Why do we have so much fire fighting, even when we manage our development process methodically?

January 2002 Quick Tip

Fire fighting is usually a result of dealing with project uncertainty reactively, rather than working proactively to resolve project surprises before they happen.

As companies have adopted formal product development processes, they have started listing project risks explicitly in the initial phase of the project. Curiously, however, this list of risks is often considered as a “deliverable” in itself, and the vital work of developing and monitoring action plans to resolve the risks never happens, due to the push to get on with the “real” work of the project.

We have just finished writing a new book, “Proactive Risk Management: Controlling Uncertainty in Product Development.” A panel of nearly 50 reviewers chose the chapters they wanted to review. Interestingly, one of the most popular chapters was the one on identifying project risks, and least popular were the ones on planning and executing action plans! No wonder we keep having last-minute surprises in projects!

And no wonder that we have no time to work on resolving risks — we are too busy fighting fires! The objective of effective project risk management is to identify and deal with risks before they happen, precluding the fire fighting. From this viewpoint, project management is risk management.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.