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What? Me? Worry?

WhatmeworryHaving a pre-schooler in the house is a continual lesson in risk management.  Try as I might to keep her from harm, the prevailing question in our house is not WHETHER we will go to the emergency room, but WHEN we will be heading there.  I'm not sure what her guardian angel did to honk off the Almighty and wind up with my daughter as his responsibility, but I'll be sure to thank him some day.  A typical soundtrack for any given day in our house sounds something like:

Me: "Abby, stop that/slow down/be careful.  You're going to get hurt."
Abby: "No I won't!" (Insert sound of running or continued activity, followed by a THUD and the sound of crying.)
Me: "Honey, what happened?"
Abby: "I fell down and got hurt."
Me:  "Hmmmm"

As a project manager, you may not like to think anything bad could possibly happen.  The internal voice which just keeps prompting you to "think happy thoughts" also prevents you from seeing what might possibly go wrong.  Franke James, a good friend and a stunning visual essayist, recently created a very telling blog post on a series of explosions which recently rocked her world.  A propane depot less than five miles away blew up, causing 12,000 people to evacuate in the middle of the night.  Her husband dismissed it as an unpredictable event, but Franke had other thoughts:

Yes, it had a massive impact.  But it was NOT unpredictable.  It was entirely foreseeable.  The residents complained to the city about safety violations.  Twenty-one years ago the city planning commissioner warned of this, except he predicted even greater loss of life.  It was just luck that the explosion occurred at 4 a.m. on a Sunday night.  If it had been a weekday, the loss of life could have been catastrophic.  As it was, two people died.

Franke goes on to do a brilliant risk analysis.  She provides a model for every project manager.  Too often, egos, ignorance and schedules get in the way of really diving down into the details of what can go wrong.

Before running headlong into a project, spend time brainstorming with as many people as you can get to participate to identify all of the possible things that can go wrong.  Make sure you write them down (if they're not documented, they don't exist).  To help get you started, here are some of my favorite categories of risk management brainstorming, just to prime the mental pump:

  • Hardware issues (including sourcing and supplying)
  • Software issues (version control and compatibility)
  • Vendor issues (delivery and solvency)
  • People issues (performance capabilities, availability, office politics)
  • Budget issues (economy, competing projects)
  • Managerial issues (weak sponsorship, lack of consistent project processes)
  • Manufacturing issues (supply chain, machinery, or infrastructure)

In my next blog post, I'll share with you how to analyze those risks.  But for now... start looking at what can go wrong.

Carpe Factum!


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You've written a very engaging post on risk analysis and by using the example of your kids' skinned knees, found a way for every reader to relate. I certainly laughed -- and saw myself -- when reading it.

But do our kids ever learn from our warnings? I think they can. My mother's advice comes to mind. She often said that something was an 'accident waiting to happen'. We would look and wonder what she was talking about. She might have spotted a pot handle on the stove that was ready to be knocked (and thus cause a nasty burn), or she alerted us to an unseen trap that lay in wait for the unsuspecting. She taught me a skill that I use daily -- and hope that I've been able to teach my kids.

I'm honored by your comments on my 12,000 Sitting Ducks visual essay! Now you know where I learned my risk management skills.

Hi Franke - thanks for commenting... and thanks even more for inspiring the post... if people cannot identify the risks right under their nose, they leave themselves exposed for greater trouble down the road.

It sounds like your mother was a very wise woman... and that wisdom has been passed down.

Since this article mainly about preventing risk, I would like to suggest an article I've published today about Preventing Risk Issues - http://www.pmhut.com/project-risk-management-identify-and-prevent-risk-issues , risk issues are potential risks just waiting to happen. Preventing issues is a step before preventing risks.

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