To execute their projects, project champions must secure resources from their organizations. Whether proposing new ideas, or seeking additional resources to continue work on existing efforts, they're in the role of "sellers." They must seek approval for resources from decision makers — "buyers" in this situation. Risk creep happens when the decisions of buyers and sellers introduce unrecognized risk into the projects they pursue together. Here are three sources of risk creep. For more examples, see Part I.
- Organizational blind spots
- By applying to new efforts the patterns we used for past efforts, we often leave unaddressed whatever risks the past efforts didn't encounter. Most organizations have risk blind spots. The risks that are overlooked or underestimated tend to be correlated across similar efforts, because of knowledge and experience sharing, and because management tends to hire and promote people of similar strengths and abilities. In some cases, people with unique experiences or unusual knowledge might encounter resistance upon offering those experiences or knowledge, or upon incorporating their insights into plans and proposals. Thus, organizations not only have blind spots, but also harbor mechanisms that tend to maintain those blind spots.
- Sellers exploit the biases of buyers
- Intentionally By applying to new efforts the
patterns we used for past efforts,
we often leave unaddressed whatever
risks the past efforts didn't encounteror inadvertently, buyers disclose their personal preferences to sellers, who then use that information in the selling process, to make their proposals more appealing to buyers. In some cases, this tailoring requires biased assessments of risks of the proposed project. Risk then creeps into the project, even when neither buyer nor seller is aware of the bias. These biases affect sellers not only in how they position their proposals, but also in their choices of what to propose. Some perfectly sound ideas are never even proposed, because the sellers mistakenly believe the buyers wouldn't be interested.
- Both buyers and sellers exploit urgency
- When we regard pursuing an idea as urgent, we're more likely to accept risks, more likely to underestimate risks, and more likely to overlook risks. Both buyers and sellers contribute. Some buyers have preconceived ideas about what's important. Whether or not they're correct, they communicate their preconceptions to sellers to encourage them to propose the kinds of ideas they favor. At times buyers add a dash of urgency to these communications to attract the most capable sellers. This biases the portfolio of proposals they receive by replacing importance with urgency. As an element of their "sales pitch," some sellers assert, "…we must do this now or miss the opportunity." This replaces the question of the importance of the proposed objective, with a question of timing. When this happens, both buyer and seller may be mistaking urgency for importance. Whether buyers or sellers exploit urgency, risk creeps in.
Risk is a fact of life. Risk creep need not be. Use open conversations to mitigate risk creep risk. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty
that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of
the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
- Risk Management Risk: II
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some
guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.
- 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.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
- Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes
- When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds)
and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting
— until too late.
See also Project Management and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness 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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