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Who needs Risk Management? – Part 1
By Adrian Abramovici

Quoting from the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK: “Risk management is the systematic process of planning for, identifying, analyzing, developing responses and monitoring and controlling project risk. It aims to maximize the probability and impacts of positive events and minimize the probability and impacts of adverse events to project objectives.”
Quoting from a former manager of mine: “There are no Risks on this project! Project Management IS Risk Management – so just go do your job! All that Risk Management stuff is just another waste of time and money!”

Hmmmm….

Time and again I see Project Managers debate Risk Management, some dismissing it out of hand (something like “Good management takes care of that!”), others paying it lip service as you would do to a fad that must surely pass, and yet others making a full-fledged Ph. D out of it with values, percentages and probabilities defined to the third decimal place….
So ….Who Is Right?

An Almost True Story

Direct quote from the ancient records on the Vale De Bluff cave walls:
“The dawn was breaking outside the cave, and the howling wind during the night had managed to blow out the little fire the hunting party set up in the middle of the cave.

Well, cave was an overstatement – more like a hole in the mountain side overlooking the river bend, and the party of eight barely fit inside, stacked tight, with Aargh last and closest to the entrance, just in case. For Aargh was the leader of the band now that Bouz and Barm were lost to the sabre-tooth two days ago, and she was big and strong and… and their last hope. Min, the other adult female left, was too young to be of much help, and the men, well, they were just … men.

The Band has always been led by the stronger females, with the men doing all the support work – cooking, sewing, raising children, when any were had. No war, no hunting was ever entrusted to the weaklings, but they did have their use when any of the females felt like it.

Anyway, this band, the Bouz Band – make that the Aargh band now, was a weak shadow of it’s own past. Down to just two warriors, one really, they haven’t eaten much in a week, slept little, and lost eight members including four warriors in less than ten days. The band was in a bad way.

But they had hopes. The youngling mammoth they were pursuing, a baby, really, was hurt, and was close. Better yet, the band managed to get it cornered between them and fork in the river not far away. The baby mammoth didn’t know it, but tomorrow, with the light of day, Aargh and Min were to finish the job – and then there would be food.

What woke Pm was not the chill air in the cave, nor the first rays of the sun. It was the grumbling stomach of Aargh, sleeping next to him. Or maybe it was his own? Anyway, he stirred, then got up and looked out from the cave mouth.

The sun was coming up between the hills neatly bottling up the river fork. The small passage between them was filled with spiked sticks they had driven into the ground the nigh before, pointing towards the fork. The mammoth did not attempt to escape at night, it must have been just as tired as they were. That was good.

Pm looked at the fire and thought of getting it going again, but what for? They had nothing to cook on it, and the few sticks left to feed the fire with were not worth the bother.

Aargh was up by now, and so were the others.

“Aargh…. Must go. Min, come, food.”

Pm was the strongest and smartest of the weaklings, and he had proven his worth time and again, so Aargh sometimes allowed him to speak… “Aaaa, but how about the baby’s mother? We heard thrashing last sun, and you found those huge prints..” said he.

“Aargh! You no know hunt. Big fur dead. Me kill small fur. Gather wood. Min, come!” and she stalked out, spear and club in hand, followed by the smaller Min.

“But Aargh, there is a risk the mother mammoth will come to the rescue, and have YOU cornered in the river fork! We should put a plan in place!”

“What is Rsk? Bouz had no rsk, not Barm before. Rsssk! Shut up! Get wood!” she threw over her massive shoulder as she stalked down the incline.

Pm was still worried. To him there was a clear risk there, as the last two warriors could easily turn from hunters into hunted if mama mammoth showed up… or another sabre-tooth.

So Pm got his band-brothers to cut more stakes, longer ones this time, and drive them into the ground between the hills, pointing the other way. Then he quickly took them onto the other hill, which was strewn with big boulders and had a clean drop down onto the path before the stakes. He tried to move a boulder, but it wouldn’t budge. Too big. So he sent Pe down to get more wood, thicker branches they could use to stick at the bottom of the boulders and get them dislodged.

When Pe and his helpers came back up, Pm laid out his mitigation plan to them.

“Two of you for each big boulder. If the mammoth appears, one puts the stick into the ground and lifts, dislodging the boulder, and the other pushes. PE is first, on the boulder further away from the stakes, so his boulder hopefully will block the mammoth’s escape. Then we launch the other three, to kill it. Any questions?”

“If mammoth escapes?” asked Pe?

“Good question. We need a Contingency plan. If it breaks through the stakes, we follow it and attack from behind when Aargh and Min attack it. If it runs away past Pe’s boulder, well, good riddance!”

They settled in to wait, but not for long. Thrashing sounds and screams from the baby mammoth being attacked in the tall grass of the river fork were quickly echoed by some significant thrashing on the other side of the barrier, and with the loud trumpeting of its arrival, the big mammoth showed up.

It was big, but it was wounded, probably by another hunting party or through an accident. Who knows, and Pm didn’t care, but was happy to see the big beast dragging a front leg.

The mammoth walked up to the stakes and tried to push through, getting more wounds on the legs and in the chest. As it trumpeted its arrival, PE launched his boulder, which hit the animal on the hind legs, making it bend one and kneel. Then PM and his people launched their boulders. One missed, but the other two did not.

The mortally wounded animal was left to moan under the boulders, as the men ran forward to see how Aargh did, and found her hunched behind the baby mammoth’s body, looking their way in preparation for the attacking angry female.

“No worry” said Pm. “We mitigated the Risk, and were successful in reducing it to zero. We also had a contingency plan in place, but it wasn’t needed. Let’s feast!”

“You talk funny! But maybe no more weakling. Saved me, you did. So now you no more Pm, now you name be Pmp, to remember this. Aargh!” she said.

End Quote

And that was the first recorded certification in history. You can check the records on the cave wall….. As for any similarities with certain well-known acronyms – search me, that language the ancients were using was a funny one!

Based on this overwhelming evidence, I believe that it is proven beyond doubt that Project Managers have evaluated risks and attempted to mitigate them from the dawn of time: we started using animal skins to mitigate the risk of freezing! Full fledged Project Risk management started with the first organized animal hunt by our caveman ancestors. They just didn’t call it that, they called it ….. survival!

But if that is the case, why all the hoopla and the books and the seminars – why, if we just do what we always sort of did anyway?

More on this quandary in the next posting….

Adrian Abramovici is, after more than 25 years of aerospace project management, an executive in the rail transportation industry based in Toronto, Canada. He is writing about his experiences and views on Project Management, Risk Management and the day-to-day frustrations and successes of leadership at http://themasochisticpm.spaces.live.com

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