Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Big Yellow Taxi of Project Management

"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...". These words, from a Joni Mitchell song of 1970, and re-popularized by the Counting Crows more recently, should strike a resonant note with PMs. Why?

Well, when you as a project manager are assessing your risks, you need to ask - repeatedly - how each risk could add to (as in opportunity) or take away from (as in threat), your project objectives. Sometimes PMs start their risk assessments before they really know what those objectives all are. If that's the case, you don't know what might be taken away, and therefore you don't really have a good shot at identifying all of the projects risks (positive or negative).

I certainly don't mean to take away from Joni Mitchell's lyric ability, but perhaps she should have said, "you don't know what might be taken away, until you know what your objectives are". But...then again, to be fair, (1) Joni did not have access to the 3rd Edition PMBOK(R) Guide, and (2) I don't think this lyric would be very marketable.

A new book by David Hillson and Peter Simon, "Practical Project Risk Management" does a great job of explaining this and actually in coaching you how to create Risk Statements. Risk Statements are highly-structured sentences, with an "if-then" flavor, which convey clearly what the risk at hand is all about. Each risk statement should include a Definite Cause, an Uncertain Event, and an effect on a Project Objective.

So, for example, we could state the following for a positive risk:

Because we are doing this project simultaneously with 2 others (Definite Cause), we could use staff as available from other projects (Uncertain Event), which could save project budget (Effect on Project Objectives).

or, for a negative risk (threat):

Since we are working in caves infested by venomous bats (Definite Cause), we may have staff members bitten (Uncertain Event), which could cause illness or death (Effect on Project Objectives).

To quote the book: "Risk can only be defined in relation to objectives, which means that one cannot identify any risks until objectives are defined and agreed". Sounds just like Joni Mitchell, n'est pas?

So enjoy this posting. You don't know what you've got 'til it's....GONE.


Anonymous said...

I thought the song lyrics were very appropriate given most projects, especially construction projects, are very destructive to the environment and forever limit the use of the land in the future.

PS. Please, no lame anecdotal examples of a few so-called green projects. Project management sadly, is not usually about preserving what is good nor maintaining useful products, systems, or environments.

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