Project Risk Management – 4.0

A client of mine recently raised the specter of Industry 4.0.  For those who haven’t been pulled onto this bandwagon, Industry 4.0 is where we’re headed, today.  Real time.  It’s the amazing level of integration that has drawn together literally all aspects of our lives thanks to the merger of behavior, time, technology and real-world demands.  It’s the ability to take any facet of your work life and envision it as wholly integrated and integrate-able.  Industry 4.0 is the fusion of Agile and Waterfall with Amazon-Alexa style support for all aspects of systems.  And while the conversation is normally held in the context of heavy manufacturing, it’s steamrolling its way into the broader perspectives of business, and most notably, project management.    

Have you had your car talk to you lately?  Mine has offered to read me my latest text message without prompting.  That’s sometimes more helpful than some of our team members.  Industry 4.0 is the synthesis of tools and behaviors, creating an environment where some of our support systems know what we want before we even know we want it. 

One article I read ( took it down an interesting road, positing that project management will become the core competency in any organization that adopts the philosophy that all tools are integrated and that the tools of our trades should be anticipating our needs, rather than simply serving them.

Being the “risk guy”, I immediately contemplated what risk management looks like in the Industry 4.0 universe.  Then technical risks are obvious.  Go back a decade to Iran, and remember the nightmare that the Stuxnet virus created.  (  In Industry 4.0, that’s the obvious risk.  The potential (unintended or not) bias of artificial intelligence (AI) can lead to unintended consequences.  Another obvious risk.  But the day-to-day risks are the ones we really need to worry about.  And just as we often overlook them in an Industry 3.0 world, they’re going to be the “repeat offenders” in 4.0

Repeat Offenders

In any organization, there are “classic” risks.  Requirements will be mis-defined or misinterpreted.  Supply chain organizations will be delayed by a panoply of problems, causing delays down the line.  In both such situations, the idea of “smart” organizations and smart tools create the hope that in the new industrial age (4.0) such classic risks will simply go away.  Tools will predict what we’re doing and what we’re looking for and act accordingly.  I, for example, have been known for using hand gestures to drive home a point.  But do a Google search for “Carl Pritchard Pinky” and you wind up…even these many years after the fact…with one of the most entertaining (but off the mark) videos near the top of your list (  That’s not me, by the way.  Leave the “pinky” reference off, and you wind up in the right place.

Smart tools are not always altogether smart. 

In fact, when it comes to risk management in a 4.0 universe, a new question will have to be added to the “What could go wrong” standard.  The new question will tie directly to the age-old query of “What’s the trigger?”  If we can start spotting warning signs through AI and through intelligent programming, we have the opportunity to build in better risk practices.  The trigger is going to be the heart and soul of advanced risk programming and advanced risk management.  And in keeping with smarter and smarter systems, the trigger will likely be “triggers”.  A bicyclist may be a danger sign for a driver on a highway.  But that’s not enough to stop the car.  A bicyclist who’s migrating back and forth across his/her narrow lane might be a higher warning, but still not enough to stop the car.  A bicyclist with training wheels who’s migrating back and forth across his/her narrow lane might be worthy of slowing the car to match their pace. 

It’s the same kind of smart thinking that goes into autonomous vehicles ratcheted up to a project environment.  Is the vendor ever late?  Do they have an excess workload?  Have we saddled them with a record sized order?  In a 3.0 world, we call the vendor to follow up.  In a 4.0 world, the system notifies us how many triggers have been tripped, and provides the contact information for two or three alternate vendors who may meet the need.  In a 4.0 world, we dip into our 3.0 experience, but only have to go there once because we have now told our Amazon Alexa-like system how we responded and how it might expand on that response in the future. 

The joy of 4.0 risk?  It becomes, through learning, progressively more automated.  The downside?  Someone has to load all of this information into the system the first time.  And given the evolution of systems and data storage and organizations, the experiences will have to be updated and upgraded when we find nearly perfect responses.  Everyone will eventually want Risk 4.0.  The downside is that we’ll have to teach the systems what a perfect 3.0 world looks like first.


Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP is the “risk guy” of project management.  The author of two risk texts and the past lead chapter author of the risk chapter of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) by PMI (4th ed.), he welcomes your insights and comments at