What is a Risk Analysis

Guide: Risk Analysis

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Risk Analysis is an essential proactive measure in Lean Six Sigma, aiming to identify, assess, and control potential risks to business processes. As a preliminary step in new projects, it safeguards against introducing new problems while managing existing ones.

This structured approach is important in a data-driven environment, where unaddressed risks could undermine efforts to eliminate waste and reduce variation. By anticipating problems before they arise, Risk Analysis acts as a strategic tool for informed decision-making, resource allocation, and maintaining continuous improvement within an organization.

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What is Risk Analysis?

Risk Analysis is a structured approach for identifying, assessing, and controlling potential risks that can affect the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes. Risk analysis can also be used a the start of a new Lean Six Sigma project as a way of identifying potential risks to project success. Risk analysis is an integral part of process improvement and management, ensuring that any changes made to enhance a process do not add new issues and that existing risks are identified and managed. 

In the context of Lean Six Sigma, Risk analysis is key because the methodology is data-driven and focused on elimating waste and reducing variation. Any unaddressed risks could add variability, cause defects, or create waste within the process, which will directly counteract the Lean Six Sigma project objectives.

The Importance of Risk Analysis

Risk Analysis in Continuos Improvement and Lean Six Sigma has multiple purposes:

Preventative Measure: Risk Analysis can serve as a first line of defence against potential problems. By identifying potential risks early on, teams can put preventative measures in place to prevent them from occurring. This is likely going to be more cost-effective than addressing the issues after they arise.

Decision Making: Using risk analysis supports informed decision-making. When leaders understand the risks, they can make informed choices that balance the risk with the reward, which should in turn lead to more sustainable business strategies.

Resource Optimization: Conducting a risk analysis can allow for better strategic allocation of resources. Resources can be directed to areas of the business at the greatest risk rather than spreading employees’ focus across areas of low to no risk.

How Risk Analysis is Applied in Continuous Improvement

Using the DMAIC method, you will see how Risk analysis is important in each stage of the process:

  • Define: Identify the project goals and potential risks to success.
  • Measure: Quantitatively assess the risks to understand their potential impact on the project.
  • Analyze: Examine the root causes of risks and how they might affect process variability and waste.
  • Improve: Develop and implement strategies to mitigate identified risks.
  • Control: Put controls in place to monitor risks over time and ensure that mitigation strategies are effective.


How to Conduct a Risk Analysis

Step 1: Risk Identification

The first step of any risk management process should be the identification of risks. The goal of this step is to develop a comprehensive list of all of the risks that could prevent the process or project of a business from achieving its goals. Here are the methods we recommend using to identify the risks:

Conduct a Brainstorming session with a cross-functional team: This process involves gathering a cross-functional team which is a team with a range of backgrounds who are also stakeholders that are familiar with the process and facilitate a session risk identification, which encourages a flow of ideas to uncover as many potential risks as possible. This can be done with team members noting down potential risks on sticky notes and discussing the risk with the team. The sticky note helps form the documentation of the process.

Team Problem Solving

Other methods include analyzing historical data. This could include reviewing past performance data, incident logs, and previous risk assessments of the process. This can often help identify trends and recurring issues that could pose risks.

Another useful structured method that you can bring into the brainstorming process is using an FMEA analysis. The FMEA which stands for Failure Modes and Effects Analysis, is a systematic approach to identifying all possible failures in a design, manufacturing process, product, or service. 

If you are interested in learning more and applying the FMEA to your risk analysis, we recommend taking a look at our FMEA guide.

Step 2: Risk Assessment

Once you have identified a list of potential risks, it is likely going to be a long list where addressing all of them might be difficult. This is where an assessment is needed to understand the extent of the risk’s potential impact on objectives. Common tools for the assessment include:

Risk Matrix: This is a grid that helps you to plot the likelihood of a risk occurring against the severity of its impact. It provides a visual representation of the priority of the risks.

Risk Matrix

Probability and Impact Grid: Similar to a Risk Matrix, this grid assesses risks by their likelihood and potential impact, but often in more detail and with more dimensions.


Risk Register: A Risk Register is a document that contains all the information about identified risks, including their nature, likelihood, impact, and the measures taken to mitigate them.

You can download our Risk assessment template from our Templates section

Risk Assessment Template - Learnleansigma

Step 3: Risk Prioritization

Risk prioritization is about deciding which risks need immediate attention and which can be monitored over time. It involves sorting the risks based on the assessment carried out in the previous step. High-likelihood, high-impact risks are given the highest priority, while low-likelihood, low-impact ones are lower in priority.

Step 4: Risk Mitigation

This step involves creating action plans for the high-priority risks. The strategies are typically categorized as follows:

  • Avoidance: Changing plans to circumvent the risk.
  • Reduction: Taking steps to minimize the likelihood of the risk occurring or its impact if it does.
  • Transfer: Shifting the risk to a third party, like through insurance or outsourcing.
  • Acceptance: Deciding to accept the risk, often because the cost of mitigation is greater than the cost of the risk itself, but preparing contingency plans for dealing with it if it occurs.

Step 5: Risk Monitoring

Continuous monitoring is vital for detecting new risks and assessing the effectiveness of risk responses. Some standards, like ISO 9001, make it a requirement that risk analysis and risk management meetings be done a minimum of once a year. This step is about tracking identified risks, monitoring residual risks, identifying new risks, executing risk response plans, and evaluating their effectiveness over the project life cycle.

Monitoring can be done through regular reviews, audits, and by using key risk indicators that can signal when a risk situation is changing.

Tools for Risk Analysis

FMEA: FMEA is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a process, design, product, or service. The aim is to identify potential failure points, understand their causes and effects, and prioritize the failures based on their seriousness, likelihood, and detectability. An FMEA is typically conducted by a cross-functional team and follows these steps:

  • Identify Failure Modes: Determine the ways in which a process or product might fail. Failures are errors or defects, especially ones that affect the customer.
  • Assess Effects and Causes: For each failure mode, identify all the potential effects on the end customer, and then determine the root causes of each failure mode.
  • Determine Severity, Occurrence, and Detection Ratings: Assign a severity rating for each effect, an occurrence rating for each cause, and a detection rating based on the current control plan.
  • Calculate Risk Priority Numbers (RPNs): Multiply the severity, occurrence, and detection ratings to get a risk priority number for each failure mode.
  • Prioritize and Implement Actions: Focus on the highest RPNs to reduce, eliminate, or control the risks.

You can read the full guide to conducting an FMEA with our guide.

FMEA Step 8


Risk Matrix: A Risk Matrix is a simple grid that can be used to rank the severity of risks based on two dimensions: the likelihood of occurrence and the impact if the risk does occur. This tool helps in visualizing and prioritizing risks, facilitating decision-making on where to focus risk mitigation efforts. Here’s how it typically works:

  • Define the Likelihood and Impact: Establish a scale for both likelihood and impact (e.g., Low, Medium, High).
  • Plot the Risks: Place each identified risk on the matrix according to its likelihood and impact.
  • Analyze the Results: Risks in the upper right corner (high likelihood and high impact) are the highest priority, while those in the lower left corner (low likelihood and low impact) are the lowest.

Risk Matrix

Monte Carlo Simulation: 

Monte Carlo Simulation is a statistical method used to model the probability of different outcomes in a process that cannot easily be predicted due to the intervention of random variables. It’s a technique used to understand the impact of risk and uncertainty in prediction and forecasting models. Here’s a brief overview of the process:

  • Define a Model: Create a mathematical model of the system or process you’re analyzing.
  • Input Random Variables: Identify the inputs that are uncertain and define their probability distributions.
  • Run Simulations: Use random sampling to choose values for the uncertain inputs and compute the results for each set of random inputs.
  • Analyze the Results: After running many simulations (often thousands or more), you’ll have a probability distribution of the outcome, which can inform decision-making and risk assessment.

Each of these tools serves a specific purpose within Risk Analysis and can be used independently or in combination, depending on the nature of the risks and the needs of the organization. They are widely used in various industries and can be adapted to fit different scenarios and requirements.


In conclusion, Risk Analysis is a tool important for Lean Six Sigma practitioners. It combines methodologies like FMEA, Risk Matrices, and Monte Carlo Simulations to identify, assess, prioritize, mitigate, and monitor risks. These tools, utilized independently or in tandem, cater to diverse industry needs, fitting various scenarios. With its structured approach, Risk Analysis not only fortifies projects against potential pitfalls but also ensures a strategic allocation of resources, fostering informed decision-making and continual process enhancement, thereby playing a pivotal role in achieving sustainable business excellence.


  • Aven, T., 2015. Risk analysis. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Cohrssen, J.J. and Covello, V.T., 1999. Risk analysis: a guide to principles and methods for analyzing health and environmental risks. DIANE Publishing.

A: Risk analysis is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing potential risks that could impact a project, business, or situation. It entails assessing the likelihood and impact of risks, creating plans to lessen or eliminate them, and keeping tabs on and evaluating the success of risk management initiatives.

A: Risk analysis is important because it proactively identifies and clarifies potential risks for organizations, empowering them to decide how best to manage or capitalize on those risks. It makes it possible to allocate resources efficiently, improves judgment, lessens vulnerabilities, and boosts an organization’s overall resilience.

A: Techniques for assessing the impact and probability of risks include qualitative and quantitative approaches. Expert judgment, historical data analysis, brainstorming sessions, and risk rating scales are examples of qualitative techniques. To calculate probabilities and estimate potential losses or gains, quantitative techniques use statistical analysis, data modeling, simulation, scenario analysis, and use of historical data.

A: Risk mitigation strategies can be developed by considering the identified risks, their levels, and triggers. Preventive measures to lower risk exposure, backup plans to deal with risks as they arise, options for sharing or transferring risk, like insurance, and other suitable risk management methods are all examples of strategies. Strategies should take into account both short-term and long-term mitigation objectives and should be adapted to the specific risks and potential consequences.

A regular risk analysis should be carried out and incorporated into an organization’s ongoing management procedures. The type of project or business, the rate of environmental change, and the complexity of the risks involved all influence how frequently risk analysis is conducted. To keep the risk landscape current, it is advisable to conduct risk analysis at significant turning points, during planning stages, whenever major changes take place, and on a regular basis.

A: Important parties such as project managers, business executives, subject matter experts, responsible department heads, and people with knowledge of risk management should be included in the risk analysis. The accuracy and thoroughness of risk identification, assessment, and mitigation efforts are improved by incorporating a diverse group of viewpoints and knowledge domains. Collaboration and open communication are essential for efficient risk analysis.

A: Lessons learned from risk analysis can be applied by incorporating improvements identified into future risk management practices. This could entail improving communication and documentation procedures, modifying mitigation strategies, and continuously learning from experience. The organization’s risk management procedures will develop and become more effective over time if lessons learned are applied.


Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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