Understanding Qualitative Risk Analysis

Find out what qualitative risk analysis is, how it compares to quantitative risk analysis, and why it can be essential for project managers.

What is Qualitative Risk Analysis?

Qualitative risk analysis evaluates the likelihood and impact of risks on a project or organization. It involves identifying potential risks, assessing their probability and effect, and categorizing them based on severity. This method is often used with quantitative risk analysis, which involves assigning numerical values to risks and calculating their potential impact on project outcomes.

Qualitative risk analysis provides a quick and easy way of identifying and prioritizing risks. It also helps project managers to communicate potential risks to stakeholders and develop risk management strategies.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Risk Analysis

Qualitative risk analysis includes the identification of potential threats or opportunities, their likelihood of occurrence, and their potential impacts. The outcomes are usually presented through a probability/impact ranking matrix, and their source or effect typically classifies the risks.

In contrast to quantitative analysis, which relies on numerical data to assess the acceptability of a risk event outcome, qualitative risk analysis takes a more general approach and considers the bigger picture.

During a project, the initial step is typically qualitative risk analysis. Using data, risk managers can focus on addressing specific risks in greater detail. Although they possess two different characteristics, they work together in the overall risk management process without any competition for dominance.


Here are some benefits of performing qualitative risk analysis:

Simple Assessment Methods

Qualitative risk analysis provides straightforward assessment techniques that enterprises of various scales can readily comprehend and execute. These techniques aid in identifying potential risks and assessing their potential impact on business operations.

One simple assessment method is the risk matrix, which involves assigning a score to the likelihood and impact of each identified risk. The scores are then plotted on a matrix, which helps businesses prioritize risks and determine which ones require immediate attention.

Another technique is the risk register, which is a document that lists all identified risks along with their potential impact and likelihood. This method helps businesses keep track of their risks and ensures that they are regularly reviewed and updated.

Easy Prioritization

Prioritization helps you focus your resources and attention on the most critical risks, ensuring you effectively manage the most significant threats to your project or business. Furthermore, it helps you avoid wasting resources and time on risks that are unlikely to occur.

Qualitative risk analysis also allows for ongoing monitoring and reassessment of risks, so you can adjust your priorities and strategies as needed. This flexibility is crucial in today’s fast-paced and constantly evolving business environment, where new risks can arise anytime.

Clear Presentation Options

Unlike quantitative analysis, which often requires complex mathematical models and statistical analysis, qualitative risk analysis can be presented using simple, easy-to-understand visual aids.

For example, risk matrices are a popular tool used in qualitative risk analysis that provides a simple and visual way to assess risk. A risk matrix is a grid that maps the likelihood and impact of a risk, with the highest risks located in the upper right-hand corner of the grid. By presenting risks in this way, stakeholders can quickly see where the biggest threats lie and prioritize their risk management efforts accordingly.


Although qualitative risk analysis helps identify potential risks and their related impacts, it has several limitations. Some include:

Subjective Evaluation

Qualitative risk analysis doesn’t produce metrics. It means that the assessment of risks is based on the opinions and judgments of individuals involved in the process. As a result, there may be inconsistencies or biases in the evaluation of risks that can affect the accuracy of the analysis.

For example, one person may view a risk as high, while another may view it as low. It can lead to disagreements and confusion in the risk management process.

Limited Scope

Unlike quantitative analysis, which uses numerical data and statistical analysis to identify and quantify risks, qualitative risk analysis relies on the expertise and experience of individuals involved in the risk assessment process.

Because of this limited scope, qualitative risk analysis may not capture all potential risks or accurately assess their severity. Assumptions and bias may also influence it. For example, if a risk is not identified or prioritized during the qualitative risk analysis, it may not be adequately addressed in risk mitigation strategies.

Lack of Differentiation

Because qualitative analysis uses subjective judgments to assess the likelihood and impact of risks, it can lead to oversimplification and a lack of detailed analysis.

It can result in grouping risks, leading to overlooked or underestimated essential risks. For example, a risk considered low-impact and low likelihood may be grouped with other risks with similar characteristics, even though mitigating that risk may be more critical.

Another issue with the lack of differentiation is that it can lead to inaccurate risk prioritization. Without a detailed analysis, subjective opinions and biases may override objective data and information when prioritizing risks.

Different Types of Qualitative Risk Analysis

When evaluating the project risk, the method of qualitative analysis chosen may vary depending on the project’s requirements, available resources, and the evaluator’s experience. Below are the most common methods:

Probability or Consequence Matrix

Risk matrices come in different sizes, but they have the same purpose. They rank the severity of risk by multiplying the likelihood of occurrence by its impact. Understanding this information allows for appropriate treatments to minimize risk impact.

Bow-Tie Analysis

Bow-tie analysis projects a risk event in two directions. The event’s causes are listed on the left, while the consequences are on the right. This method treats each cause and consequence separately, helping to mitigate the probability of the risk occurring and limit its impact.

Delphi Technique

The Delphi Technique involves experts answering multiple questionnaires. Experts provide their opinion on the likelihood and consequence of risk, and their responses are shared with the group after each round. A consensus is reached after reviewing their responses.

SWIFT Analysis

SWIFT is an acronym for Structured What-If Technique and is a team-based approach to risk analysis that applies a systematic approach in a workshop setting. It involves investigating potential changes to an approved plan and assessing their impact on a project through a series of “What if” considerations. This technique is beneficial for evaluating the feasibility of opportunity risks.

Pareto Principle

Often referred to as the “80/20 Rule.” The principle states that 80 percent of achievements come from 20 percent of effort. Risk managers use Pareto analysis to rapidly identify the most critical 20 percent of risks that will have the greatest impact.

To use the Pareto Principle in risk analysis, you must identify the potential risks and their causes. Then, you rank them based on their probability of occurrence, frequency, and impact severity. This risk ranking helps you identify the top 20 percent of risks that need the most attention and resources.

SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. SWOT analysis begins with an assessment of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. It can include things like your expertise, resources, and reputation.

Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, you can move on to identifying external opportunities and threats. It can include changes in the market, new competitors, or changes in government regulations.

How to Perform a Qualitative Risk Analysis

The steps for performing qualitative risk analysis are as follows:

Assess the Project’s Risks

The initial stage of qualitative risk analysis involves identifying the major risks. Their consideration may be due to their potential impact on the project or the current issues they are causing. It may be beneficial to list potential risks and prioritize them based on their significance or possible effect on your goals.

Evaluate the Project’s Risks

The process entails recognizing and ranking potential hazards, determining the appropriate approach for addressing each risk, and recording the conclusions. You can utilize a risk register to document the significant risks in each category and prioritize them according to their importance in the project. As a result, you can address the considerable risks within each category, which can save resources.

Create a Risk Assessment Report

A risk report is a formal document that summarizes findings, describes the nature of each identified risk, and outlines the corresponding action plan. A typical report may contain a summary of risks, a rating of risks, options for response, suggestions, and a timeline for executing responses. The document can serve as a reference point for future risks.

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Implement Risk Response Plans

A risk response is a method of mitigating or eliminating a threat’s causes, likelihood, or consequences. After identifying the risk response plan, it is recommended to promptly implement it to assess its effectiveness and identify potential areas for improvement. As a result, you can take further corrective action and repeat this process until the issue is resolved.

Control and Monitor the Risks

Monitoring and controlling risks are essential after a risk analysis. Maintaining accuracy is vital to keeping your risk management plan up-to-date as new risks and changes arise. Effective communication is necessary throughout the process so everyone is aware of potential issues and their roles in the event of any occurrence.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.