Tuesday, November 18, 2008


We all know that the single thing that makes projects "fun" is uncertainty. If we could simply write a plan, schedule our resources to show up, and everyone (and everything-including the weather forecasters) did what they said they would do, we could simply adjust the master project control dial to "cruise" and we could have a snooze. Or do whatever we choose. Maybe buy some shoes...drink some booze...

As we say here in New England: Yah, right!

So uncertainty, which manifests itself in projects as risk, which, like The Force, has a good side (opportunity) and a dark side (threat), is the provider of "fun" for our projects and what makes our jobs, shall we say, interesting.

We know that besides being 'good' and 'bad', risk falls into all kinds of categories, and that those categories themselves vary from industry to industry. So where a pharmaceutical industry could be heavily invested in regulatory risks, a new product team may be more interested in technological or competitive risks. And even those will vary depending on the type of pharmaceutical or the type of new product.

On top of that, entire cultures vary tremendously in terms of risk tolerance. Fascinating studies have been done to show how Asian, African, American, European, Latin American, and Australasian cultures traditionally view risk, based simply on their proverbs.

And of course, within a culture, there is wide diversity amongst individuals in terms of how they view risk - and even THAT changes over time.

The sign pictured above is a great example of a person or organization having a little sarcastic fun in terms of how risk is communicated. The bottom line (literally) is that the bridge is out. However, the signmaker gets your attention by posting about the edges of the sign.

So EVEN IF we have a good handle on risk, there can be variability in the way it is communicated.


We can see that there is very little structure, it would seem, about risk.

The only place to find sanctuary from all of this variability is a single document called the Risk Register.

Lately, I have been zeroing in on this document to try to find examples of good ones. Not only templates, but actual, live, filled-out Risk Registers, with the intent to use them as a way to share success (and failure!) stories. My feeling is that if people in the organization see that they were used and see how they were used, their use would increase. And, if they're used more, there's a greater chance that the risks - and their responses - and the success of their responses - would be able to be shared. I realize from the opening of the blog that this will require the PM who is taking a lesson learned from a prior project to think about how that risk is different than their current risk. But I also trust in the imagination and intelligence of the PMs to know that each project is unique and to take the lesson learned as input to their own planning.

I'm looking for volunteers out there who are willing to share a Risk Register of which they're proud. You can sterilize the risk register - take out the proprietary stuff. Just leave the format and the main gist of the document alone. Send it to exclaim@verizon.net . I will post some of the top ones (with the sender's permission, of course) here on the blog in a future post.

The incentive: a new copy of "Earned Value Project Management" by Fleming & Koppelman will be given away to the best submission. Deadline for all inputs is 31-December-2008.

Just one more thing: please sand the sharp edges of your risk register, mitigating the probability and impact of a paper cut...

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