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Volume 14, Issue 47;   November 19, 2014: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: I

Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: I

by

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.
Rick Piltz, former senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program

Rick Piltz (1943-2014), former senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program in the administration of President George W. Bush. He resigned his position in March, 2005, over political interference in the program. In early June, the New York Times published a story describing how Philip Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, had revised reports of the Climate Change Science Program to, in effect, sow doubt about the science of climate change. Following publication, Mr. Cooney resigned and accepted a position at ExxonMobil. Mr. Cooney had been engaged in tactics that support risk denial, where the risks in question are the risks associated with climate change.

Photo by Nicky Sundt courtesy GlobalChange.gov.

Discussing risk in general terms is always difficult, because many professions have their own ways of thinking about it. For now, let's regard risk as the chance of losing an asset. We measure the chance as a probability. We measure the asset in units of value.

If the probability of loss in a given time interval is P, and the value of the asset is V, the expected value of loss in that time interval is PV. In a large number of identical trials, our average loss per trial would be PV.

Sound decisions about enterprise resources do consider risk. For example, in estimating a project budget, we might consider the possibility that one of our suppliers might deliver a subsystem three months late. To manage this risk, we might reserve resources to deal with it if it occurs. If the cost of dealing with this event is V, and the probability of it occurring is P, then the reserves required are PV.

That's one example of a strategy for dealing with a risk. Fortunately, it isn't the only strategy available, and in many cases we can do much better. Here's Part I of a summary of the possible strategic options for dealing with risk, emphasizing ineffective (but very common) approaches.

Denial
Those in denial are those who reject the reality of the risk event.
Slogan: "That'll never happen. You're such a worrier!"
Advantage: Denial lets Those in denial are those
who reject the reality
of the risk event
us feel that preparation is unnecessary, because there's no risk. It can be a comforting illusion, especially for those reluctant to allocate resources to managing risk.
Danger: If the risk event occurs, we're unprepared. Worse, we can become disoriented when we find that our view of the world is fiction.
Shock
Shock happens when we're blindsided by the unexpected.
Slogan: "OMG, nobody could've anticipated that."
Advantage: If the unexpected doesn't happen, we can remain in a state of blissful ignorance.
Danger: If the unexpected happens too late for us to take remedial action, disaster is possible.
Acceptance
Acceptance is the strategy for those who don't want to prepare.
Slogan: "That might happen. We'll deal with it then."
Advantage: It requires no advance resource allocation. If the risk event doesn't occur, no resources are expended.
Danger: It can lead us to believe that we have less need for resources than we actually do. Acceptance is a prudent strategy only when PV is very small.
Chaos
This approach happens when we're so distracted by immediate events that we cannot plan for future risks.
Slogan: "Heavens! We've been meaning to plan for that. We clean forgot!"
Advantage: By focusing our resources elsewhere, we do accomplish some tasks. Without a risk plan, allocating resources to risk management becomes unnecessary.
Danger: If risk events arrive before we can allocate resources to risk planning, the risk response can be inadequate, and full-scale disaster is possible.

We'll continue next time with three more risk management strategies.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: II  Next Issue

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsProjects 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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See also Project Management and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An informal meeting geometryComing November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
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Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.

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