Friday, November 4, 2022

Threat unknown

Most of the postings on risk management don't deal with the post-risk consequences that befall the people who are charged with managing risks. 

But guess what? Very often the axe falls, even though a best effort was given.
So what are some of the human factors of risk management?

Of course the stress level rises when the stakes are amped if there are life-at-risk possibilities, or bet-the-business risks. Consider space launches, deep sea dives, major construction or demolition, or even some military project with lives at risk. And of course there is the ever present cyber threat to business continuity.

Reasonable protocol
Put yourself in this situation, following this protocol:
  • As an experienced PM, you are aware of the nature of certain classes of threats that could affect your project, perhaps catastrophically. 
  • And as an experienced PM, you've asked for any specific knowledge available about these classes. After all, many threats are reducible by acquiring more knowledge about them.
  • But what if nothing has arisen or been reported about any specific threat for the foreseeable future? Is there anything to do?
  • And so, you put these classes of threats on the back burner among the "aware but unmanaged" 

Then, stuff happens!
From the class of the unmanaged, a threat pops up and becomes real; the project is impacted, perhaps severely.

The human factors questions:
  • Are you culpable for this most unfortunate outcome to your project -- you are the PM after all?
  • Were you negligent for not managing this threat? 
  • Can you be negligent for not taking action to mitigate a threat about which you had no certain knowledge? 
  • Does negligence always require that you willfully ignore facts given to you?
  • Even if not negligent, are you still responsible and accountable for the outcome?

It depends:

 Strictly from a legal point of view, there are four common elements to negligence:

  • Duty
  • Failure to perform your duty
  • Damages 
  • Causation
The latter is the most difficult, of course. Causation is often confused with coincidence and correlation. The idea that separates causation from correlation is the so-called "confounding factor": Something that influences or connects, but does not directly cause an outcome. If the confounding effect is "1" on a scale of 1 to 0, then correlation becomes causation; "0" is coincidence; everything in between is correlation.

But the issue in the this post is around the second point: Failure to perform your duty.
  • You asked for knowledge to reduce the threat; none was forthcoming.
  • You were told that nothing was forecast for the foreseeable future.
  • You chose to "be aware but not actively manage"
Did you do your duty?
In part, you will be judged on what-came-next. What did you do when the threat emerged?

Tricky business, this. There's no clean answer.

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