Preston Smith's Corner

How can I manage my project’s risk when my boss won’t even discuss risk?

April 2003 Quick Tip

Let’s admit it: discussing what might potentially go wrong with your project is difficult for a few reasons. First, it is an unpleasant subject about things we would rather not think about. Second, it suggests that you cannot handle these things yourself. And third, your boss probably has many actual problems to deal with now, so discussing potential ones seems like a luxury.

Risk is an unpleasant subject. But it is your job to identify what might go wrong with the product you are developing – perhaps someone might get hurt using it or a key supplier might go out of business, for example. And it is your job as a manager to do something about such problems.

By discussing risk, you aren’t saying that you can’t handle it. Quite the opposite, you are saying that you are very much aware of it, and you know just what you will do about it when the time comes.

As for your boss, his or her concentration on present problems is a self-fulfilling prophesy: tomorrow’s potential problems will become actual problems tomorrow, and they will be much more expensive to deal with then. This is the essence of firefighting.

The key to managing project risks well is to list the facts influencing the risk and then manage these facts rather than managing the risk itself. To the extent that you keep your discussion at the facts level, it will be much easier to communicate with management.

For more on this topic, see our article “The Risk of Talking About Risk.”

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

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