Shuffle up and deal with qualitative risk analysis!

While it is frequently used by agile teams to size work items (e.g. user stories), Planning Poker® can also be used to facilitate other types of decision making so why not use it for qualitative risk analysis?

A common approach to this process is to utilize a scale from very low to very high or even just low, medium and high to assess the probability and impact of identified risks. One concern with this is that at the end of the risk analysis workshop the team likely ends up with a significant volume of high probability or impact risks. This forces them to do a second pass to prioritize the risks so that risk owner capacity can be focused on the valuable few.

In many cases, determination of probability or impact is done through a group discussion. This means that the same biases which affect sizing when techniques like Delphi aren’t used will be realized. Whoever speaks first or speaks loudest anchors the remaining team members to their perception of probability or impact.

Finally, I’ve seen some teams analyze risks as part of the identification process. Not doing the analysis in a batch manner might seem to be better, but it also means that the team won’t benefit from the perspective which comes after they have had the chance to review all risks. Again, this might force a second normalization pass to ensure evaluations are consistent across the risk register.

So how can Planning Poker® address these challenges?

  • By using a numerical basis for qualitative risk analysis (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron!) we provide greater levels of granularity which should simplify the risk prioritization process.
  • Planning Poker® uses a non-linear (usually Fibonacci-like) sequence. This is important because risk impacts and probability do not scale linearly. When we use low, medium or high to analyze risks, we don’t account for non-linearity.
  • It removes bias from the initial individual assessment and provides a structured approach to surface and discuss differences in perception.
  • It requires us to normalize our sizing at the very beginning based on the complete list of risks to be assessed. Once the team has identified all risks, they will review each and determine which risk they believe has the smallest probability and which one has the smallest impact and use those as their basis for relative assessment against all others.
  • Finally, Planning Poker® can be a lot of fun – it gets people actively engaged in what can sometimes be a very dry discussion.

Scaling this technique with larger teams might be challenging, but for risk analysis sessions with up to a dozen participants it can work well.

The beautiful thing about poker (and risk analysis!) is that everybody thinks they can play – Chris Moneymaker



Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Lessons in agility from wine tasting…

One of the benefits of living in the Greater Toronto Area is being less than an hour away from a large number of good wineries in the Niagara region. A few past colleagues of mine got together for a morning round of golf and followed that up with a wine tasting and a hearty lunch at Ridgepoint Wines (thanks for the recommendation, Brendan!). After enjoying a glass of their 2010 Reserve Meritage I came to the conclusion that wine tasting and agile have more in common than you might think.

It helps to have a guide

You could certainly partake in a flight of wine with friends without the benefit of a sommelier, but you won’t enjoy the experience as much and you might learn some bad habits such as not giving your wine a chance to breathe or drinking without sniffing the bouquet. Similarly a coach can help steer a team past anti-patterns so that they have a chance to appreciate what agility truly is.

Start small and grow from there

For novices, visiting more than one winery in a day could be a recipe for disaster. Without having developed the discipline to pace themselves they run the risk of getting tipsy too quickly and might get turned off by the experience. Starting with a large project is inadvisable for novice teams – they won’t possess the discipline to scale their behavior and practices and might blame agile rather than their immaturity.

There is no one right way

While there are good principles for enjoying wine, don’t let anyone try to convince you that you must follow pairing guidelines. While a robust red wine might be a good match for a meat dish, if you enjoy its flavour there is no reason you can’t have it with any other type of cuisine or even on its own. User stories are a good approach to starting a conversation about functional requirements, but don’t be bullied by agile wannabes who insist that all requirements must be captured as stories. Like with any practice, context and culture count.

Teams doing agile might make you want to drink but I prefer to have the perspective of the (wine) glass being half-full.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

A risk management ode to project managers!

Father’s Day might be a holiday which is much newer than the project management profession itself, but let’s not miss the opportunity to celebrate the many ways in which project managers help their projects succeed through effective risk management.

F is for Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, which can be a mouthful to say,

A is for avoidance to hold critical risks at bay,

T is for risk transfer for which we’ll have to pay,

H is for human bias, which can stand in risk management’s way,

E is for expected monetary value analysis, which calculates outcomes come what may,

R is for reserves, which prevents realized risks from ruining our day,

S is for simulations like Monte Carlo for us to play,

D is for Delphi where estimators go to pray,

A is for assumptions which come in many shades of grey, and

Y is for yellow which our project dashboards should never display.

Happy Father’s Day to all!


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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