Things Rarely Turn Out As Expected
An extract from Simply Brilliant
AUTHOR: Fergus O’Connell
2. Risks are threats to your project or venture. In assessing a particular risk, one of the main factors to consider is the likelihood of the risk happening.
3. In assessing a particular risk, one of the main factors to consider is the impact that risk will have if it should happen.
‘Life is full of surprises.’ There perhaps isn’t a week goes by that we don’t find ourselves either saying this or being reminded of how true it is. In a sense, a lot of the things we’ve talked about so far – rule 2, know what you’re trying to do; 3, there is always a sequence of events; 4, things don’t get done if people don’t do them – have been about trying to reduce the likelihood of these surprises happening. You can think of dance cards as a way of looking into the future and searching for surprises.
Despite our best efforts, however, there will always be surprises out there waiting for us. ‘If you don’t actively attack the risks [on your project],’ software authority Tom Gilb has written, ‘the risks will actively attack you.’ Sometimes I think we are like people walking through minefields. The tools we have described give us partial maps of the minefield, but we know that these maps are incomplete and that unknown mines still lie there waiting for us.
“This tool is the equivalent of wearing body armour as we pass through the minefield”To deal with these mines, we need some tools, and we will describe two. The first is the use of contingency or padding or margin for error. This tool is the equivalent of wearing body armour as we pass through the minefield. We know the mines are there, we assume that it is going to be impossible to avoid stepping on some of them, so some of them will definitely explode. What we want to ensure, then, is that the explosions don’t kill us. This is not a stupid approach. Not dying is a laudable and worthwhile aim! Contingency is a reactive thing. When a surprise occurs, the contingency (we hope) enables us to deal with it.
However, we can also do a smarter thing. We can look out over the minefield and identify suspicious looking bumps in the ground or signs of digging and say that there is a fair likelihood that there is a mine in a certain place. Then, as we progress through the minefield, we can try to manage our progress as best we can to get past those particular mines. These mines may still go off – and then the contingency is there to save our bacon. Not only that, but we may also have taken specific additional measures to deal with specific mines. And if the mines don’t go off, then so much the better – our efforts will be repaid many times over in terms of the number of ‘firefights’ we don’t have to fight. This latter approach is called risk management. These two tools – the use of contingency and risk management – are described in the next section. And as for the questions at the top of the chapter – you should have answered true to all three of them. Read on if you’re in any doubt…