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:
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided
responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they
share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing
on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can
we do about it?
- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
— or failed.
- The Planning Fallacy and Self-Interest
- A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project
cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine
with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.
- Seven Planning Pitfalls: I
- Whether in war or in projects, plans rarely work out as, umm well, as planned. In part, this is due
to our limited ability to foretell the future, or to know what we don't know. But some of the problem
arises from the way we think. And if we understand this we can make better plans.
See also Project Management and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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