THE ABRACADABRA RISK MANAGEMENT MANUAL
Some time ago, let’s say it was about 2066 years ago, give or take a few months, a certain well known Roman emperor needed to transport his army of 40,000 men, horses and project managers (outsourced PMs, of course) – from Gaul, across the Rhine River, and into Germania to have a look around. “And I want to get there in a hurry!!”, he demanded. But how? Well, perhaps the first thing his PM team did was provide a risk assessment, a mitigation plan, and ensure an effective strategy was in place, in the event of realisation of those risks.
Or maybe not.The point is, at the end of ten days, there stood a beautifully engineered, technical masterpiece of a timber bridge, spanning 300 metres of the fast flowing Rhine. Onlooking Germanic tribes realised they didn’t stand a chance and ran in all directions as the project reached completion.
In fact, like all successful projects delivered since time began, what probably prevailed was an overwhelming measure of common sense combined with levels of skill obtained only by years and years of experience, and lots of it.
By now you might be wondering where I’m heading with this. Well recently, I was asked for my thoughts on the ‘Risk Management Manual’. It seems that students of Project Management need to know how to write such a manual before they have even experienced the reality of being a Project Manager.
At the ‘risk’ of sounding trite – what a load of hobblers cobblers!!
Don’t get me wrong. A risk manual is a wonderful way of writing down how assessment and management of risk will be done. But like the Roman bridge builders, it’s called common sense. As we educate people to trust a façade of analysis, we seem to be doing away with common sense, and trust only in… well, the “illusion” of defensible assessment.
The textbook perfect Risk Management Manual will include:
- what things are likely to be risks (I could write that list for any company without going through the front door)
- how they will be assessed (likelihood and impact)
- the scale of measurement – percentage likelihood, dollar value of impact, reputation etc
They will all have arbitrary values attached which will be awarded by human assessment (completely undermining the illusion of robust assessment).
Then there will be the section on “addressing” the risks, including –
- which ones can be ignored
- which ones are show stoppers
- when to escalate and to whom
It is very unlikely that there will be a section on mitigating risks as these will be glossed over as being able to be considered only in the context of the situation.
The bottom line is, yes, a Risk Management Manual is a way of making sure the risks are considered and written down. Actually, make that all risks – I’ve even seen “end of the world” noted as a risk on a risk log.
And by inference, if not reality, they are a protection against any suggestion that risk isn’t managed.
Personally though, I’d look very carefully at anyone who came up with a risk plan (unless they were just out of Uni and I haven’t had a chance to teach them ‘Reality PM’ yet)… I do however, insist that all my guys have a risk assessment for their projects, and plans for mitigating the risk and for reaction in the event of risk realisation. That’s just prudent and good management – but they should be able to be done on one page. I’ve seen some assessments that have run to hundreds of pages and trust me, no one in their right mind could manage that without losing focus on the project itself.
I have come to the conclusion that effective PM is an art and a science, and like the field of medicine, we need to develop an inherent system of internships, where PMs-in-training can learn as they go, and are actually required to work with successful PM mentors. It really works. I spent nearly five years sitting at the feet of and carrying bags for people I still look up to and admire. Priceless experience can be paid forward too – every now and then an enlightened client will get someone like me in to guide some of their PMs – that works a treat too.
Don’t misunderstand me – there is a place for education and training, but it MUST be accompanied with not only real life experience, but the experience of success – any old experience simply won’t do.
Come on! Let’s build bridges – and get over them – together!
And keep having fun, DianePortfolios Programs Projects – simply making them happen