RISK? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

bridgeout.jpgThe most frequent mistake project teams make with regard to risk management, is an absolute kick in the head. The #1 mistake is to identify risks but do nothing about them. This is known as “documenting your demise.” Although people enthusiastically contribute to the long list of how the project team might meet with disaster, it is rare that they devote as much attention to tracking, avoiding, and mitigating these risks. Project risks are identified and tracked in a tidy document that never again sees the light of day. It is a completely predictable behavior. After all, the team barely has time to do the minimum required of them without addressing possible problems that MIGHT occur, but haven’t yet! Chances are, the risk list won’t be read again, once it is created: let alone used to drive decisions and behavior!Most teams have time to think about what might go wrong, but very few have the time, money, or staff to actually do something about the most hideous threats to project success. It’s small comfort to find that the top 3 issues that derailed your project were tidily listed on the project risk management spreadsheet. However, this is what happens again and again, like some amnesiac dance! This isn’t managing a project; it’s documenting your demise. Of course, it’s not always the biggest or most obvious risks that shut down progress. I’ve seen projects stalled within centimeters of the finish line for lack of a single screw or a user manual. “Hey, we forgot the shipping box!” Oops!!!

Even worse is the track record of teams considering and acting upon the possible upside available in the sea of possibilities in which the project swims. When teams are in the midst of a death-march struggle for mere survival, the last thing that crosses their minds is potential upside. But that is exactly what the best teams do when considering risk – they consider the possible upside as well.

In any given project, things will certainly go wrong, so you’d better plan for a few things going right to cancel those out. I recall one of several shocking incidents when a predicted problem – that we all knew was a problem – hit us like a ton of bricks. We were completely blind-sided by the problem that was on our risk list. We blinked bemusedly at one another and then asked, “Are we just stupid? How could this happen?”

We were all scrambling to deal with the immediate blizzard of challenges, and we had allocated absolutely no bandwidth to watching out for the next wave of disasters. With our peripheral vision down to ZERO, we fell into a trap of our own making… repeatedly! With all of us running around heaped up on adrenaline, no one was thinking clearly enough to do anything about the vampires we’d identified that were ready to suck success from our project. In retrospect, we should have assigned someone to keep an eye on the big picture, mallet and wooden stake at the ready!

Don’t let predictable and avoidable risks suck your will to live. Keep a little garlic around your neck at all times, and remember that there’s always the possibility that things may go BETTER than planned. Those opportunity are just as tough to spot.

Scrappily yours, Kimberly

P.S. For manageable risk in the procurement of project management tomes, pre-order my Scrappy Project Management book at my publisher’s website.

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