Risk management or self-deception? (2)

Are the common approaches to risk management in projects still up to date?

I think not.

In a world in which more change takes place every day than in the whole of 1880, the almost exclusive focus on what is known and experienced is de facto pure arrogance paired with ignorance (and this also applies to Central Switzerland).

Even iterative approaches such as Scrum, which are rightly said to be better suited to rapid change and high complexity, provide only partial concrete answers. Shorter sprints and transparency about the state of the delivery outcomes are very helpful, but do not turn a turkey into a visionary yet.

But how can we position ourselves in projects in such a way that we are better prepared for unknown unknowns, or perhaps even draw something positive from them?

It is getting thinner here, but not as in central Switzerland.

And now I’m back to the first part of my contribution and my assessment that I haven’t thought this through to the end.

I can’t (yet?) deliver patent recipes. First of all, it is only food for thought, which can help in dealing with changes in projects and modifying one’s own behaviour not only to address randomness, but to make it an ally.

At present, there is much talk about “resilience” as a recipe against susceptibility. Resilience or robustness, however, do not bring any real development: the resilient turkey does not survive Thanksgiving either.

And now finally a few concrete considerations:

  • If experience-based forecasts do not protect the turkey from the Black Swan, why continue to rely on forecasts in this context? It is much easier to see if something is vulnerable than to predict events. Knowing the imponderability of making decisions and communicating them is more promising than explaining later why things had to go wrong.
  • What actually makes systems stable? Often it is layers of redundancy (overcompensation); these are particularly easy to observe in nature.
    For example: A tobacco species in North America can only be pollinated by a very specific insect, whose caterpillars are unfortunately also the plant’s biggest enemy. If the plant is nibbled by this caterpillar species (amazing how the plant knows that it is exactly this caterpillar species), it releases a scent that attracts the particular caterpillar’s greatest predator, a beetle (first protective layer). If this does not work sufficiently, the plant transforms its flowers so that pollinating insects (the one with the caterpillars) can no longer crawl into the flowers and thus move on (second protective layer). For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that the above-mentioned scent warns other plants of the same species close by and the flower transformation takes place in such a way that hummingbirds can take over the pollination job.
  • Detailed planning means that deviations are perceived as harmful rather than helpful to those involved in the project. Forward-looking action is therefore called for, which in turn means a quite high level of prognosis. Randomness cannot be eliminated by trying to eliminate randomness, because chance does not give a damn about our efforts!
    Randomness is to a certain extent the fuel, because detours can also lead to the goal. If this is combined with the acceptance of a certain variation in the delivery outcomes, this already has some characteristics of the above-mentioned tobacco.
  • “Prepare for the worst, the best will take care of itself” is a proverb. To deal with the unlikely instead of relying exclusively on forecasts would probably have helped the Lehmann brothers.

If we just take a good look around us, we will find dozens of examples of systems that have proven more than just robust against black swans. I appeal you to learn from them. I call for more to be collected and for consideration to be given to how we can better integrate them into organisations and their projects. Everywhere, even outside central Switzerland.

Original text: RGE
English translation: BCO


  • Treat me badly (1): RGE

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