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:
- Start a Project Nursery
- In a Project Nursery, professionals from across the entire organization collaborate to conceive of new
projects. When all organizational elements help decide which projects to investigate, the menu they
develop best suits organizational needs and capabilities.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many
organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by
amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this.
What's stopping us?
- Anticipating Absence: Internal Consulting
- Most consultants are advisors from outside the organization. But when many employees are unavailable
because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we need to find ways to access the knowledge that remains inside
the organization. Internal consulting can help.
- Depth First or Breadth First?
- When investigating candidate solutions to a problem, we tend to focus first on what we believe is the
"best bet." But a more systematic approach can sometimes yield dramatic advantages by reducing
the cost of the investigation and the time it requires.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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