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Topics: Leadership, Risk Management
Is Risk a moldable substance?
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Going against traditional viewpoints and at the risk of sounding bizarre (well, I guess I’ve already crossed that threshold a few hundred times), do you believe that Risk is (or can be) a moldable substance?

As project managers, we deal with performance, cost and schedule risks (among others) on a regular basis. However, when the call for risks is made, stakeholders in both the business and delivery domains can deliver risks that well, sound like, “if this happens, it’s not my fault, therefore...” These types of statements are often purposed to direct the project down the “path of least resistance” to protect individual groups (usually delivery based) from the difficult (higher risk, higher value) path to one that is considered simpler (i.e., lower risk, lower value).

What is the duty of the PM under these types of circumstances? Accept the risk as is (recognizing its validity) and allow its consideration to possibly redirect a higher value outcome, or use expert knowledge (whether yours or others) to challenge the risk and reshape it into a consumable form that keeps its value -- the greater the risk, the more material you have to model from.
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I think we should validate any risk that is identified/raised. Risk is very much like a problem - people will raise a symptom rather than the actual risk that causes the symptom. In some cases, this is not a bad thing because often we can actually do something about specific symptoms caused by a risk while we can only accept the risk itself.

So in that context, I would definitely say that risk is moldable because a symptom of risk can become a risk itself depending on the scenario.
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I think it depends on the strategic importance of the project. Some projects strive to expand the art of the possible, face the challenges, and exceed expectations. Some projects keep steady revenue so that everyone is still getting paid while we struggle with the ground breaking projects. It's OK taking easy wins while you position for the next tough project.

On the other hand, some team members may be the Eeyore from Winnie the Poo or the depressed robot in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, constantly draining the team morale. They tend to spend their time complaining how they will face problems that other people caused due to passing on low quality work, in a passive aggressive way. I try to shift that to, "How can we all work together better so you don't keep having to deal with the problems (and we all don't have to keep listening to you complain)?"
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George -

If we accept Dr. Hillson's definition that "risk is uncertainty that matters", then we need to accept that the identified risk matters to that stakeholder. But will it matter to other key stakeholders whom we want to feel that our approach to risk management is credible?

If not, then the risk should be clarified or challenged.

Sometimes I find it is about educating our team and other stakeholders about what the purpose of risk management is and help them to differentiate a material risk which we want to expend calories from a generic one which would might occur on any project anywhere.

Kiron
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Good question. I work in a delivery environment so I often deal with this exact issue. I challenge risks when I feel groups are emphasizing them just to avoid responsibility. I'll define the risks in detail so everyone can see how large it really is, the various ways it can be addressed, and the reward to be gained. This makes it much easier for stakeholders to determine how to react to the risk.
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1 reply by George Freeman
Nov 18, 2019 6:15 PM
George Freeman
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Hi Eric,

On the challenge portion of your comment, what are the techniques you use to challenge those groups you suspect of “avoiding responsibility”? Do you bring expertise, hold workshops, etc.
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That's why being clear about the effects of the risk occurring, who is assigned to the risk, and an assumption that the correct procedure will be deployed is so important. Project managers aren't soothsayers, so having expert knowledge (witnesses I call them) to inform the risks is key.
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Nov 18, 2019 10:37 AM
Replying to Eric Simms
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Good question. I work in a delivery environment so I often deal with this exact issue. I challenge risks when I feel groups are emphasizing them just to avoid responsibility. I'll define the risks in detail so everyone can see how large it really is, the various ways it can be addressed, and the reward to be gained. This makes it much easier for stakeholders to determine how to react to the risk.
Hi Eric,

On the challenge portion of your comment, what are the techniques you use to challenge those groups you suspect of “avoiding responsibility”? Do you bring expertise, hold workshops, etc.

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