likely.

    Uncertainty Rating Terms

    • High - there is little to no concrete evidence available. There is very broad range of possible outcomes that include extremes.
    • Medium - there is some good evidence and some significant data gaps. Extreme outcomes are not possible.
    • Low - good evidence is available, data gaps are not significant. There is a limited range of possible outcomes.


    • Example Risk Registers <
    • IWR-APT (Assistance to Planning Teams)
      IWR-APT is an online software tool to help USACE project delivery teams (PDTs) create, edit, analyze and manage their study materials. Modules currently within APT include: Risk Register, Decision Log, Study Issue Checklist, and Deliverable workflow by milestone.