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Is Project Management a laughing matter?

No – it is not! But that should not stop us from approaching this serious matter with a touch of humor.

This post is a lighter look at risks on projects – a.k.a Porcius the Project Manager’s plan to protect himself against the possible phenomenon of a pernicious meteorite pelting him on the pate.

The following discussion between Porcius and his trusted team leader Brutus was overheard the other day:

Risk Identification

“Brutus, do you realize that our project to develop the Pate Protector will be very negatively impacted if anything bad happens to me?” Porcius sighs.

 Although he has his doubts about the marketability of this ‘revolutionary’ steel helmet that is supposed to protect people against meteorites falling from the sky, Brutus knows better than to enter into a mud wrestling contest with Porcius. “Sure will be Mr Porcius – what kind of disaster do you think may occur” he politely inquires without adding out loud the ‘hopefully’ that springs to mind.

“Well, one thing I am particularly concerned about is the very thing that we are trying to avoid – the possibility of a meteorite hitting me on the head before I can complete our project” Porcius responds. ‘Wonderful’ Brutus thinks, but says “What a terrible thought Mr Porcius.” and softly adds in his mind ‘The idiotic idea that is, not the event occurring.’

“It seems to me that you have identified a risk on our project, Mr Porcius.” Brutus says and adds “I have read somewhere that it is estimated that the probability of that occurring is 1 in 700,000.” With an expression on his face that can easily be mistaken for genuine concern for Porcius’ welfare Brutus thinks ‘Unfortunately there is no confirmed case of anybody ever dying as a result of a meteorite strike to the head.’

“Yes, I have also read that, and that is why I am so concerned.” Porcius responds. Still with the look of genuine concern on his face Brutus asks “How do you foresee that it will impact the project if it happens, Mr Porcius?” Porcius thinks so long before responding that Brutus begins to wonder if Porcius’ private brainstorming session did not perhaps create an intracranial lightning bolt causing a short circuit in his brain.  Brutus quickly discounts the idea as it would require Porcius to have a working brain in the first place. Eventually Porcius’ thoughts comes back to earth and he responds “Extremely high my dear Brutus, extremely high!”

“I cannot agree with you more Mr Porcius” Brutus says with a blissful smile on his face while dreaming of all the positive impacts that it can have on the project. Coming back to the discussion at hand he says “Depending on the size of the meteorite you may be lucky to walk away with only a nasty headache Mr Porcius, but on the other hand if it is a size-able meteorite you may be vaporized. Worst case scenario is that all life on earth may become extinct.”

Brutus drifts into his own make believe world. ‘Just think of it – a small pelt to the head may just cause the much needed spark between his two remaining brain cells. On the other hand if he is vaporized I may take over the project and it will be the first time that this project will have a real project manager. If the worst case scenario happens and all life on earth becomes extinct we would have a problem – there would not be anybody left to sell the Pate Protector to.’

Risk Analysis

“I suppose the important question is what are we going to do about it?” Porcius replies. “I agree Mr Porcius, but would that not require us to first clearly define what we understand as the risk?” Brutus responds. “Sure Brutus, how does this sound as a definition of the risk: Due to a meteorite hitting me (Mr Porcius) on the head, the project will have to be completed without the expert knowledge of the project manager with the result that the project timeline will be delayed and the budget will be negatively impacted”

“Sounds good to me” Brutus responds, “and now that we agree on what we see as the risk what do you think the possibility is that it may happen?”  Porcius thinks for a moment. “I agree with the 1 in 700 000 chance that it may happen, and although that is only a 0.0001% probability I am still concerned that it may happen.” “And the impact to the project if it happens?” Brutus probes. “The project will definitely be delayed by at least 6 months” Porcius thinks out load, “and then the costs will most probably also escalate by at least 25%.”

“Okay Mr Porcius” Brutus says and sums up the discussion thus far with “now that we agree on the risk, the probability of occurrence and the impact we can come up with a plan of action to address it – I propose that we work through all the possible response strategies and see which one or combination of responses will be the best, do you agree?”

Risk Response

“You are right – “how can we avoid the risk?” Porcius responds. “We can go and work underground for instance in an old mine shaft” Brutes offers. “But that may be highly expensive and time consuming with the added possibility that the mine may collapse on us.” Porcius contemplates this for a moment. “I do not believe a total avoidance strategy is really required or feasible” Porcius replies. “Especially taking the new risk of a probable shaft collapse into consideration. Let’s have a look at a mitigation strategy.”

“You mean just bringing the probability and or the impact down to an acceptable level?” Brutus enquires. “That’s right, it should be less costly and less time consuming” Porcius replies. Brutus thinks for a moment. Then another moment ……… and another. “This is a tough one” he says. “It would have been nice if we already had the Pate Protector, then you could have worn it Mr Porcius.” Porcius is deep in thought and does not respond. At last his brain cell fires “I could document all my ideas and then, should I get struck by a meteorite, you can take over” Brutes smiles ‘now we are talking!’ he thinks while putting on his humble face. “A brilliant idea Mr Porcius – although it does not address the probability, it surely will lessen the impact.”

“What about transferring the risk?” Porcius wonders out loud. ‘This is going to be interesting’ Brutus thinks. “How do you propose doing that Mr Porcius?” he enquires while trying to ban the smirk from his face. Fortunately Porcius has his hands full trying to manage his own single thought and therefore does not notice Brutus’ sheepish grin. “I could appoint you as my meteorite guard with the responsibility to ensure that I will not be struck by a meteorite” Porcius beams. ‘What worries me the most is that I know he does not have the capacity to joke” Brutus thinks. “I have a slight variation on that brilliant idea Mr Porcius – let’s appoint a professional meteorite guard, else I may not have the time to be your team leader.” “Good point” Porcius agrees, “Let’s see if we can find one.”

“That leaves us with the last response strategy namely accepting it” Brutus observes. “You know what” Porcius replies, “I am beginning to get second thoughts about the need to address this risk – I think we must just accept the possibility and live with the consequences” Brutus stares at Porcius dumbfounded – ‘when and how did he manage a second spark between those two brain cells?’ He recovers quickly and grabs the opportunity with both hands “As always, you are right Mr Porcius – shall I go and get us some coffee?” Brutus hurries away to get the coffee before Porcius has the chance to apply his mind to the positive impacts that this risk may have on the project. Why would he discuss this if he can blissfully daydream about it….

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