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Volume 14, Issue 48;   November 26, 2014: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: II

Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: II

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

Managing risk entails coping with unwanted events that might or might not happen, and which can be costly if they do happen. Here's Part II of our exploration of coping strategies for unwanted events.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur (left) and Willie Keeler (right)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964, left) and Willie Keeler (1872-1923, right). Keeler was a right fielder in Major League Baseball who played from 1892 to 1910. He was one of the best hitters of his era, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is famous for having advised hitters to "Keep your eye clear, and hit 'em where they ain't," with they referring to the defending fielders. During World War II, Gen. MacArthur commanded a campaign in the southwest Pacific in which he avoided the heavy losses that would have been inevitable if he had attacked enemy strong points. Instead, he cut their supply lines at points less strongly defended. In describing this strategy, he often cited Wille Keeler's advice to "hit 'em where they ain't." (See William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1978.)

Photo of Willie Keeler ca. 1903, available at Wikipedia. Photo of Gen. MacArthur courtesy U.S. National Archives.

We began our catalog of risk management strategies last time, exploring Denial, Shock, Acceptance, and Chaos. None of those four are particularly effective with respect to achieving our goals in the context of adversity. One more ineffective strategy remains to be explored before we examine some more effective approaches.

Procrastination
This strategy, usually executed unconsciously, involves repeated delay of planning to address acknowledged risks. We just can't seem to find time to sit down and plan for risks.
Slogan: "Yes, we have to plan for that risk, but we're too busy right now. Maybe tomorrow."
Advantage: Deferring planning enables the procrastinator to defer acknowledging the cost of managing risk, which can be helpful in persuading decision-makers to undertake or continue the effort, because its full cost is unrecognized. Procrastinating also enables the procrastinator to claim that planning is "in progress" when actually it isn't.
Danger: Procrastinating leads to a perception that the resources at hand are sufficient, when they might be wholly inadequate. It can also lead to delays so great that the organization can become unable to prepare for the risk prior to the actual risk event.

Let's look now at strategies that actually facilitate progress.

Avoidance
Avoidance is the choice to eliminate the possibility of loss by changing what you're doing. Other losses might happen, but not that one. For example, if we include an overview of the Marigold project in our presentation, we risk being asked about Issue 18, for which we have no answers yet. To avoid that risk, we decide not to provide a general overview of Marigold. Instead we'll discuss only Issue 17, which is almost resolved.
Slogan: "If we use this other design instead, we can avoid that risk."
Advantage: Finding Sometimes we can be so averse
to risk that we convince ourselves
that a risk-avoiding alternative
approach can achieve our goals,
when it actually cannot
a clever alternative to what we planned originally, and thereby avoiding a risk we would have borne under the original approach, can be both elegant and effective.
Danger: Sometimes we can be so averse to risk that we convince ourselves that a risk-avoiding alternative approach can achieve our goals, when it actually cannot.
Limitation
Limitation strategies reduce the probability of the risk event occurring, or reduce the size of the loss if it does occur, or both. Using limitation, we make the risk acceptable by reducing the expected value of the loss.
Slogan: "We can reduce the probability of that risk (or the cost of that risk) if we do this."
Advantage: The expected value of the loss associated with a risk event is the product PV, where P is the probability of the occurrence and V is the value lost. If we can reduce the expected value enough, we can proceed with confidence, even if the risk event occurs.
Danger: Estimating probabilities is notoriously difficult. If we're wrong in our estimates, and the risk event occurs, we could be in trouble.

We'll continue next time with the last three of our risk management strategies. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: III  Next Issue

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