What IS Your Risk Management Philosophy?

If the content in the headline doesn’t stop you in your tracks, it will definitely do so when inserted into the content of a job interview question instead.

When it comes to risk management questions in a job interview, the dilemma posed by the headline is hardly alone.

For example:

  1. What tools would you initially use to tackle risk management matters?
  2. What is approach would you take to delegating risk?
  3. When do you feel that an issue has escalated to a risk or threat?
  4. How would you build communication skills within your project team?

If you’re gritting your teeth or watching the sweat bead up on your forehead simply after reading those possible stumpers, don’t worry. We at Arras People think these questions can be dealt with effectively, provided you’re willing to practice this preaching.

1. Hypothesize; Share It; Laugh About It; Talk About It

A colleague at work once told me about her experiences working as a risk assessor. She mentioned organising sessions with project personnel, including the project manager, throwing out hypothetical scenarios that might result in damage to the project’s effective, on-time delivery. Brilliant in its simplicity: Unleash those varied, creative minds within the team and determine exactly what scenarios pose a threat. It might build some camaraderie, too.

For instance, let’s say materials you need can only be transported by ship to the project location. Yet recently, there has been a wave of piracy on the high seas, both in commercial and private boating. While immediate instinct may leave several readers laughing and recalling the zany statements of Steve the Pirate from “Dodgeball”, the good project team will shake off the laughter and give the matter some warranted thought and assessment. The ones who don’t invariably may find themselves the butt of the joke…and the blame.

You might do well if you haven’t done it before to consider using a risk management forum like the above to lay out the risk possibilities standing in your way. Perhaps you might want a facilitator to establish the guidelines and mediate the forum. With an expert on hand, you can get things on the table faster, build communication skills, build team bonding and create the need for delegation.

2. Delegation Is About Trust and Leadership
 
Even if we weren’t talking about risk management, good project managers have a track record that all but demands that they know how to delegate properly. Let’s face it: you simply cannot spend all your time running down the list and chasing down each risk posed to assess them personally – you’ve got to lead the entire project, right? The harried, wary and worried project manager most often finds them stuck in a never-ending maze of tracking, chasing and correcting if he/she can’t rely on their cohorts.
 
But how do you delegate effectively? Overzealous leaders often like to say they could do the job of everyone else on their team if they had the time. While it’s a buzz killing thought for the team dynamic, it is, for the effective delegator, true: Delegation requires thought about the activity that needs to be undertaken, and determination of what the project manager wants it to look like in the end. They do know how to do it, but they’ve got so many other things to keep track of. So in assigning responsibility for any activity, including issue management, the effective risk manager needs to tell the assignee what the end product is meant to look like, and help them get to that end solution by providing support, training, resources, time and advice when required. Remember this simple Benjamin Franklin axiom:

“Involve me and I will understand.”

This quote is part of a bigger statement that has been taken other ways; in this context, though, the project manager or any other team leader should use it as a reminder to give team members ownership through involving them. Suddenly, you established a simple two-way street of trust.
 
3. Differentiate Between Issues and Risk
 
Small, but so important. Issues are managed everyday by members of the team, reported on daily in meetings and monitored constantly. Risk management is necessary when certain issues escalate to a level that directly requires the involvement of the project manager. This is often referred to as ‘management by exception’: Trust the team to monitor & fix (thus adhering to the rule), then put the project manager in immediate charge when the exception comes to be.
 
4. Building Team Communications from the Beginning.
 
Think back to the notion of troubleshooting we mentioned earlier, where hypothetical risk scenarios were posed. Communication bonds, ultimately, can be forged through this activity because of the open nature to brainstorm and spitball – the fact is, you can build from this. The openness and comfort with each other in these sessions could prove crucial your communication techniques as the project advances – this is something a risk manager should take advantage of.
 
The team’s communication culture is the responsibility of the Project Manager – he/she must instil it and maintain it for the betterment of the group. Included in that is the openness and awareness of risk management. Each team member has to understand what their roles, responsibilities and obligations to risk management truly are. Forge a good communication structure, and then all you’ll have to do is, well, communicate it!

This article is reprinted from the November edition of Project Management Tipoffs, the project management newsletter from Arras People. It’s the project management issues and news bulletin no discerning project management professional should be without – be sure to subscribe to Tipoffs today.

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