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:
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
a top priority problem. What can you do?
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned
recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
- Managing Non-Content Risks: I
- When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated
with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less
attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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