Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everything I Needed to Know about Risk Management, I Learned from my Kid's Daycare

Was picking up my kids at their after-school daycare early this evening, when I noticed a sign on their wall. It was titled "Emergency Response" and had a list of awful things that you'd never want to have happen to your kid, and how to handle them. My guess is that there is a state law that if a daycare that wants to maintain certification it needs to have a sign posted publicly that details what the response would be if say, a child were to -
  • choke on something
  • start vomiting or show flu symptoms
  • burn themselves on a stove (especially at an in-home daycare)
Even though I didn't want to think about any of these things happening to my children or anyone else's child at the daycare, I was comforted by seeing that these problems were recognized and addressed with a solution.

Posting this information in a public, central location seemed to me to be the perfect way to handle project risks. At the beginning of a project the team should meet to brainstorm on the 'Perfect Storm' - What are all the possible things that can go wrong and how are we going to handle them? This information should be shared with stakeholders and referenced/updated on a regular basis. The thing with risk management is that nobody wants to think about any of these things actually happening, everyone wants to be an optimist, and it's up to the project manager to be a pessimist and force the team to think of the worst case scenarios. Including this process of thinking through the risks and coming up with solutions should put people at ease, knowing that there is a plan in place to handle anything that comes their way. And even more so, posting the information in a public area will help to remind everyone that yes these risks are out there but we are prepared for them if and when they present themselves.


Samad Aidane said...


This is a great way to bring home the importance of risk management.

I have been thinking for quite some time about why it is so hard to manage risk on projects.

I think the reason risk management, at least the way we practice it in projects, is hard is because it is so unnatural. It is not the way we normally think of or manage risk in our normal daily life. If you think about how we manage risk in personal life we don’t actually separate planning from risk management. Also we don’t dwell on the things that might happen but on which we have no control. We also don’t sit down and write what we will do when something wrong happens. I think we just know that when something happens we will act based on the information available at the moment when the risk materializes. I am not sure how much of the information we track in our risk logs about risk priorities, probabilities, and mitigation is really useful. This information is probably out of date as soon as it is updated.

So I think we need it is probably time that we re-think the way we currently manage risk on projects and explore new ways to bring this process to be more in line with how we humans naturally think of risk in our daily lives. Doing so will make risk easy to manage and will lead to more successful projects.

I will be thinking more about this and hope to continue the conversation.

Thank you for the nice post.

Samad Aidane

Dina said...

Thanks for the nice words Samad. I actually don't totally agree with you, because maybe it's just my worrier personality (and it probably got worse after 9/11 and even more worse after I had kids in 2004), but I feel like I DO dwell more than I would like on disaster situations and wonder how I would respond. I definitely don't stop and write stuff down, but I kick myself for not being atleast a little bit more prepared.
There was a big campaign in New York City (where I live) to have 'Go Bags' prepared in the event of the next disaster, and I still don't have one ready.

I think writing it down is good because in the event of an emergency we don't always have the piece of mind to think clearly and respond in the best possible way. Similar to the buzz around "The Checklist Manifesto", these doctors who discovered how much more successful they were in the operating room when they had checklists handy. So, having things written down and/or in a list might not be such a terrible thing. But, that's just my opinion...

Samad Aidane said...


Thank you.

This makes for a great topic to further explore on our blogs in teh future.

The question that has been on my mind for a while is this:

Is conventional risk-management, as we learned it in the PM textbooks, still applicable in today's complex project environments?

In my experience, most of the real risks we face, in the current complex project environment, are associated with human interactions and human dynamics. Yet, the impact of such risks is not easy to quantify.

Another question is: if the answer to the above question is yes, then why is it so hard to get project team members fully engaged in risk management, so that Risk Management is not just the concern of the project manager (which is usually the case) but that of the entire project team and stakeholder community.

I don’t have the answers but these are certainly questions that have been on my mind.

I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Thank you Dina.


Samad Aidane

Dina said...

Hi Samad,
I wonder if it goes back to the same problem that people just don't like thinking negatively about their work? People want to think that everything will go perfectly, and maybe they are afraid to bring up any risks because it would look like they can't do their job properly.

It's been my experience that when I ask someone to document something so that we have it accessible if he/she is not available on a given day, the more junior worker will be very suspicious with my request. People think that if we are asking for documentation it's because they are going to be fired or laid off, not because we are trying to cover ourselves in the event of something unexpected happening (sickness, vacation, hit by a bus...you know).

So, maybe there is a new way to handle risk management but I wonder if it will always be a challenge with many team members.

Expert Program Management said...

That's a great idea, and like all the best ideas - it's so simple! I think I might post the project risks above our coffee machine!

Dina said...

Thanks! Yes, I think above the coffee machine is a great place!