I recently published an article entitled: "How to Respond to Project Risks." And one of the risk responses that I shared was avoidance. The focus of this strategy is to ensure the risk does not occur by eliminating the cause of the risk. In this article, I share a personal story of how I failed to avoid a risk, as well as some lessons learned that you can apply to your projects.
A Personal Story About Risk
It was Fall, and I had raked the leaves in my backyard into three piles. I was trying to decide what to do with them. I knew there was a ban on burning in my area since we had been extremely dry for months.
What were my options? I could bag the leaves. I could haul the leaves into the woods. Or I could burn the leaves.
I decided to take a chance and burn the leaves. Later, I soaked the areas with water to fully extinguish the remaining embers.
Before I went to bed, I checked the three areas again. Everything looked great.
Next morning, I walked down the hall toward the kitchen for coffee. What I saw next shocked me. There was fire as far as the eye could see. Yikes!
I was talking and yelling at speeds that as a Southerner I'd never reached before, "There's FIRE in the woods! Call the fire department! Call the fire department!"
My wife made the call. My son and daughter jumped out of bed to help.
I grabbed some old towels and ran toward the fire. I attempted to put the fire out. With every swipe, the fire would simply pop back up like magic. It was no use.
Meanwhile, my ten-year-old son continuously watered the backyard and kept the fire from advancing toward the house.
Soon I heard the sirens. The fire department arrived. The forestry department arrived. The ambulance arrived. The neighbors arrived with tools in hand.
I have never been so embarrassed in my life! I wanted to run for cover, but there was nowhere to hide.
The fire department said the best strategy was to contain the fire with a fire break. The forestry department cut a fire break around several acres. By this time, the fire was up in the trees. It looked like a scene from the "Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
Lessons Learned About Risk Avoidance
Sometimes I learn the hard way. Here were the lessons I learned that day.
- Avoidance may be your answer. I thought I could build a fire and cause no harm. Surely the fire ban did not apply to me. We sometimes take risks when we know we should not. I could have avoided the risk altogether. Very simple. I didn't have to burn the leaves.
- Our actions can cause harm to others. We sometimes think it's okay to do our own thing. After all, it's my life; it's my project. However, our actions may impact others. Our choices affect our friends, neighbors, and community. At work, our choices affect our team members, our organization, and our customers.
- Your best attempts to control fires may not be adequate. We may try to stop an issue from causing adverse impacts. However, some issues cause significant impact no matter how hard we try to stop it. Are we prepared? Do we have contingency plans and fallback plans for our most significant risks?
- Defining and executing risk response plans is a much better strategy than responding to issues once they surface. Notice in this story the amount of effort and the cost to deal with an issue, the fire in the woods. Making a good choice and avoiding the threat would have been a wise choice.
What Risks Should You Avoid?
Are you engaged in activities today that you should avoid? What are the causes of your most significant threats? Are there ways of eliminating the cause and avoid the potential adverse impacts?
Be intentional about your risk management. Define your risk management plan. Identify and evaluate your risks. Discuss the most significant risks with your project team members and determine which risk strategy would be best. Sometimes, risk avoidance is your best choice.
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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications