If the definition of a risk is:

Anything that might affect a project achieving its goals

then what is the definition of an opportunity?

  • Risk and Opportunity are always bundled together. I like your definition, add it as an answer please.
    – pingu
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 13:20
  • your question demonstrates why it is very unhelpful to bundle them together. Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 18:40
  • You may find this blog post of mine relevant and useful: 0rsk.com: Cause + Risk + Effect
    – yegor256
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 8:51

12 Answers 12


In project terms an opportunity is something (tangible or an "effect") identified within the project deliverables that could unlock or otherwise facilitate a positive or beneficial effect.

Such things are sought and documented within the Business Case to counterbalance and justify the cost. Opportunities are the same things though are largely uncovered or noticed during the evolution of the project rather than by-design at the beginning or business case time.


Opportunity is not risk. They are totally separate and different - the good news is that PM frameworks are likely to start to back-out of this habit - see the foot of this blog post on exactly this question and the note on PMBoK notes in 2013 Why Opportunities on projects should never be called risk.


Risk = a chance to lose.

Opportunity = a chance to earn.

In my understanding, PMI puts Risk & Opportunity together because an opportunity becomes an opportunity only if it becomes reality; until then, we have to deal with the risk of that opportunity not becoming reality.

Example: I'll emigrate to another country because I think this will give me the opportunity for a better life, but what if in doing so my life doesn't get better? So the opportunity mathematically is a risk until it becomes reality.


PMI defines risk as:

Risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has an impact on at least one project objective. (PMBOK, p275)

So, by strict definition, opportunity is risk. This seems counter-intuitive, but you can think of it like this: you don't know if the opportunity will happen, so the risk is that it may or may not happen or that you could miss capitalizing on it.

  • 4
    The reason why I personally hate the fact PM frameworks try to lump Opportunity into Risk Management is that even if the "risk" of the opportunity materialises it doesn't (or shouldn't!) change the actual project one iota. The scope, deliverables, costs and benefits of the actual project remain exactly the same. I get the feeling the addition of "Opportunities" as well as classification of mitigation (Transferred, Minimised etc.) is just an attempt to make PM more science-y...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 16:30

A risk is a potential occurrence (positive or negative). An opportunity is a possible action that can be taken.

Opportunity requires that one take action; risk is something that action can be taken to make more or less likely to occur but is ultimately outside of your direct control.

  • Reference: Project risk is defined by PMI as 'an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project's objectives' Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 7:58

This User Guide for a risk management tool provides the following definition -

What is a risk?

Before looking at risk management, we need to understand what a risk actually is. The PMBOK gives a good - “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives such as scope, schedule, cost, or quality.”

When describing risks, we usually want to the cause, the affected area, and the consequences. Let’s look at an example risk given in the PMBOK - “due to the forecast of high winds in our area, there is a risk that the roof of the barn will blow off causing our cattle feed to be ruined and loss of our livestock”. Here we see the cause (high winds), the affected area (barn roof), and the consequences (loss of livestock).

Let’s look at another example, this one perhaps more familiar. “Due to ongoing support demands, there is a risk that the Senior Programmer will be shifted from the project, causing a delay in the schedule”. Here we see the risk cause (ongoing support), the affected area (the Senior Programmer) and the consequences (a delay in the schedule).

Lots more information in the guide itself.


What defines opportunity, under the heading of risk, is the improvement to your already planned objectives. It is important to weed out real project opportunities from actions, which are things you already plan to, need to or must do.

Opportunity is added value. It CAN and often DOES change "the scope, deliverables, costs and benefits of the actual project". For example, if there is a possibility of carrying out two activities concurrently which were previously dependent upon each other and would have taken 4 weeks, then there is an opportunity to decrease (if not halve) that element of the schedule and possibly save resource/cost.

One has to take a pragmatic approach to this in the real world. Most people will, whether we like it or not, associate risk only with downside. Do not fall into the trap of trying to squeeze opportunity review into the same session as downside risk, especially at the end. It is mentally like slamming your car into reverse gear while in the fast lane of the motorway.

  • the word risk means, literally, "chance of danger" - how can that ever relate to opportunity - to say so is total nonsense. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:31

Www.threatsandopportunities.com best answers the issues above. Risk comprises known outcomes with associated probabilities, given the occurrence of an vent r condition. Threats are negative outcomes and opportunities are positive outcomes as they affect the cost, schedule, or performance objectives of a project. PMs handle threats through avoidance, prevention, mitigation r transference and handle opportunities through acceptance, exploitation, improvement, or transference. Addressing both threats and opportunities like with SWOT brings risk management closer to a science than an art as industrial engineers and operations research analysts can attest to


Risk - Which is something where you are not sure about achieving success or profit.

Opportunity - there is saying that the higher the risk the bigger the opportunity.

There is always the chance of failure in all tasks, but that does not mean you should not take risk. This is because opportunities are hidden in risk only.


First, a project is not a leisure activity. It is not free time that you spend with friends. If you start a project and you don't complete it, it is a failure. You have a deadline and a budget to respect.

Second, risk goes with uncertainty. When you start of project, there is many things that are not sure or unknown. You have to evaluate before starting your project that you will not do a deficit (go under), if too many surprises arrive.

Third, an opportunity is a positive thing. It is a person, an event, a technical breakthrough, for example, that permit you to realize what you planed to do. It is a door that opens.

Finally, it is not because you have an opportunity that the success is assured. It is not because you have risks that your project will fail. Managing is all about, day by day, doing the most you can to achieve your goal. Business administration is to plan, to organize, to lead and to evaluate/control. Having a training in business administration and/or a degree give you skills and forge your decision making in the right way.


An Opportunity is NOT a Positive Risk

A Risk is NOT a Negative Opportunity

First, and foremost

Review the section Action vs. Action Item

Then See the Difference

State 3 - Risk

State 4 - Opportunity


Four States Requiring Action

Action vs. Action Item - What's the difference?

What is an Action?

The process of doing something in order to achieve an aim, or meet an objective.

An Action is the highest common factor and central component to any aspect of a project requiring a response in Project Management.

What is an Action Item?

An element of a project that pops up during a project and requires attention and action.

Action - The Highest Common Factor any action oriented process such as Project Management

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Four States Requiring Action

1) Issue

Present problem or event that has already happened, or presently happening (realized risk) already has a negative impact on the project, requiring corrective action to be taken

  • Timeframe: Present
  • State: Unhealthy (-)
  • Action Aim: Correct

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2) Action Item

A maintenance part of a project that occurs during the during a project life cycle and requires attention and maintenance action

  • Timeframe: Present
  • State: Healthy (+)
  • Action Aim: Maintain

enter image description here

3) Risk

An uncertain event or condition that has a negative effect on a project’s objectives.

  • Timeframe: Future
  • State: Potential for Loss (-)
  • Action Aim: Prevent

enter image description here

4) Opportunity

Possible future beneficial event that an occur and present/future action can that can be taken, that requires one or more actions to be completed, having a potential for gain, or benefit for a project, if pursued.

  • Timeframe: Future
  • State: Potential for Gain (+)
  • Action Aim: Pursue

enter image description here


Risk is the effect of uncertainty and the effect could be adverse (threat) or beneficial (opportunity).

  • Are you able to provide any sources to back up these definitions?
    – Sarov
    Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 23:37
  • Risk is "the chance of danger" - you would never say "if i walk along a high cliff there is an opportunity I might fall off" Risk is negative and opportunity is positive. They are not the same. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 22:33
  • This definition is correct. Risk is an impact based on something that is uncertain, probabilistic. Whether that impact is favorable or unfavorable is subject to interpretation in many cases. Sure, other cases it is quite obvious. I have been on projects where an impact was considered favorable for one stakeholder segment and unfavorable for another. Same exact impact on an uncertain event, but perceived differently. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 12:37
  • Another example is a cost overrun on a project. The payer of those costs would consider that a loss while the vendor doing the work would consider that overrun a win. Same risk, same dollar impact, different interpretations. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 12:39
  • risk = literally the "chance of danger". Where is the positive in that? It is astonishing that people argue against basic language to follow something that a) is a complete illogical dogma and b) makes no sense to real people on real projects as it is counter to basic language. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 22:36

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