One of the things that has always fascinated me as I've studied project management is the aspect of risk.
Risk is the engine of projects. Think about it. Without risk, projects would be planned, everything would go as planned (no threats...no opportunities) and we, as project managers, would be responsible only for checking boxes on a checklist.
But of course (witness exploding and leaking oil wells!) threats do occur. Projects do go off course. We do need to deal with uncertainty.
In fact, it's probably the only thing that IS certain about a project - the uncertainty, that is. And that keeps us, well... employed.
All of this said, it's also interesting to note that humans are not built well to deal with risk. In fact, there are huge monuments to this disability located all over the world. They're called casinos. Logic would tell us that if the organizations that build these things are rich enough to make them look like they do - with extravagant waterfalls, marble foyers and gold statues - they are most likely winning while we are losing. Yet we go back again and again.
I'd like to share with you a snippet from a great book I'm reading called "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz.
Imagine that you have decided to see a concert where admission is $20 a ticket. As you enter the concert hall, you discover that you have lost a $20 bill. Would you still pay $20 for a ticket to the concert?
Now scroll down for what people say in general - and another scenario.
Almost 90 percent of respondents say yes.
Now try this one:
Imagine that you have decided to see a concert and already purchased a $20 ticket. As you enter the concert hall, you discover that you have lost the ticket. The seat was not marked and the ticket cannot be recovered. Would you pay $20 for another ticket?
Answer honestly again. Then scroll down.
In this situation, less than 50 percent of respondents say yes.
Kahneman and Tversky(two scientists who've studied human behavior in uncertain conditions) suggest that the difference between the two cases has to do with the way in which we frame our "psychological account. Suppose that in a person's psychological ledger there is a "cost of the concert account. In the first case, the cost of the concert is $20 charged to that account. But the lost $20 bill is charged to some other account, perhaps "miscellaneous. But in the second case, the cost of the concert is $40; the cost of the lost ticket, plus the cost of the replacement ticket, both charged to the same account.---
So what's the lesson here?
Acknowledge that we're not good at managing risk with (only) our gut.
Acknowledge that the tools and techniques given to us by our PM books and mentors are worthwhile. Don't try to manage projects ONLY with your gut. Your gut is fine, but not all by itself. Look what it's done for the casino business!