The Norwegian authorities have implemented a general risk management policy regarding possibilities for children to play freely. The recommendations are that climbing should take place in approved playground equipment with EU-approved sand that reduces the impact of a fall. Parents who let their children climb trees are at risk of being viewed as irresponsible by other parents with a lower level of risk willingness.
But how can you learn to assess risk and develop skills if you always play it safe? Trial and error are an important part of a child’s development.
Having been a project manager for many years, I have considerable experience with risk management in projects. But unlike with a child’s development, projects need to involve a more conscious awareness of the risks we are willing to take. Trial and error is not a good approach to large, complex projects.
Why risk management is important in projects
The most obvious reason is that the unexpected will always occur – regardless of whether all possibilities have been considered beforehand or not. This is what we refer to as ‘risk occurrence’.
And when the unexpected happens, we are either prepared or unprepared. If you are not prepared for the consequences and have not taken the time to analyse and assess risk-limiting measures, it may be too late to reduce the probability of a risk occurring.
The only possible response is to take measures that may or may not reduce the consequences. Such measures are usually both time-consuming and costly and may very well result in an exceedance of the project’s capacity.
On the other hand, if time is devoted to identifying and discussing relevant risks, good risk management can be achieved. This approach makes it possible to determine creative and concrete measures – that can be embraced by those who have to implement them. This shortens the path to a good solution when a risk occurs.
Perceived as a waste of time
Although, in some cases, good risk management can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful project, I have noticed that project managers and participants almost always consider risk management to be of little interest. It is brushed off as time-consuming, difficult and boring.
Many of those involved in projects are skilled professionals. They are experienced project managers or problem-solvers who are used to finding good solutions to challenges while thinking on their feet. Consequently, they feel it is a waste of time to discuss risk – i.e. what might happen – instead of simply doing things right the first time.
I’ve also heard managers express the belief that risk management is wasted time. They believe it is easier to say “fix it!” than to take on the responsibility of and actively work to support the project.
Projects with a good risk management process can handle challenging and large tasks, not to mention control the probability and consequences of risks that occur – not unlike the skills needed to climb the tallest trees safely.