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? rbrenjrSrwVArRjxWUZXener@ChacrXXqNhNdNEzIcqOUoCanyon.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:

An example of a Weaver's PathwayThe Weaver's Pathway
When projects near completion, we sometimes have difficulty letting go. We want what we've made to be perfect, sometimes beyond the real needs of customers. Comfort with imperfection can help us meet budget and schedule targets.
The Great Wall of China near MutianyuScope Creep and Confirmation Bias
As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions, is one of these.
The Bloomingdale's store in Stamford, Connecticut in January 1955Why Scope Expands: Part I
Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageUnnecessary Boring Work: Part II
Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command moduleOn the Risk of Undetected Issues: Part I
In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the incidence of undetected issues?

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two varieties of "Stupid" buttonsComing April 27: Pushing the "Stupid" Button
Some people know exactly how to lead others to feel ignorant or unintelligent. Here's a little catalog of tactics to watch for. Available here and by RSS on April 27.
Magic Lantern Slide of a dog jumping through a hoopAnd on May 4: Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently. Available here and by RSS on May 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenWjMIIlSeLOHyWuQzner@ChacujaIDHbsulcAHvJGoCanyon.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

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. 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.