July 20, 2008 by
Filed under: People, Project management 

There is plenty of chatter in management literature about risk and risk management. It usually takes one nasty “I should have thought of that” moment for a project manager to learn his or her lesson: a risk register becomes part of the standard toolkit from that point forward. While a great tool, a disciplined approach to risk is still not perfect. We need to recognize that there will always be blindsides.

One of the critical elements of strong risk analysis is that we are able to list all of the conceivable problems that might occur on our projects. While we can refer to standard lists of risks from a variety of sources, check actuarial tables for the probabilities of some of these risks, and (hopefully) apply our recollection from past projects so that we are not burned by the same thing twice, this is still not a perfect science.

Even the best list of risks will not include areas that we wouldn’t even consider as concerns for our projects. These may be areas that we arrogantly think are inconceivable (“that could never happen to me…”), or risks that seem so catastrophic that there is no point including them in our list anyways (“if that occurs, we’re hooped…”).

For that second category, the force majeure concerns that have their own separate clause in many contracts, there is still value in retaining them on our lists, as many actually do have strategies for mitigation. Insurance is a key strategy to deal with losses in this area, but there are others as well. For physical risks such as earthquakes or floods, strict adherence to building standards and a considered approach to selecting the location of the site can go a long way. Think before you simply throw your hands up in despair: we are actually “hooped” far less than we need be.

It is the first category that I think is the real concern in risk analysis, the items we don’t even consider. Defined as a direction in which a person has a poor view, typically of approaching danger, it is not a stretch to imagine that we all have blindsides to contend with. These are the things that aren’t even on our radar, and so can’t possibly make it onto our risk register.

We need to keep an eye out for the blindsides, and deal with them as quickly as possible. This struck me recently, as I was blindsided myself.

For a long time, despite a cold here and there, I went along on the assumption that I was pretty robust, that I could work pretty well through anything. As the last quarter got busier and busier, I went with the flow and made hay while the sun shone. It was a very strong period, with great engagements and interesting travel destinations. I told myself I could rest when that period was over.

Well, rest I am getting, as I am now recovering from pneumonia, and still don’t have the voice I need to drive workshops or lectures. It seems that even making hay has its limitations. I have discovered a blindside and found a new risk that I need to manage, something that wasn’t even on the radar a month ago. I find I am asking myself how many other blindsides I have, and can I discover them before the cost is too high?

Don’t go on the assumption that you know and manage all of your risks. Are you wondering where your blindsides are yet? – JB


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