Risk is not an island!

islandAlthough the Guide to the PMBOK has individual chapters covering key project management knowledge areas, it also highlights the importance in an approach which integrates these knowledge areas in a pragmatic, tailored manner to fit the needs of a specific project taking into consideration organizational and team culture.

One of the most common examples of poor integration across the knowledge areas occurs with risk management.  Risk management needs be tied at the hip with other project management practices, but too often it is as isolated as a porcupine at a balloon convention.

What do I mean by this?

Risk is the embodiment of the uncertainty which is inherent in the DNA of projects.  Until all agreed-to scope has been delivered and accepted, risk does not disappear so why do we not connect the dots by referencing it in other key project management artifacts?

It starts with the charter – while expressing the desired outcomes and drivers for the project, there should also be coverage of the key sources of risk which could impede the realization of these outcomes.

It continues with other core planning artifacts such as stakeholder analysis documents and organization change management (OCM) plans – risks from the register should be referenced in specific stakeholder management plans and should form part of the rationale supporting your OCM strategy.

Risk drives variation in outcomes and hence the cost and time contingencies reflected in cost estimates and schedules should link back to specific risks in the register.  Risk responses for high severity risks should show up as line items in the schedule and should have been baked into your baseline budget.

Project changes should directly tie back to items in the risk register – closed and open risks.  Some project changes may eliminate certain risks – this is why one of the ways to implement the risk avoidance response is to reduce scope.  Other changes might introduce a whole new set of risks.  A well maintained risk register should be able to provide a forensic trail of project change.

Issue logs should also show evidence of traceability to risks – when known unknowns are realized as issues, linking those back to the originally identified risks provides the opportunity to assess whether there is a future likelihood of occurrence and can provide valuable input into post-project assessment of risk management practice effectiveness.

All decisions need to consider risk – analysis leading up to a decision should consider the risks associated with each option, and risk register updates should capture the uncertainties tied to the final decision.

Risk management is like quality – if you tack it on, the value derived is less than if it gets baked in as an intrinsic part of your overall project management approach.

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Leverage diversity when boldly going where no one has gone before!

imageWhen Gene Roddenberry staffed the U.S.S. Enterprise with a highly diverse set of races, species & genders, he used Star Trek as his soapbox to challenge pervasive social injustices of the late Sixties. However, by doing so, he also provided another benefit of diversity: improved risk management.

When you consider the Enterprise’s original mission, it meets many of the criteria for a large, highly complex project:

  • Scope – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.
  • Schedule – five years.
  • A unique endeavor – its original mission statement “to boldly go where no one has gone before” reinforces how unique the mission was.

In multiple episodes from the original series, and later through some of the movies, we saw instances of where diversity was a key contributor in helping the crew overcome dire situations. One such example comes from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. Of the entire crew, Spock was the only person strong enough to withstand the radiation within the matter/antimatter chamber to jumpstart the Enterprise’s engines. Anyone other than a Vulcan would likely have been overwhelmed before the process could have been completed.

So how does diversity facilitate more effective risk management?

When identifying risks, use of checklists and historical data can help unearth uncertainties which would otherwise have been missed, but they are no substitute for a diverse range of expertise. If team members and stakeholders have similar educational and experiential backgrounds, there is a greater possibility of key risks remaining unidentified.

When analyzing risks or when monitoring early warning signs of risk realization, diversity is a good way to overcome risk biases and groupthink.

Finally the quality of risk responses is constrained by the creativity and imagination of the team. It is well known that properly harnessed diversity promotes greater creativity.

So the next time you have the opportunity to tackle a challenging project, resist the temptation to staff the project with team members who are just like you by making diversity one of the key criteria for resource selection.

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The messaging medium has become the madness!

imageIt is unfortunate that with the great advances made in productivity applications, none of the mainstream e-mail application developers have sufficiently advanced automation to support appropriate usage.  Your e-mail client may prompt you to fix spelling or grammatical mistakes, but does it warn you when you are in the midst of an e-mail “tennis volley” that sending one more response is unlikely to reach the conclusion you seek?

How you say something is as important as what you say, and this includes the medium used.

E-mail is a good medium when:

  • You are confirming the outcomes of a meeting.  It is helpful to put the most critical information as a couple of bullets in the e-mail message, and capture the full details in a separate set of (attached) minutes.
  • You are sharing information without making a specific call to action – the classic FYI

E-mail should not be the primary medium when:

  • The topic is likely to result in a robust discussion.
  • You are requesting an urgent call to action from a small group of people
  • It is critical you gauge the perceptions and impact of the message
  • The information shared or the calls to action are not extremely clear

While communication latency has been significantly reduced through ubiquitous connectivity and smart devices, e-mail is inherently an asynchronous medium which, when combined with the native inability for the written word to consistently convey a message, causes reduced effectiveness.

E-mail abuse is a form of short termism – sending an e-mail takes less effort than picking up the phone or organizing a meeting, gives us our quick high of having accomplished something, and usually helps us avoid the discomfort of the recipient’s immediate reaction. However, all we’ve done is to increase the likelihood of wasted effort and conflict in getting to the desired outcome.

Anything worth saying, is worth saying well!

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