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 USD 19.95. Order Now! .
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More articles on Project Management:
- Bois Sec!
- When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again —
if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both
cheaper and faster.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal
audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.