Build a Better Risk Plan by Pretending to Fail

PMI Buffalo, NY Chapter

Donald Charles Wynes is an influential leader who helps people and organizations use project management to gain competitive advantage. He promotes innovative thinking to reduce the cost and complexity of project delivery, expand the effectiveness of teams and leverage PM as a powerful sales tool. He is currently focused on the blending of proven PM techniques with emerging technologies to help teams - especially virtual teams - achieve higher levels of performance and enable a new generation of project managers to gain a passion for their profession.

Walking out of my team’s risk planning meeting, I had no trouble identifying the biggest threat we faced: We didn’t find any threats!

Well, that’s not entirely true. In the course of our two-hour meeting, the team identified a long list of “threats,” but I’ll put the word in quotes because the list was so predictable and so vague that they wouldn’t have a lot of value in building a meaningful risk management plan.

We were starting a project to implement our flagship software application for a large client. As the vendor, we would lead the project, and the client would be an active participant—supplying four people to join five from our side. When I met the client team at our kickoff meeting, I could tell they were the right people—experienced managers and individual contributors from the departments that would have the greatest influence on our success.

My team was well chosen, too. Each member had multiple successful implementations of this same application under his or her belt. While we had never all been on the same project in the past, we all had been around the company long enough that we knew each other fairly well.

With such a stellar group, I was at a loss when they didn’t deliver. What went wrong?

Plan A Didn’t Work
I followed the same process I’d used successfully many times …

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"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature."

- Tom Robbins