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:
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- Normally, you terminate or reassign team members who actually inhibit progress. Here are some
helpful insights and tactics to use when termination or reassignment is impossible.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed.
We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
- Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure
of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can
determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects.
- 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 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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