By Bill Flury

You and your project team are probably pretty good at identifying the risks that you are likely to encounter. If you have some real pessimists on your team you may find that they can think up even the most unlikely risks you could face. Getting a comprehensive list of the risks and evaluating their probability and impact on your project is good. Unfortunately, many project teams stop there. They prepare their ranked list of risks and then try to prevent their occurrence. They are not always successful. What they feared actually happens. So, then what should they do?

When one of the risks actually materializes it becomes an issue that now must be actively managed. That’s a whole new problem — one that has different dynamics and requires different skill sets. The time for prevention is over. Now the team has to work its way through a crisis.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Norm Augustine recommended what you need to do to “Manage the Crises You Tried to Prevent”. They are:

1. Recognize the problem
2. Prepare to manage the new crisis
3. Determine how to resolve the problems
4. Organize to manage the problem
5. Develop a containment strategy — and use it
6. Plan future prevention
7. Close out the effort when you are done

This is good advice from a recognized expert in the field. Maybe your team has already thought through all of these potential steps for all of the risks they have forecast. If they have, that would be very unusual. Most teams do not start to think about these things until the moment the risk appears on their doorstep ready to be managed. That’s too late and that’s why we have invented this game.

BiZ-Risk: The Game
This game is designed for project work teams to play from time-to-time, perhaps at a “Brown-Bag Lunch”. The primary purpose of the game is to get the team thinking about the situations that Norm has suggested. It is also intended to be interesting, instructive, useful, and FUN!

How to Play BiZ-Risk
The players should include members of the project team or work group that share the same set of risks. Many of them will probably have participated earlier in development of the group’s Risk list. Any number can play but it’s best to have at least three. To start, each player should choose a number between 1 and 7. This will determine their order of play.

The game is played by having players address the key questions that Augustine’s article suggested. Players score points by coming up with good answers for their assigned questions. Scoring is as follows:

  • Provide the initial answer to a question: 4 Points
  • Add significantly to an initial answer: 1 Point
  • Leader may award extra points for exceptional contribution to an answer.
  • Players should try to accumulate as many points as possible.

One person should be chosen to lead the game, keep score, and, at the end, to summarize the results. The game starts with the leader choosing a risk at random from the group’s documented Risk List. That risk, identified earlier, will be subject of all further play.

Play starts with Player # 1 addressing Question # 1.

1. Recognize the Problem: How can we tell if this is really the risk we identified earlier or something else?

  • After the player provides an answer the group will discuss the answer until they reach agreement. Players gain points based on the outcome of the discussion. (See scoring rules)
  • Play proceeds with the next player addressing the next question.

2. Prepare to Manage the Issue: How could we determine how big a deal this is going to be for us?
3. Resolve the Problems: What will we have to do to resolve the issue?
4. Organize to Manage the problem: How could we organize our team to manage this?
5. Develop a Containment Strategy: How can we best limit the damage?
6. Plan Future Prevention: How could this have been prevented?
7. Close Out the Effort: How would we know when we are done?

Play ends after the last player answers the last question. At that point the leader summarizes the results of the discussions and totals the scores.

Here is an Example:

An active project team had these three items on their Risk Watch List.

1. Vendor components may fail to meet requirements: A vendor may misunderstand requirements or deliver components that are completely off the mark.
2. Process inputs are low quality: Inputs from stakeholders may be too low quality to be actionable (e.g. poorly written business case, unclear change requests).
3. Project estimates may turn out to be much too low: Estimates may be unrealistically too low and may jeopardize our cost and schedule performance ratings with our client.

The players chose to address Risk number 03. Here, briefly, is how it went. Jane started by addressing the first question:

1. Recognize the Problem: How can we tell if this is really the risk we identified earlier or something else?

Jane: I think the first thing we need to do is go over the assumptions the estimators made about how much work was really involved. We should see if they had a complete Work Breakdown Structure and check it to see if their estimates for this type of work were based on experience or were just guesses.
Chris: We better also check to be really sure that execution is not also part of the mis-match problem. We could really be taking longer than we should for some parts of the work.

2. Prepare to Manage the Issue: How could we determine how big a deal this is going to be for us?

Charlie: We are probably going to have to take some time and go over the estimate process very carefully. As Jane said, we need to look at the WBS they were working with and redo it if necessary.
Roger: They had some people they called “experts” making guesses on some of the weird stuff so we better check just how “expert” they really were.

3. Resolve the Problems: What will we have to do to resolve the issue?

Adjuaun: There are several things to be resolved. First, the estimates have to be corrected. Then, we have got to get the work we’re doing lined up with the estimates. Finally, we’ve got to get our client on board with what we’re doing.
Chris: I’ll go back to my earlier comment. We had better be certain that we are not really taking too long to do our tasks. We should review what we have done so far to be sure.

4. Organize to Manage the problem: How could we organize our team to manage this?

Natasha: There is enough of a problem here that we would need to set up a mini project within our team to address it. We could task that project to: correct the estimate and the estimating process; adjust the cost and schedule targets; and re-align the project tasking.
Sonja: We would also need to set a near term target date to get all this done so we won’t have a continuing crisis.

 5. Develop a Containment Strategy: How can we best limit the damage?

Roger: We have to openly acknowledge that we have this problem and let all the shareholders know that we are busy working on it. This is not only a technical problem, it has a Public Relations component, too.
Natasha: There may be some contract issues here. Someone will need to check that.
Sonja: This kind of thing could easily happen again so we had better document these ideas and put them in our Risk Lessons Learned file.

6. Plan Future Prevention: How could this have been prevented?

Sonja: We should have picked up this problem sooner. We should have been able to see the discrepancy after just a couple of weeks.
Chris: We should tighten up our process to compare the progress of the project against the estimates.
Adjuan: We could have gotten together as a team at the beginning and worked through the estimate with the estimators.

7. Close Out the Effort: How would we know when we are done?

Chris: I’m not sure that we will ever be completely done with this issue. Requirements keep changing so we are always going to have to keep making new estimates and checking them. We’ll be done when we have confidence that our estimating process is working well and the estimates and actuals are consistently in sync.

End of the Example – Scores
Jane 4 + 0
Charlie 4 + 0
Adjuan 4 + 1
Natasha 4 + 1
Roger 4 + 1
Sonja 4 + 2
Chris 4 + 3

It’s More than Just a Game
I am reminded of the story about a dog who liked to chase sports cars. He always believed that there was a good probability that he might catch one. Then, one day he did catch one — and he had no idea what to do with it. So it is with most project teams that I have worked with. They know that there is a probability of many different bad things that could happen but they don’t really have much of an idea about what to do about them when they occur.

We could have presented this concept as a checklist for “What to Do When the Risk Comes True” but that would have made it look like a chore. The game approach should be more fun and has the potential to yield some other benefits.

First, it includes all of the key questions that need to be addressed in these situations. Second, it provides practice for the team members in thinking about and sharing ideas about a critical aspect of their work. Finally, if it just so happens that the team chooses to play a risk that really does become an issue on their project they are way ahead of the game. BiZ-Risk Game will have prepared them for the real business game.

Ready to play? It’s your turn. Let me know how the game goes! And for additional information on how to handle risk check out our white paper ‘Manage Risk: Don’t Let it Manage You!’

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