Taking the emotion out of risk

Every week, our Program Managers review key risks with project teams and sponsors. It’s proactive, it’s valuable, and, it has required a culture shift to be successful.

Imagine, every week your PM is “telling” the execs about the project’s weakest or riskiest links. This has the potential to trigger teams to feel defensive, embarrassed, and stressed. These defensive routines can ultimately lead to disengaged team members and lower morale.

Interestingly, we know that addressing risk early and often is key to improved delivery, so how can we overcome the defensiveness and finger-pointing?

We have successfully employed the following “mitigations” built on ideas from Peter Senge and Systems Thinking…

1) Report observable data and behaviors, rather than gut feelings (http://tinyurl.com/observabledata  )
2) Keep the schedule real, if the team knows that the date is moving, change the date or move it to TBD
3) Be transparent, don’t “hold back” risks to give the team extra time to fix.
4) Avoid naming names in the risks, think instead of the bigger picture of the risk, can you decouple the risk from the personalities?

As PMs, whatever we can do to remove emotion from the risk register will set the stage for our teams and sponsors to discover and implement effective mitigations or acceptance, enabling us to deliver our projects with increased certainty and predictability.

To learn much more about risk management, join us at the PMISV and PMI RiskSIG 2009 Annual Symposium “Project Risk Management in an uncertain world” on Sept 24-25, 2009 in Santa Clara, CA. See http://www.pmisv.org  for further info and registration.

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One Response to “Taking the emotion out of risk”

  1. shrinkingthecamel Says:

    Yes, this is always a big barrier – How to talk about risk without people feeling guilty, blamed, career suicide, etc. I was at a risk mgmt conference last Spring and saw a presentation from Mars (the candy company) and they basically said that you have to build this into the culture with time and experience.. people getting used to the fact that speaking up about risk is safe and important – more important than hiding the truth.

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