Making a Risk Rating More Tangible

Making a Risk Rating More Tangible

“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration.”
— Steve Mariboli

When working on high-importance projects, I often have people tell me about various risks. I ask about the severity of the risk and I generally get answers such as “high impact”. I do have people translate that risk into more specifics such as “how many schedule weeks will the project be impacted?”

We can do better than that.

Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment is an unusual place to be inspired but as time ticked on I became bored and was reading the walls.

Up there next to the ‘Name That Rash’ poster was the most useful Pain Assessment Guide I have seen.  Instead of just “it hurts a lot” or degrees of frowny faces, there was a scale with tangible descriptions. It ranged from no pain to things like “the pain interferes with concentration” and all the way up to “bed rest is required.”

This led me to start to develop a project risk scale so I can have more tangible discussions with project leaders.  

Here is my first pass of Alan’s Project Risk Scale.

  1. Very low impact:
    If we have the wrong approach, one person can fix it in a couple of days.
  2. Low impact: 
    If we have the wrong approach, it will take a few of us less than a week to fix.
  3. Medium impact:
    If we have the wrong approach, it means a big redesign, and likely significant delay to schedule.
  4. High impact:
    This might not work the way we want ever.We may have to change customer expectations of what they can get.
  5. Very high impact:
    There is a significant safety risk with this approach.

Would this kind of scale help you with getting the language or risk be more tangible?  Let me know at [email protected] 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”— John Muir

There are times of the year when our walks inevitably encounter deep, unavoidable mud.  That mud used to ruin the mood of my walk. I soon realized that it really was all about my own attitude.

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As leaders, you will find that leading projects of any worth also have hard parts that are like difficult slogs through the mud.

As the leader, you have the ability to set the attitude of yourself in a way that influences of all those that follow you through the muddy patches.

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You can try and tiptoe through that muddy patch.

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Be careful not to drown in a mirage.” — Terri Guillemets

Last week I wrote about denial as a potential cause of engineering failures. I have seen too often that otherwise rational people under great pressure come to irrational conclusions.

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They answer, “Yes, we will be done. We know we will be done because we know we have to be.”

I asked readers to write in about how to avoid becoming a sane person who comes to insane conclusions. Readers wrote in. Here are the top five answers merged with the advice I provide to my clients.

  1. Collect data that is meaningful and useful.  Focus on data that is predictive of outcomes.
  2. Believe your data. When your data says you are significantly behind schedule, do not ignore it. Accept it. When you feel that the technical risk is high and is likely to happen, believe it.
  3. Seek a trusted objective viewpoint. Your sense of time and space can be warped by the great pressure you are under. Seek the wisdom of someone you trust who is outside the pressure cooker. What do they think? Believe them.
  4. Listen to your body.  Ask yourself if the project is in trouble. If your words say that the project is fine, but your stomach is in a knot, your shoulders are tense, and your neck hurts, recognize the discordance within yourself. Listen to it.
  5. Speak up. Denial in these environments is practiced en masse. No one is saying anything because no one else is.  Speak up and watch the river of denial evaporate.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

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Concise Friction Point Bio

Alan Willett is the master of the “friction points” of organizations highly dependent on technology. This ranges from organizations that create world class software products to the organization that use those product to create their own competitive advantage. What is a friction point? It is the space where the technology needs and the business needs meet, sometimes with harmony and often with discordant collisions. Either way there is always heat generated. Alan is the expert who transforms organizational friction points to produce positive results for the business and the people that create and use the technology.

Expert Consultant, Author, Speaker Bio

Expert Consultant, Author, Speaker

Alan Willett is of the rare species who is an expert international consultant, speaker, and author. He has worked with companies ranging from 1 person to some of the giants such as Microsoft and NASA. Alan says that his passion is helping people and organizations transform their friction points into profit points. What is a friction point? It is the space where the business needs and the implementation reality with discordant collisions. There is always heat generated! Alan is the expert who transforms organizational friction points to produce positive results for the business and the people.