Consider What Might Go Wrong

An important role of leadership is to consider all the things that might go wrong, and then to ensure they don’t, or to respond appropriately when they do. Within a development team, it is frequently the project manager who plays this role, with strong support from line management.

Ideally this role is played by someone who can be firm with the team without being grim or demeaning or overzealous. Most of the team will be spending most of their time following the project’s “happy path,” and that’s as it should be. But someone needs to be the responsible parent, looking out for icebergs ahead that could ruin everyone’s journey, and then executing appropriate plans to avoid those sorts of threats. When this is done right, it often appears to be meaningless busy work, but when it is done poorly, or not done at all, it can result in serious impediments to the successful completion of the project, or even outright project failure.

Note that the project management discipline of risk management is part of this responsibility, as is the management of a project’s quality program.

Risk management should not be treated as a spectator sport – too often it consists of nothing more than documenting and reviewing risks, without actually doing anything to avoid their consequences. And risk reviews with leadership should be more than elaborate ceremonies conducted only to convince everyone involved that all risks are within acceptable bounds and so require no real action. In order to effectively manage risks, you must plan real work to reduce the likelihood of a risk occurring, and/or plan an alternative solution should your worst case scenario come to pass.


The outcome of successful planning always looks like luck to saps.


In retrospect, when we as project managers did not explicitly manage our risks, we were being childlike. Our whole industry has been childlike in this respect. Our infatuation with positive thinking and a can-do attitude has fixated us on the best outcomes as we ignored the various realities that could make such outcomes impossible. Considering only the rosy scenario and building it into the project plan is real kid stuff.

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