Some parts of a project are just: slam dunk. They’re straightforward, sweet, smooth and easy. Everybody knows what to do, does it, and it works: with no blood left on the floor. Then there are the issues that make everyone roll their eyes: areas that are high risk. But not just any kind of “clean” risk: it’s scary risk, like challenges related to personality quirks of top managers, or the counter-productive behavior of the key architect, or just awkward huge things like lack of funding, broken business models, or a competitive landscape that looks like the battlefield of Verdun after a heavy bombardment.
That’s when every prefers to focus their attention on little tiny risks that can be dealt with: like the structure of a database, or the second sourcing of a component. That’s stuff we know how to handle.
The big risks get avoided because they provoke too much anxiety. I’m all for a reduction in anxiety. Paradoxically, the best way to reduce those uncomfortable feelings: both in you and in the rest of the organization: is to face that monster in the living room and understand it to death. We all know the dangers of analysis paralysis, and that should not obscure the reality that most scary project-type challenges suffer from a lack, rather than a surfeit, of understanding.
The automotive industry has developed a great tool, after years of facing the risks associated with automotive engineering. A poor fuel line design doesn’t just mean economic loss: there can be human lives at stake. But all the risks have to be put into a rational context that assigns them the right value. The tool they have developed to put a name to the monsters is called FMEA: failure modes and effects analysis. Here’s a good overview: http://www.reseng.com/overviews/fmea_overview.htm It’s rare to see an FMEA that addresses anything other than pure technical and business risks, and I believe that it’s high time we started getting comprehensive about putting ALL the risks on the table and into the FMEA. That’s where we can start assessing them and managing them. They won’t seem so scary after that.
I’ll talk about the vampire if you will too.
Happy holidays to all.