Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 44;   November 3, 2004: Status Risk and Risk Status

Status Risk and Risk Status

by

One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising, because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better manage status risk and risk status?

Warner glared his famous glare, and for once, he had a legitimate complaint. "Let me see if I have this right," he began. "You knew back in July that we had memory footprint problems, but you waited to report it until now. Is that right?"

FootprintsRobin had nowhere to go. "Yes, that's right. We felt it was best to wait until we were sure we had a problem."

"Well, we have a problem now, don't we?" Warner replied.

"Yes, and that's why…" Robin began, but Warner wouldn't let her finish.

"That's why you're reporting it, I know, I know."

Robin has made a serious error, but the mistake isn't hers alone. She failed to alert the project sponsor to a problem when she first became aware of it. And Warner's intimidating style tends to discourage early reporting of trouble.

Together, they're living out one of the consequences of status risk: the risk of failing to report status promptly and fully. Here are some sources of status risk:

Status risk is high
when realistic status
reporting is punishable
Rewarding positive reports and punishing negative reports
At any link in the status reporting chain, the report recipient might be signaling that only positive reports are acceptable. The signal can be unintentional, or it can be very deliberate.
Prior experience
People can bring to the reporting task their experiences with prior projects or prior managers. If they've learned along the way that realistic reporting is punishable, they're likely to apply those past lessons.
Turnover
When new people assume responsibility for work underway, their perceptions about status are likely to be inaccurate.
Wishful thinking
Because most of us want things to go well, we sometimes fool ourselves that our wishes match reality, especially if we've become attached to the task.

Making status reporting a group task helps mitigate status risk. Form a status review team that's responsible for reviewing status reports. Normally, they'll easily reach consensus, but any failure to reach consensus is valuable information in itself — it signals the need for a closer look by management.

Even when we manage Status Risk, there remains the too-common failure to report — or even to track — Risk Status. Most status reports focus on budget, schedule, milestones achieved, work completed, and so on. But we rarely report or track the status of our initial risk profile, and that can lead to surprised (and very upset) project sponsors. Including a review of the risk profile in each status report helps to limit the incidence of surprising disasters.

Status Risk and Risk Status are intimately intertwined. In part, the sources of status risk contribute to our spotty reporting of risk status. And by creating the conditions for surprising disasters, failure to track risk status can enhance status risk. Address both — or don't bother. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Fine Art of Quibbling  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenzDaaplgeBaDHbxMlner@ChacklxgXQgQjyCvkkuMoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

The inaccessible cubicles at Diamond SquareMake a Project Family Album
Like a traditional family album, a project family album has pictures of people, places, and events. It builds connections, helps tie the team together, and it can be as much fun to look through as it is to create.
Hurricane Warning flagsDeclaring Condition Red
High-performance teams have customary ways of working together that suit them, their organizations, and their work. But when emergencies happen, operating in business-as-usual mode damages teams — and the relationships between their people — permanently. To avoid this, train for emergencies.
Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part II
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
The Shining Flycatcher, native of Northern Australia and Southwest Pacific islandsBacktracking in Incremental Problem Solving
Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
Dunlin flock at Nelson Lagoon, AlaskaProject Improvisation as Group Process
When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

North Fork Fire in Yellowstone, 1988Coming July 27: The Risks of Too Many Projects: Part II
Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there. Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities. Available here and by RSS on July 27.
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Frank MurphyAnd on August 3: The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension. Available here and by RSS on August 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenKVfgBJmEsPxdMfOgner@ChacCSQXZVGbuPeFquEboCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Sudoku Solutions, INK: A Simulation of a Project-Oriented Organization
In thCross-Functional Teams: How Organizations Actually Workis workshop, we simulate a company that solves Sudoku puzzles for its customers. Each puzzle is a project, solved by a project team led by a project manager. Team members hail from different parts of the organization, such as QA or the Department of Threes. Puzzles have different values, and the company must strive to meet revenue goals. The metaphor is uncanny. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.