Project Management

Creating a color-coded risk matrix in excel

In the book “Going Agile Project Management Practices”, I describe the use of a color-coded probability and impact matrix for classifying risks. (Figure 1) Visualizing the probability, impact, and severity of risks is a great tool for engaging project team members in risk management.

 Figure-2-Risk-Matrix-Excel_Risk Matrix

Figure 1 Example Risk Matrix as Excel Bubble Chart

The following are the instructions I used to create the risk matrix in excel.

Risk Register

The risk register should include at least four columns, such as (Table 1):

  • Short risk name or ID: a short name for the risk that should be displayed in risk bubble and/or legend
  • Probability: probability of the risk occurring e.g., scale from 1 to 5.
  • Impact (or consequence): consequence or impact of the risk on the project should it occur e.g., scale from 1 to 5.
  • Risk Score: The probability times the impact. The risk score can be referred to as severity, consequence, significance, or just risk score. Use whatever term is most meaningful to the team.

Figure-1-Risk-Matrix-Excel_Risk Table

Table 1 Risk Register Example

Risk Matrix — Labeled Bubble Chart

The risk matrix can be graphed as a Bubble Chart  in excel (Figure 1) with:

  • Risk short name as Series name
  • Probability as series Y values
  • Impact as series X values
  • Risk Score as Series bubble size

Note:  In excel, the bubble chart does not display as expected by default. UPDATE: The solution referenced with the original blog post is no longer available; the following are the manual steps to create a multi-series bubble chart in MS Excel.  

With the cursor in the graph, select the Design menu item. Choose Select Data Source and then Add. Add the correct cell references in the Edit Series dialog box for each risk you wish to display on the graph. If you wish to display 10 entries, you must do the steps 10 times (Figure 2).

MS Excel Edit Series Screen with Series name, X values, Y values, and bubble size fields mapped to a cell in the workbook
Figure 2 MS Excel Edit Series Dialog

Chart Background

Change the background of the chart plot area to use the color-coded risk matrix. (Format Plot Area, Fill, Picture or Texture Fill, Picture from File) (Figure 3)

Figure-3-Risk-Matrix-Excel_Excel Format Plot Area

Figure 3 Format Plot Area with Color-Coded Matrix

You can download a color-coded matrix to use as a background here. ==> Plot Background

Chart Axes

Change the horizontal and vertical axes so that the diagram displays as a matrix.

(Format Horizontal axis,  Axis Options–Minimum 0, Maximum 5, Vertical axis crosses–Axis value 2.5)

(Format Vertical axis, Axis Options–Minimum 0, Maximum 5, Horizontal axis crosses–Axis value 2.5)

Bubble Labels

For each bubble, set the label options to the Series Name in the Format Data Labels dialog. (Figure 4)

MS Excel Format Data Labels Dialog with Series Name circled
Figure 4 MS Excel Format Data Labels Dialog

Other risk related charts

Other visual charts for risk management include the burndown chart and radar.

Risk Burndown Chart is an area chart with the risk severity on the vertical axis (y-axis) and the time dimension on the horizontal axis (x-axis). The probability and impact for each risk short name are saved by iteration to track the evolution of the risks. The chart is useful for monitoring the trend of risk severity for individual risks or groups of risks. (Figure 5)

Risk-Matrix-Excel_Risk Burndown

Figure 5 Risk Burndown Chart

Risk Radar is a radar chart for the severity of groups of risks. It is useful to visually idea the group of topics that have the most or least risks severity. (Figure 6)


Figure 6 Risk Radar

Engaging Team Members in Risk Management

Chapter 14 of “Going Agile Project Management Practices” describes practices that can be used to engage project team members in risk management. The book is available at amazon.