Monday, June 13, 2022

Risk, but no plan

In my experience, a lot of projects operate more or less on the edge of risk, with no real plan beyond common sense and a bit of past experience to muddle through if things go wrong.

Problematic, as a process, but to paraphrase the late Donald Rumsfeld: 
You do the project with the resources and plan you have, not the resources or plan you want
You may want a robust risk plan, but you may not have the resources to research it and put it together.
You may not have the resources for a second opinion
You may not have the resources to maintain the plan. 
And, you may not have the resources to act upon the mitigation tactics that might be in the plan.

Oh, woe is me!

Well, you probably do what almost every other PM has done since we moved past cottage industries: You live with it and work consequences when they happen. Obviously, this approach is not in any RM textbook, briefing, or consulting pitch. But it's reality for a lot of PMs.

Too much at stake
Of course, if there is safety at stake for users and developers, as there is in many construction projects; and if there is really significant OPM invested that is 'bet the business' in scope; and if there are consequences so significant for an error moved into production that lives and livelihoods are at stake, then the RM plan has to move to the 'must have'.  

A plan with no action
And then we have this phenomenon: You actually do invest in a RM plan; you actually do train for risk avoidance; and then you actually do nothing during the project. I see this all the time in construction projects where risk avoidance is clearly known; the tools are present; and the whole thing is ignored.

Show me the math
But then of course because risk is an uncertainty, subject to the vagaries of Random Numbers and with their attendant distributions and statistics, there are these problems:
  • It's easy to lie, or mislead, with 'averages' and more broadly with a raft of other statistics. See: How to Lie with Statistics (many authors) 
  • Bayes is a more practical way for one-off projects to approach uncertainty than frequency-of-occurrence methods that require big data sets for valid statistics, but few PM really understand the power of Bayes. 
  • Coincidence, correlation, and causation: Few understand one from the other; and for that very reason, many can be led by the few to the wrong fork in the road. Don't believe in coincidence? Then, of course, there must be a correlation or causation!
The upshot?
Risk, but no plan.
Or plan, and no action

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