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:
- The Cheapest Way to Run a Project Is with Enough Resources
- Cost reduction is so common that nearly every project plan today should include budget and schedule
for several rounds of reductions. Whenever we cut costs, we risk cutting too much, so it pays to ask,
"If we do cut too much, what are the consequences?"
- Flanking Maneuvers
- Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields,
including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
- Wishful Interpretation: I
- Wishful thinking comes from more than mere imagination. It can enter when we interpret our own observations
or what others tell us. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways our wishes affect how we interpret
- Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised
us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?
- Planning Disappointments
- When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates
are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments.
Why is this?
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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