It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      March, 2014 Full Moon Edition      

Risk Mitigation

Early execution is better, but we love later

I currently reside on the 7th floor of a condo overlooking a park in Florida. I have observed on many occasions people picnicking or barbequing in the park. Today at the park there was a family celebration with running kids, balloons and colored table cloths under a small pavilion. Unfortunately a line of severe thunderstorms was approaching.

Now all the signs of an upcoming storm were there, the imposing sky, the rush of the cool breeze, and distant lightening. Not to mention weather radar on mobile phones. Even the dogs the park goers brought were unsettled and began to howl. (Now I don’t speak dog, but I suspect the howls meant “Oh brilliant master, let’s go”).

What these park goers did is what I see them all do.

Despite all the indications they waited until the storm was on right on top of them before they committed to leaving. By waiting they ended up packing up and leaving at the height of the storm, dealing with high winds, getting soaked and putting themselves at risk for more dire consequences given the frequency and nearness of the lightening strikes.

The irony here is that this is what happens all the time. They see all the signs of the upcoming storm, but their zeal to continue along the current path causes them to wait making their exit a wet, frightful experience with paper plates flying through the air. Had they packed up early they could have done so in an organized fashion, without getting wet and with zero stress. Instead they were highly stressed, crying kids, barking dogs, with all their stuff soaked and just thrown together.

When it comes to Risk Mitigation early execution is better, but we love later.

Unfortunately a similar scenario occurs in the project management world all the time. All the signs and symptoms of a potential negative risk event materializing make themselves evident. Suppliers and vendors are usually not suddenly late, there are signs. Requirements are not instantly poor or nonexistent, there are signs. Failures in testing are rarely unexpected, there are signs. etc. etc.

Given these signs any rational observer or howling dog would say “let’s act now to mitigate this risk.” But the zeal to continue along the current path causes us to delay. If we execute the risk mitigation strategy early it will delay the schedule or impact costs or upset the vice president, besides its not 100 percent the risk will occur. So instead we wait, despite all the signs and then later, when the impending risk absolutely must be mitigated, it is a chaotic experience that costs more with many more negative impacts and disgruntled stakeholders. By delaying risk mitigation we in fact created a more stressful, emergency situation.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly

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