Effective Risk Management That Isn’t Boring

Last Updated on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 12:39 Written by Jesse Fewell Friday, 24 August 2012 04:00

Last week at Agile 2012, there were a couple Risk Management talks that blew my mind.  I was already comfortable with the notion that Agile methods offer a set of effective IMPLICIT risk management practices (e.g. iterative learning cycles, fully tested iteration increments). But this past week, I learned the community is beginning to mature a set of EXPLICIT risk management practices that can be embedded in your Agile methods.

Mike Griffiths shared his experiments with using collaboration games to improve Risk Management practices. He has a multi-part blog series that goes through the approach in detail, but the most important  can be summarized in 3 points. Meanwhile, LeadingAgile’s very own Dennis Stevens had a talk where he challenged people to move beyond 1-dimensional thinking. Here is my summary of the key points from both talks.

Effective Risk Management Techniques

Make risk planning more engaging. In his talk, Mike asserted that we need to get beyond the idea that Risk Management has to be boring academic exercise. He does this by renaming the standard risk management processes to be more playful. “Risk Identification” becomes “Find Friends and Foes”. “Qualitative Risk Management” becomes “Post Your Ad”, where risks look more like a job board. This helps us get over the anxiety of being perfect or technically correct.

Make risk planning more holistic. Dennis suggested we involved multiple disciplines in risk analysis, rather than just the ivory tower project manager. Technical people, operations people, HR people, all need to be a part of the conversation. He also highlighted our tendency to go straight into the weeds (“IF the shipment of servers is late, THEN our testers will be late getting started”). Instead, Dennis proposed a multi-tiered taxonomy for thinking about risk at progressively higher levels. Specifically, a Risk Category (e.g Security) will cover many different Risk Drivers (e.g. Fraudulent Transactions), which will in turn unearth the Risk Events (“IF a customer deposits  More people thinking about risk at more levels.

Think of risk at multiple levels


Make risk planning more visual. Mike shows a few examples of hands-on collaboration games for performing the risk management processes. This moves the risk conversation into a more whole-brained activity, where both left and right hemisphere activities are engaged. Also, it keeps the risks front-and-center in our minds as we perform the project, rather than having them archived in a spreadsheet somewhere.

Team’s visual brainstorm of risks


What about you: What EXPLICIT risk management techniques do you add into your Agile projects?


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Strategy as Simple Rules

Last Updated on Friday, 16 November 2012 12:53 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Tuesday, 4 March 2008 01:12

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior. “ – Dee Hock, Founder and Former CEO of VISA International

My wife and I help run a small private school in our spare time. That pretty much means that we don’t have much spare time left for anything else. Creating this school has been a great learning experience and can be very rewarding. It can also be very difficult at times balancing the competing needs of all our school families. It has taught us many lessons about what you can accomplish if you put your mind to something, are willing to work hard, and are willing to adapt.

When we started this school, the founding members decided that we value small class sizes and affordable tuition. This philosophy has proven to be a key differentiator for our school and has allowed us to more than double in size over the past year and a half. That said, a business strategy that calls for fewer customers and less revenue can be a little risky. As you might imagine, we have to run a pretty tight ship to keep our little school afloat.

Regardless of the challenges we have faced over the past several years, we have always come back to the idea that we must have small class sizes and affordable tuition. When we are tempted to add more students and ease the financial pressure, we think back to why we founded this school and what makes is special. When considering a tuition increase to provide more services, we think about our promise to keep tuition affordable.

These simple rules have formed the basis of what has become a pretty complex strategy. The rules give guidance to the kinds of teachers we can hire, how we moderate our service offerings, our organizational structure, and our recruiting. The rules form the basis for both our short term and long term growth plans and ultimately shape our vision for the future.

In short, the rules provide a framework to guide our more complex day-to-day decision making.

Even though our school is a non-profit, some days looking more like a ministry than a business, we exhibit all the characteristics of a small startup. We are learning our market, we are learning our customers, we are learning our employees, and as leadership, we are learning each other. It is impossible to predict everything that we will encounter along the way, so by necessity, we have to be open to change… willing to adapt.

Our growth this year has been very challenging. It has stretched some of us to our limits with regard to what we are willing to personally sacrifice to make this school work. People are unpredictable and our school is full of them. It is very tempting to want to put rules in place to manage that unpredictability. We have struggled to stay focused on keeping things simple, to engage people in a way that is empowering and affirming and makes them want to be a part of our school.

We are learning, we are trying to adapt, and to that end, we are extending our simple rules strategy.

Right now we are working to identify our key roles and our key processes. We are looking for a few simple rules to guide how each one operates. Just like we have a few simple rules that influence how we manage our business, we are looking to identify a few simple rules to give direction to our staff and volunteers as they manage their day to day activities. The idea is that as we grow, we want to empower more people to be in charge of more parts of our school.

As leaders, we create opportunity and provide direction. The simple rules will give our team guidance on how to operate in alignment with that direction. Just think what we can accomplish if we are able to tap into the power and creativity of our entire school family; to allow our teachers and volunteers to make decisions, to adapt to their immediate surroundings, all the while staying in alignment with the direction we have set before them.

I think that is pretty powerful stuff and I am excited about what we will certainly be able to accomplish.

More on our school at: http://www.hopespringscs.org

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