Warner glared his famous glare, and for once, he had a legitimate complaint. "Let me see if I have this right," he began. "You knew back in July that we had memory footprint problems, but you waited to report it until now. Is that right?"
Robin had nowhere to go. "Yes, that's right. We felt it was best to wait until we were sure we had a problem."
"Well, we have a problem now, don't we?" Warner replied.
"Yes, and that's why…" Robin began, but Warner wouldn't let her finish.
"That's why you're reporting it, I know, I know."
Robin has made a serious error, but the mistake isn't hers alone. She failed to alert the project sponsor to a problem when she first became aware of it. And Warner's intimidating style tends to discourage early reporting of trouble.
Together, they're living out one of the consequences of status risk: the risk of failing to report status promptly and fully. Here are some sources of status risk:Status risk is high
when realistic status
reporting is punishable
- Rewarding positive reports and punishing negative reports
- At any link in the status reporting chain, the report recipient might be signaling that only positive reports are acceptable. The signal can be unintentional, or it can be very deliberate.
- Prior experience
- People can bring to the reporting task their experiences with prior projects or prior managers. If they've learned along the way that realistic reporting is punishable, they're likely to apply those past lessons.
- When new people assume responsibility for work underway, their perceptions about status are likely to be inaccurate.
- Wishful thinking
- Because most of us want things to go well, we sometimes fool ourselves that our wishes match reality, especially if we've become attached to the task. See "Managing Wishful Thinking Risk," Point Lookout for October 21, 2015, for more about wishful thinking.
Making status reporting a group task helps mitigate status risk. Form a status review team that's responsible for reviewing status reports. Normally, they'll easily reach consensus, but any failure to reach consensus is valuable information in itself — it signals the need for a closer look by management.
Even when we manage Status Risk, there remains the too-common failure to report — or even to track — Risk Status. Most status reports focus on budget, schedule, milestones achieved, work completed, and so on. But we rarely report or track the status of our initial risk profile, and that can lead to surprised (and very upset) project sponsors. Including a review of the risk profile in each status report helps to limit the incidence of surprising disasters.
Status Risk and Risk Status are intimately intertwined. In part, the sources of status risk contribute to our spotty reporting of risk status. And by creating the conditions for surprising disasters, failure to track risk status can enhance status risk. Address both — or don't bother. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Nine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress
- Project status reports rarely acknowledge negative progress until after it becomes undeniable. But projects
do sometimes move backwards, outside of our awareness. What are the warning signs that negative progress
might be underway?
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: I
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know"
just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability
to complete projects successfully.
- Backtracking in Incremental Problem Solving
- Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or
iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
- Why Scope Expands: I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction,
has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.