Risk Registers: What Are They, When Should You Use Them, and Why?


9 Jun 2023

Risk register guide with examples and template

Effectively utilizing a risk register allows your organization to anticipate and overcome challenges with confidence. No GRC program is failproof, which is why it’s so critical to take a thorough look at potential risks and remediations. 

To make sure you’re starting on the right foot, we’ve provided a free, downloadable risk register template you can use once you have a better understanding of what it does. 

Let’s dive into all you need to know about risk registers!

What is a risk register, and why use one?

The risk register, also known as a risk register log, tracks project-specific risks, including their priority and likelihood of occurrence. It also goes beyond identification and analysis by offering concrete mitigation measures. This proactive approach equips your team with solutions to tackle potential threats effectively.

A risk register is a valuable tool for managing potential setbacks in projects. By identifying, analyzing, and addressing risks, it helps to prevent problems from arising. It can also be beneficial in contexts like product launches and manufacturing.

For smaller, earlier-stage companies, tracking risks in a risk register may be a way to meet requirements for SOC 2 and other compliance frameworks. As companies grow and their systems become more complex, risk registers can be actionable tools that centralize critical information in a readily accessible format. 

What’s in a risk register? 

Crafting an effective risk register involves compiling a comprehensive list of risks and associated tracking fields. While each team’s risk log will vary based on their unique projects, there are essential components that most risk registers should include. These components work together to create a fluid and informative record of potential risks, which can also serve as a valuable reference for future projects encountering similar risks.

A general rule of thumb is that the complexity of a project corresponds to the level of intricacy in the risk register. For large projects spanning multiple months and involving various stakeholders, it is advisable to be highly specific in your log. This ensures accurate risk assessment and appropriate allocation of resources.

Here are some important fields to consider including in your project risk management plan:

  • Risk Category: The type of risk
  • Risk Name: A brief description of the risk so that people can easily understand what risk you are assessing. 
  • Impact: Description of the potential impacts should the risk occur, ideally in business terms. Decide whether to use “worst case” or “anticipated” impacts and be consistent. Consistency is especially important as the risk register gets larger and more people get involved in the assessments.
  • Impact Rating or Score: The product of the probability and impact values, or in other words, the untreated / inherent level of risk.
  • Treatment: Description of how the risk is to be treated. This is often a written statement detailing the plan of action
  • Treatment Status: To what extent is the planned treatment in place? 0% means the treatment is only a plan at present – nothing has been done about it yet. 100% means that the treatment is fully operational. 
  • Residual Risk: This is the risk rating today, given the implementation status, anticipated probability, and impact values when fully completed. 
  • Target Rating: Also referred to as post treatment risk rating, this is the product of the anticipated  probability and impact values once the risk treatment is fully implemented.

We’ve already provided all of these important fields in our free risk register template, so be sure to check it out! 

How to fill out a risk register

Filling out a risk register is a crucial step in effective risk management. To begin, gather a team of relevant stakeholders who can contribute their expertise and insights. Identify potential risks by conducting thorough risk assessments, considering both internal and external factors that could impact the project or organization.

You’ll need to identify, describe, estimate, mitigate, assign, and figure out a way to monitor the risks. 

We go in depth on those 6 important steps, as well as add some best practices on our risk register step-by-step guide.

Risk registers are really just documents and spreadsheets, but they can be hard to maintain once project efforts rev up. Fortunately, they don’t have to be manual. Our next generation risk register is programmatic and responsive, and it does all the heavy lifting for you. To read more about how it takes regular risk registers to the next level, click here.

Common risks during projects

New projects often bring about multiple risks that can impact budgets and timelines. From data security concerns to unexpected tasks, these risks can have serious consequences. That’s why it’s crucial to proactively identify potential risks before they occur.

While some organizations rely on risk management professionals to handle the risk log, the responsibility often falls on the project manager or team lead. If your team doesn’t currently utilize a risk management or incident management process, it can be beneficial to familiarize yourself with common risk scenarios. This knowledge will aid in determining whether a risk register is suitable for you and your team.

Here are a few examples of common risks:

Data Security

When working on projects that involve sensitive data, it is crucial to track and mitigate potential risks to protect against various threats. Failing to manage these risks can lead to severe consequences, such as:

  • Data Breaches: Without proper mitigation measures, your business could be at risk of valuable information being stolen, especially customer data, which can result in significant harm.
  • Credit Card Fraud: This type of risk poses multiple dangers, including revenue loss and potential legal repercussions.

To prevent long-term security issues, data security should be a top priority and actively addressed.

Communication Issues

Communication issues can emerge in projects of any size and with any team. While a risk register helps identify areas where communication gaps exist, implementing work management software can also streamline communication.

Some risks stemming from communication issues include:

  • Project Inconsistencies: Inadequate communication can lead to inconsistencies in deliverables, causing confusion among team members.
  • Missed Deadlines: Without clear communication, team members may be unaware of important deadlines, resulting in missed deliverables.

Establishing a proper communication plan can prevent risks from arising and optimize project outcomes.

Scheduling Delays

Unnoticed scheduling errors and delays can escalate into significant problems when project deadlines are missed. Using tools like timelines and team calendar software can help prevent such scheduling errors.

Potential consequences of project scheduling delays include:

  • Rushed Deliverables: Insufficient time due to delays can result in poorly executed work, jeopardizing goals and creating a perception of subpar quality.
  • Confusion: A lack of a proper schedule can overwhelm and confuse team members, hindering productivity.

Implementing an effective scheduling system ensures that deliverables stay on track for both daily tasks and one-off projects.

Unplanned Work

Dealing with unforeseen work that expands the project scope is a common challenge. However, with proper tracking and delegation, this risk can be effectively mitigated.

Without a robust risk register, you may experience:

  • Missed Deliverables: Failure to manage unplanned work can lead to missed deadlines, compromising project completion.
  • Employee Burnout: Overloading team members with unplanned tasks can strain them, resulting in burnout and potential decrease in morale and productivity. Properly scoping projects is essential.

Implementing a change control process can help effectively communicate and manage additional work within your team.

Theft of Materials

While uncommon, businesses with significant inventory face the risk of theft or reporting errors. Consistent and frequent inventory tracking allows early identification of potential risks.

Theft can result in:

  • Revenue Loss: Whether through physical theft or reporting errors, theft directly impacts your revenue.
  • Uncertainty: Incidents of theft can cause internal stress and uncertainty among employees and the business.

Similar to data security, addressing theft promptly is crucial due to its high-priority nature.

Risky business is bad for business

… and that’s why it’s crucial to leverage a risk register as part of your risk management strategy. By diligently identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks through a well-maintained risk register, your organization’s risk management strategy becomes stronger and more effective. 

However, staying on top of risks can be a complex task. Thankfully, once you and your team become familiar with risk registers, you can make your lives a whole lot easier. 

TrustRegister is an innovative, ongoing programmatic monitoring tool that accomplishes everything a traditional risk register does, but then takes it to the next level by utilizing predictive analytics to anticipate and address risks proactively. By leveraging AI technology and its predictive capabilities, TrustRegister empowers you to navigate the dynamic business environment with confidence. Who doesn’t want less manual work and more security? 

Curious about the next generation of risk registers? Check out how it compares to manual risk registers here