Do you live in fear of not getting results in your projects? Risk management is such an effective vehicle for climbing the tallest mountain or swimming the deepest sea. However, the risk management pitfalls are many, rendering us completely ineffective in our attempt to fulfill our dreams.
I fear that many project managers live by the letter of the law and may fail to gain the true benefits of risk management. These individuals are too concerned with checking boxes and making the risk management processes overly complex. Let’s look at some common mistakes and how to overcome them.
1. Thou shalt not make risk management complicated.
Every project is different. Wise project managers tailor their risk management plan to each project. Pick only the necessary inputs and tools and techniques. And speak in a manner that your sponsor, project team, and stakeholders understand. If you wish to introduce new terms (e.g., risk attitude, risk tolerance, Monte Carlo), be sure to define them.
Project managers may make risk decisions without much thought. How is this possible? Well, after managing projects for years, you know the drill. You simply know how to respond to the most common risks.
Every year, my family takes a trip to the beach for fun and relaxation. I’ve gone to the same beach my entire life. We do a lot of the same things each year—walk on the beach, swim, grill out, crab, and fish.
With each of these activities, I do things to manage risks and frankly, I rarely think about it (because I’ve done it for so long). Allow me to share a few examples.
Threat Response Strategies
1. Accept risks
Sometimes I fish from the shore. Actually, I wade out into the water about waist deep. More than once, I’ve caught a shark. I’ve had crabs bite my toes. And I’ve been stung by jellyfish. But every year, I wade into the water and fish again. That is to say, I accept the risks.
Some portfolio, program, and project managers make a big fuss over risk management. And others use lots of acronyms and big words to impress people. But at the end of the day, all that really matters is getting results.
For eighteen years, I worked for a property and casualty insurance company. Each year, our senior management team would meet with a credit rating agency to share our goals, strategies, and progress. The presentation included what we were doing for enterprise risk management.
One year, the rating analyst said that insurance companies can talk a good game. They have a risk management plan. They regularly identify, analyze, and respond to risks. And yet, some of these companies were floundering.
Then the analyst said, “All that really matters is that you are getting results.”
Project managers can be guilty of talking a good game too. We have a risk management plan. We perform all the risk management processes, but for some reason, we may fail to get the desired results.
So, let’s review the risk management processes, things within each process that may lead to lackluster results, and what we can do about each.
How do you communicate risks? Some project managers rarely mention risks; others bore people to tears with too much information.
Ninety percent of a project manager’s job is communication. And one of the most important things to communicate is your risks. Where is the uncertainty greatest and what are you and the team doing about it?
The communication process can be challenging. Stakeholders expect one thing and get something completely different. How can we communicate risks more effectively?
Are you feeling stuck? If so, let’s talk about getting unstuck and moving again.
With all that we have to do, we can’t afford to stay in one place too long. Somehow, we must keep things moving forward. Otherwise, there will be consequences—missed deadlines, unhappy stakeholders, demoralized team members, and ultimately adverse impacts to the company’s bottom line.
So, why do project managers get stuck in the first place? There are several reasons. First, it’s analysis paralysis. We get stuck in over-analyzing (or over-thinking) things such as requirements. Second, it’s fear. We are afraid that we will make a mistake. Third, it’s perfectionism—the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. We mean well, but this mindset is a toxic trap that hinders our progress as we seek the approval of others. Fourth, it’s poor decision making. The project team has identified multiple options for solving the problem, but can’t seem to pick one.
Are you looking for ways to improve your project communication? You’re not alone. Most project managers know that 90% of their time is spent in communicating – hearing, speaking, and seeking to understand.
Project managers constantly communicate — coaching, summarizing action items, influencing stakeholders, educating team members, listening, facilitating decisions, creating a contract with a third party, escalating an issue, and meeting with a project sponsor, to name a few. Great project managers are first great communicators. How can we get better?
Is there a way to improve both project requirements and quality at the same time? Allow me to begin this discussion with an illustration.
I recently needed a television mounted on the wall of my office. A fairly simple requirement, right?
I told the handyman that I wanted the television to be head high. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and saw that the television had been installed a foot higher than I expected. The handyman did what I asked him to do but he used his head height, not mine. He was like the Jolly Green Giant – 6 foot 7 inches tall; I was 5 foot 6 inches tall.
Improve Project Requirements and Quality
Quality management is highly dependent on the clarity of the project requirements. Why?
Quality is the degree to which a project meets the requirements. This definition assumes that the requirements are defined and that there are varying degrees to which the requirements may be met.
If the truth were told, many projects lack SMART requirements: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. They’re vague, and there are little to no standards by which to judge whether the requirement has been implemented properly. Furthermore, stakeholders may not be engaged adequately in the requirements process.
Ill-defined requirements — like “install the TV head high” — make it difficult, if not impossible, for designers, developers, and testers to do their jobs. When defining requirements, define the fit criteria: “a quantification of the requirement that demonstrates the standard the product must reach.” For example, I could have specified the precise vertical and horizontal location for the television. With this, we would have had a way to measure whether the requirement was met (and avoid the rework, time, and extra expense).
Additional Requirements and Quality Management Articles
Want to know more about project requirements and quality management? Check out these additional articles:
Last week, I talked about How to Develop a Quality Management Plan. Today, I’d like to share common quality management mistakes. Being aware of these failure points can help you and your project teams to identify and manage quality risks.
Quality Management Mistakes
1. Failure to Define Quality
Quality means different things to different people. One person may say that they own a high-quality diamond ring. A builder describes his quality homes.
What does quality mean to a project manager and the project team? Quality is the degree to which a project meets the requirements. This implies that the requirements are known and that the needs may be met partially or fully.