I live near Mt Timpanogos in Utah, I love to hike on its slopes and trails all through the year. Wednesday, just before a major spring storm was to blow in for several days, I grabbed my small pack and headed up Grove Creek Trail towards the snow. There were very few cars at the trail head, and in an afternoon of walking I only saw two people, both leaving the area before the storm blanked the lower slopes of the mountain in snow. The solitude was nice, but it could also be deadly. With the front edge of the storm already blowing in, the chances of anyone else hiking the same trail was small. If I was injured, my where-a-bouts would be covered with a fresh blanket of spring snow within hours. Low clouds would prevent search and rescue helicopters from being useful. As I contemplated these conditions during the first mile of my hike, I felt at ease, rather than worried. I’d left directions behind of where I was going, and when I’d be back. My hiking pack contained everything I needed to deal with an unexpected night on the mountain; including food, first-aid, fire, and the ability to make a small shelter. As I was taught in the Boy Scouts, I was prepared.
When a project starts up, we are often in a hurry to get into the “doing the work” of the project. As a PMO manager I’ve watched Project Managers rush off to get the project up and running as quickly as possible. It’s as if they need to be the first one out on the trail. Then, even before there are problems, they begin looking over their shoulders and the approaching storm, and worried about failure, begin to take unplanned drastic action. They call it risk management, but it’s really just panic. Before my hike, I’d thought out all the things I might need if the unexpected happened. We should do the same when starting a project.
Before work starts, and while the first plans, the RFP, the SOW, contracts and other documents are fresh, build a list of assumptions.
- What drove the time estimate?
- How was the budget created?
- How strong are the skill sets of the people doing the work?
- Where will politics get in the way?
- What happened last time?
- What can go wrong?
From the list of assumptions, build a risk list, and then mitigation plans to address the risks. Those mitigation plans will support you should anything go wrong as the project progresses, and you will be prepared from the start.
Different types of projects will have different lists. When I hike in the desert, I take different items than when I hike in the mountains. Your risk mitigation list for an Agile project will be different from an ERP organizational change project. But all projects should have a list created as the project starts.