We've already examined the fundamentals of improvisation, and improvisation as a group process. We now examine its impact on risk management. Because improvisation will almost certainly be necessary in most projects, we ought to anticipate it by allocating budget, schedule, and management time to address improvisations. Here are some suggestions for adjusting risk plans once improvisation becomes necessary.
- Directed improvisation is risky
- Sometimes decision makers demand improvisation. Directed improvisation entails unique risks, because the director might not be very familiar with the project, its technology, or its staff. When improvisation is directed, defer as much as possible, until the consequences of the directed improvisation become clear.
- Improvising without content-related cause is risky
- Some improvising happens even when the project plan seems to be working well. On these occasions, the drivers of the decision to improvise are unrelated to the project work itself, and often are related to the use of the deliverables. For instance, the decision maker might seek delivery during a fiscal window earlier than planned. The more sudden the decision is, the riskier it is.
- The need to improvise could be a signal
- Even though projects are inherently difficult to plan, a real need to improvise can result from a poor plan — or no plan. If a truly thoughtful plan does exist, the need to improvise signals nothing more than the inherent difficulties of project management. But if the project plan was developed in haste, perhaps by cloning plans for supposedly similar work, further trouble probably lies ahead.
- Improvisations can create timing risks
- If improvisation is necessary, the project schedule is probably changed or even disrupted. Usually, task schedules slip to later dates. Examine the new schedule to determine whether necessary resources are still available. This is especially tricky when resources are shared with other projects.
- Improvisations tend to transfer risk
- Any work undertaken during improvisation could potentially require resources that were allocated to something else, including other projects. The effects of improvisation can therefore The effects of improvisation
can ripple widely
through the organizationripple widely through the organization. Improvisations in one project kick off improvisations elsewhere, which can sometimes export risk as well. Be alert to improvisations wherever they occur, and address them in your risk plan.
- Improvisations enhance creativity risk
- Improvisation requires — and stimulates — creativity. In the project context, a successful improvisation can bring to light new approaches to work already completed, planned, or underway. Sometimes this new thinking is helpful or even necessary, and should be applied. And sometimes it isn't really essential. Apply new ideas where necessary, and manage creativity risk — the temptation to use good ideas to improve what is already good enough.
Whatever the reason for improvisation, an often-neglected set of consequences lies hidden in the project's risk plan. Record carefully the improvised actions undertaken, and when normal activity resumes, immediately revisit the risk plan. If you don't, you might be improvising again before you know it. First in this series Top Next Issue
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:
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and
other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions,
is one of these.
- The Planning Dysfunction Cycle
- Some organizations consistently choose not to allocate enough resources or time to planning for their
most complex undertakings. Again and again, they decline to plan carefully enough despite the evidence
of multiple disappointments and chaotic performance. Resource contention and cognitive biases conspire
to sustain this cycle of dysfunction.
- Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
- Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive
results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic
bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule.
- The Risk of Astonishing Success
- When we experience success, we're more likely to develop overconfidence. And when the success is so
extreme as to induce astonishment, we become even more vulnerable to overconfidence. It's a real risk
of success that must be managed.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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