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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About Point Lookout
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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?
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: II
- Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there.
Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem,
and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem
we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
- Seven Planning Pitfalls: II
- Plans are well known for working out differently from what we intended. Sometimes, the unintended outcome
is due to external factors over which the planning team has little control. Two examples are priming
effects and widely held but inapplicable beliefs.
- Some Perils of Reverse Scheduling
- Especially when time is tight, project sponsors sometimes ask their project managers to produce "reverse
schedules." They want to know what would have to be done by when to complete their projects "on
time." It's a risky process that produces aggressive schedules.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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