Project risk is something to be avoided…isn’t it? Not exactly. There are two sides to any risk ; a threat and an opportunity. As project leaders we’re often well acquainted with the former, but harvesting opportunities is a less common part of our position. We spend more time preventing project disaster then we do in exploiting the possibilities of an unexpected event. I’ll use this article to examine the more positive side of risk and how we can become more proficient at yielding the fruit of fortune.
Issue Or New Scope
A common occurrence on any project is the arrival of some unexpected defect or issue. The usual course we take is to find some way to settle and resolve the issue within the existing baseline of the project or tap some contingency to seek a solution. The goal all along is to to minimize the cost of resolution, dreading its impact and hastening its fix. But why not think the other way? Why not maximize the investment for a solution? Especially if that issue is core to the business or strategic. Thinking this way you look beyond the current scope of your project and see the entire landscape of business operations. Rather than cheaply shoving the issue under the carpet…you bring it to the forefront for a bolder strategy entailing, potentially, deep change to your project’s direction.
So you’ve got a project in a big organization. Don’t assume that the project HAS to exist. What do I mean? Look around your organization and become acquainted with the portfolio landscape. Usually there are projects and programs of similar nature. Rather than push onward with your effort oblivious to these synergies: call them out. Do the research. Can project A be accomplished within Project B by just making a few changes to Project B’s overall scope and budget? How much would the company save if the two projects were merged? What other projects, perhaps more deserving of resource allocation, could be spun up if projects A and B were combined? You get the point. Projects that have similar focus and direction often get created. Its one of the inefficiencies of scale. By seeing this opportunity and capitalizing on it you put yourself and your company in a better position.
It’s Already Done
Another event that presents opportunity is using existing systems and functionality to accomplish project requirements. It’s not uncommon for those working with you on the project to be unaware that another system or set of functionality already exists to accomplish the project’s objectives. Whether inside or outside the organization there is often a piece of software or service that can already accomplish your project’s needs. Ask the obvious question: why not use it? Don’t assume that your stakeholders have already thought this through. By using what works and exists today you could potentially save everyone a lot of money, time and effort.
You’re working with an offshore European vendor on a time and material basis. You’ve agreed to pay them in Euros. But your project budget is denominated in Dollars. The Euro drops considerably against the Dollar through the life of your project and an opportunity is just created for you. You’re project is now paying out fewer dollars for the same amount of Euro denominated work. Keep in mind this positive turn in exchange rates can also work in reverse…yielding a threat to your budget. But under the rosy scenario your project could end up with a reserve at conclusion. While not an opportunity you specifically created..its one that all project managers working with foreign vendors should be aware of. If you don’t understand exchange rates and their impact on your project funds…it would be advisable to become literate. In most cases your IT Finance group and the legal team may have already worked out a way to hedge currency risk for you, but its still worth understanding so you have a better grasp of the ‘real’ costs of doing business with the foreign vendor and how to use them to your advantage.
There are others. But hopefully you see the possibilities. We’re looking at project events and asking: how can we benefit from this? How do we turn this event into something good? Bringing this mental paradigm with you to your projects shows a different side of you. It paints you in a new light. You’re not just the guy trying to keep things on schedule, budget and within scope. You’re thinking outside the box and making new connections. That’s the material of program and portfolio leads and ultimately executives. Embracing risk is just as important as avoiding or mitigating it. Fundamentally, always ask the question: is this risk a threat or an opportunity?
Christopher R Goldsbury is a software development manager and professional with 15 years experience in various flavored technologies as well as experience in production/operations management, project management, enterprise & software architecture, operational risk management, and human motivation. You can read his experiences and ideas at his blog or connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter by following @goldzee.
More by this author:
- Don’t Let Your Project Issues Manage You
- Meetings Are a Microcosm of Organizational Dynamics
- The Culture Shock of Transitioning To Agile
- Six Things To Avoid When Reporting Project Status
- That’s Great… But How Does Agile Benefit Our Shareholders?
- This Daily Standup is a Joke
- An Axiom of Project Success