To manage risks properly, we must allocate resources to implement a risk management plan. Some resources must be allocated in advance of anticipated risk events, and some must be held in reserve "just in case."
Many organizations have difficulty allocating these resources, especially when resources are thin and risks haven't yet materialized. The temptation to hope that all will go well can lead some to attempt projects with insufficient reserves for risks. And it can lead others to deny that specific risks can ever occur.
For example, despite decades of widely accepted predictions, the U.S. government failed to provide adequate resources to New Orleans for hurricane-induced flood risk mitigation and planning.
In the project environment, at best, project managers or risk officers identify risks and propose resources to mitigate them. Project sponsors and organizational management then review these proposals for sufficiency and reasonableness. They negotiate with the project staff as necessary, and then they allocate appropriate resources for risk mitigation and management.
In many organizations, things rarely work that way. Organizations commit themselves to risk plans that amount to little more than naïve hopes and wishes for the best. How does this happen?
In some cases, the available resources cannot cover all identified risks unless everything breaks favorably. When someone identifies a risk that's expensive to manage, risk revision, exclusion, or denial enables those involved to commit to the effort despite resource shortages. When this happens, risks that do materialize can threaten the project — or worse, threaten the enterprise.
What can organizations do to manage risk revision?
One approach involves adding to the project plan an Appendix of Revised or Excluded Risks — risks that someone proposed, but which were edited before inclusion in the risk plan, or excluded altogether. For each revised risk, the appendix includes the original proposed risk, a revision history with dates, the arguments in favor of and against such revisions, and the names of all involved in each revision decision. The Appendix of Revised or Excluded Risks serves several purposes.
- Audit trail
- If the organization someday decides how particular risk types are to be addressed, the Appendix becomes a useful tool to help project teams bring their projects into compliance.
- When available resources
can't cover all identified
risks, we sometimes
revise the risks
- To whatever extent organizational politics or intimidation play any role in risk revision or exclusion, the knowledge that revision decisions will be recorded in the Appendix might deter some intimidators or some who abuse political power to achieve their ends.
- Support for organizational learning
- The Appendix could provide useful data for project retrospectives, or even earlier, if trouble does appear during the project's execution.
Projects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .
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More articles on Project Management:
- The True Costs of Cost-Cutting
- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are
expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually
worked that way...
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams
is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed
teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
- Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report
problems and to question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such
encouragement helps to manage risk.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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