How to prepare Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS)?

Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS) is a tool that provides hierarchical structure of project risks arranged by risk categories. Risk categories generally are grouping of potential risk sources and it differs from one project to another. Below is a sample RBS for construction design project (RBS Template adapted from Dorofee et al., 1996)

RBS Template adapted from Dorofee et al., 1996

RBS Template adapted from Dorofee et al., 1996

Instead of going through a big spreadsheet with hundreds of verbose entries about risks, RBS provides a pictorial representation of related risk categories arranged in a tree structure which is an excellent way of getting the complete information about project risks in a single place for effective communication, management and governance.

Let us review uses of RBS in Project Management:

  • RBS provides a structured way to identify risks by going through all risk sources from which project risks may arise
  • RBS helps the project team to focus on high risk source areas
  • RBS helps project team to develop more generic risk responses based on sources
  • RBS helps to manage & report the project risks at different levels – roll up, drill down reporting & in case multiple projects with same nature within the organization uses same RBS templates then it helps in getting comparison reports across those projects
  • Reviewing RBS from completed projects helps organization to identify high risk sources, repeated risks, document them as part of existing RBS templates and develop effective responses

Next let us review general steps involved in preparing RBS:

  • First check whether organization has RBS templates & tailor it for particular project. In case multiple templates available based on different project types (i.e. large project, IT project, Manufacturing project, etc.), pick the one which matches with current project
  • In case templates are not available, start with more generic templates or guidelines generally available & tailor it for current project need
  • RBS creation doesn’t require sophisticated drawing software. It can be created using big chart paper or spreadsheet software. It can also be represented by placing each level in different columns in the increasing order in a spreadsheet
  • Use brainstorming technique as it is the best one to build RBS structure
  • First start with broader risk sources for the Project as higher level risk categories
  • Involve stakeholders who are experts in specific source area (example industry or funding) to decompose higher level sources of risk into layers of increasing detail
  • Stop adding sub-levels at the point where sources cannot be subdivided further or subdividing will not aid risk management process significantly


  1. Use a Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS) to Understand Your Risks, David Hillson, Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium October 3–10, 2002, San Antonio, Texas, USA
  2. The controlling influences on effective risk identification and assessment for construction design management. International Journal of Project Management 19 (3), Chapman, R.J. 2001
  3. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., USA, 2013

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