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Risk, Captain Kirk, and good governance

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‘…  I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great. Risk. Risk is our business. That's what this starship is all about’[1].

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, starship USS Enterprise

Captain Kirk, at the end of talking with his team, closes by saying ‘they could dissent without prejudice[2]

So where are the risks?

At project initiation and during delivery we need to assess and regularly review risks. We can identify those that are less likely to occur based on our experience and ask of the project team their views. Yet is the biggest risk a cultural one?

In a BBC News article published in September 2017 about Northern Rock[3], Gary Hoffman who was brought in as Chief Executive of Northern Rock says:

"The management had completely lost touch with the coal face, and did not know what was happening. There was an attitude that you did not question what was going on, which was a tragedy because there were extremely good people at the bank."

The content of the programme or project risk register needs to represent reality, not contain a list of shallow, trite, superficial items that add no substance and are without gravitas. To do this may require the asking of difficult questions, and for those asking the questions to be confident they can do so without fear of retribution or blame from those who now need to listen. They will require the support of the Programme Executive or the Project Executive, who themselves will be working within the culture of the organisation[4].


As project professionals, by understanding the corporate culture, we can assess the project risks in a wider context: working with the Project Board to create an environment in which it is acceptable for individuals to raise their views on potential risks, to be able to comment, as Captain Kirk notes ‘without prejudice’. By doing so we are reducing the chance of failure. Risks can be expected, considered, identified, understood, managed and mitigated.

The project team will have a more realistic assessment of the challenges ahead and greater confidence in the plans for successful delivery. 

[1] Star Trek, TV Series, Return to Tomorrow (1968)

[2] ibid


[4] For details on risks, culture and more information see Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards, Report of Observations, The Financial Reporting Council, 2016, page 26


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