When we undertake tasks in organizations, we face risks. The most obvious risks are those that are most closely related to the task at hand. These risks, which we might call content risks include factors such as technological unknowns, resource availability, and competition. But there are other risks, often overlooked, that can dramatically influence our chances for success.
One of these is risk management risk, which is the risk that the risk management process is flawed, due to such factors as organizational political correctness, organizational blind spots, or the risk that political phenomena render certain risks invisible to risk managers.
Here are some examples of non-content risks, with suggestions for managing them. In this Part I, we emphasize risk sources related to perceptions.
- Misplaced or excessive focus
- Typically, organizations have in place processes that maintain focus on what they do well. For example, approvals are required to allocate resources to forward-looking initiatives. But some organizations are excessively zealous about maintaining focus, and some are mistaken about where that focus should be. For instance, organizations that need to undertake efforts to adopt new technologies to serve their existing customers sometimes refrain from doing so because of advocacy by those representing customers most resistant to change.
- Advocates of advanced initiatives would do well to protect their activities from notice until their relevance is evident to all, easily explained, and easily defended. Working demonstrations are especially useful.
- Resentment bred by success
- We rarely consider risks associated with success. But here's one: your effort is so successful and appealing that people seek to join your team. Having to decline these offers because of insufficient resources isn't much of a problem, because people do understand that issue. The more difficult problem is the resentment such success can engender on the part of potential political adversaries.
- When appropriate,Advocates of advanced initiatives
would do well to protect their
activities from notice until their
relevance is evident to all devise plans for dealing with such challenges. One helpful guideline: don't publicize your success internally unless the publicity materially aids the effort and you have political strength sufficient to withstand challenges.
- Unsustainable loads
- The term "unsustainable load" usually evokes thoughts of overload and burnout. Certainly, high loads are unsustainable. But low loads can also be unsustainable. Sustainability of a given workload is in part determined by perceived differences between one's own workload and the workloads of colleagues and peers.
- Loads much higher, or much lower, than cultural norms are unsustainable in the long term. High loads cause burnout and bailout; low loads attract those with agendas other than your own, and risk losing people (and stakeholders) from boredom and idleness. Strive for workloads near but slightly above the cultural norm.
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More articles on Project Management:
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the
latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
- 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.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: I
- Risk management usually entails coping with losses if they do occur. Here's Part I of a concise summary
of the options for managing risk.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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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.