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It's time to put risk workshops online

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During the heady days of the 1980s the pioneering work of the leaders of an emerging project management profession positioned risk management as a central, if not the central, activity.

The day of the risk workshop arrived. As a means of eliciting, gathering and collating risks on a team basis that would then collectively form the risk register the workshop was unbeatable.

However, to work effectively the challenge was to get all stakeholders who needed to be in one room there at the same time.

Today we operate in a faster environment where there is an ever-greater pressure on time, cost and quality. These are challenging times for the human resources delivering the product or service and in making remuneration balance cost expended to give a reasonable margin. It is little wonder that the value of the risk workshop has become debased.

The expectation of a risk workshop is that it allows the coming together to work

collaboratively and share information as a means of finding out the concerns of individuals about a project.

In whatever way there needs to be evaluation of these concerns in terms of impact and probability for ranking and turning them into risks. The beginnings of a risk register emerge. Inherent threats to the effectiveness of a risk workshop occur in identifying all the necessary people as stakeholders in the first place and then the pressure of diaries and schedules frustrating the logistical challenge of getting the right people into the right room at the right time and in the right place.

The construction industry is not renowned for its collaboration, openness and transparency. Why should a risk workshop buck the trend of the industrys endemic lack of trust even for a short period?

Today participants at a risk workshop might be protecting personal and corporate positions in an attempt to balance the aims of the project with personal and corporate agendas.

With IT dominating means of communication, is it possible to do better? Could not part of the information gathering process at least be online and the output from the online element fed into the project meeting schedules for consideration and risk mitigation measures?

Such information gathering would reduce the need for traditional workshops, increase the effectiveness of the risk process and overall improve risk management. Some might call this information gathering an online workshop.

The online risk workshop uses a process called horizon scanning to discover what it is that you do not know about your project. It works by acknowledging that everyone processes information differently.

A perspective on any issue is determined by an individuals own personal window on the world. When a situation arises on a project, each person acts on the information received and responds in their own unique way based on their preconceptions, perceptions and emotions.

While their resulting behaviour is positive or detrimental to the progress of the project there is seldom consideration of the behaviour itself and as risks in themselves.

Such behaviours are risks and can, and should, be monitored and managed. The premise of the monitoring and the management of it is that the information and knowledge the project needs is contained within the delivery team. The challenge is gaining access to information and understanding it in the context of the project.

The two key areas to identify are specific risks (either that are new risks to the project or where there is a concern about the effectiveness of the management and mitigation of an area of the project by the delivery team) and the divergence of perception between delivery team members about a known risk or general project progress.

Horizon scanning for new risks or ineffective management or mitigation of project concerns enables them to be communicated across the project delivery team so that all parties are aware of the risks and their role in managing or mitigating them. The elimination of surprise provides for a clearer and strategic approach to risk on the project.

The divergence of perception between teams is a more difficult risk to quantify; after all, it is just personal opinion, some of them may in fact be wrong, so why go to the bother of understanding it?

Those who are open to feedback about managing projects are acutely aware of the moment on a project where a manageable issue turns into a dispute. The red mist descends, personal and professional egos stand between swift consensual resolution and full-blown dispute.

In each circumstance, early identification gives a time of opportunity for working through a growing issue without substantially affecting the project. It is at this moment that the issue can be resolved in tandem with the progression of the project.

A former colleague of mine, Alastair Farr who is now managing director of Driver Trett Asia Pacific, shares this view: We are always looking for innovative ways in which we can add value to the services we offer our clients. Working with them to manage disputes and prevent unnecessary dispute escalation is far more effective where we have early warning of developing issues. The underlying issues may be technical or down to communication failure but the sooner we identify and rectify the problem, the sooner the project can move on.

When articulating the value of effective horizon scanning on a project it is important to consider the real cost of escalating disputes.

Unlike insurance, which, until something goes wrong is just a cost, by taking the results of a horizon scanning exercise and effectively communicating them across the project delivery team, there is an increase in engagement and a decrease in the likelihood of issues escalating into disputes or unmanaged risks damaging the project.

The transparency of information and knowledge on the project also enables the targeting of ever-limited project resources at areas of the project most in need at the most appropriate time.


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  1. Iain McCallum
    Iain McCallum 18 September 2014, 02:15 PM

    I have to agree with David Hillson's comment. The further you read this article the more it reads as an advertisement. Whilst the article does raise some good points alternative ways of addressing a problem I do feel a bit uneasy with it and the direction it's taken.

  2. David Hillson
    David Hillson 12 September 2014, 11:15 AM

    Hmmm, is this just a poorly-disguised advertisement for the project horizon scanning tool developed by Stephen's company?