At least acknowledge the “school solution”

“School solution” is a military-phrase for the standard way in which one would approach a problem or scenario.  While the phrase often is applied pejoratively, it doesn’t have to be so.  In fact, sometimes I wish I heard more folks at least make a gesture towards such standards.

This concept came to mind when I reviewed a proposed risk management process for our transformation program.  While the basics were OK, there were a few indications that the author didn’t know the school solution.  For example, every response was assumed to be “mitigation”.  The proposal also assumed that the risk evaluation would be a “one and done” process… he seemed surprised that we wanted reviews more frequently than quarterly.

There are valid reasons to structure a risk process in a way that doesn’t go strictly by the book.  For example, I can see using a different review cycle for risks where mitigation is the response than those risks one is accepting.  But please show me that you’ve read the book before you propose that we re-write it!

Why we resist risk mitigation

As my wife and I looked at our relocation, one of our biggest fears was that we would not find satisfactory housing quickly.  It had taken six months of sustained househunting to find our current home, which we ended up building (it was part of an established development).  Our experience led us to worry that our 60 days of temporary housing coverage would leave us stuck renting in Evansville — while also potentially paying for a Rhode Island mortgage — until we found a place.

Therefore, we put some mitigation steps in place.  For example, I used frequent “stayer” points from Marriott and Hilton for our first fews weeks of housing.  We also waited to book temporary housing until after we found a house and our offer was accepted.  We will close next week, so therefore it appears that we have not only mitigated the risk, but avoided it altogether.  However glad I am that this risk went away — or has become very small — I’m not very satisfied by the result.   I felt like I had unnecessarily burned points that I could have used for vacation. 

This experience has given a much better feeling for why some types of risk response get short shrift.  In particular, there isn’t much glory in risk mitigation that lowers the probability of an event.  Sure, one can feel happy about stacking sandbags to stop a flood from damaging one’s basement.  There’s a sense of accomplishment in sticking a finger in the dam, shoring up the wall, etc.

But what about preventing the flood in the first place?  Does anyone appreciate that approach as much?

Getting out from under in projects

Excellent short post by Stacey Douglas on Exit Strategies as part of Project Plans.  Here is how she closes the post:

The inability to gracefully shut down one project when it needs to be shut down is a huge risk to your overall portfolio and to the company itself. Most of the time, the plan may be very simple, but working with your sponsor and stakeholders to identify how to recognize when the project needs to be shut down and what the process is very sensible, holistic risk avoidance for all involved.

She makes a perceptive point about mitigation plans and other risk responses.  When preparing risk responses, we tend to focus on how we will manage an individual risk event – most risk responses are aimed at ensuring that the risk event won’t happen or the impact will be lessened.  In other words, most approaches are aimed at preventing project exits.  It is rare that any contigency or mitigation plan looks at what to do if the project is stopped, never mind advocating termination as a risk response!

We address this topic in our project closure process; but we don’t account for project stoppage explicitly enough.  I’m taking an action item to take a fresh look at how we handle this within project and programs; as well as how we drive project termination in our portfolio monitoring and controlling process.


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