It’s difficult to talk about risk without witnessing the fear that it immediately instills in some people. That fear encourages many people to see risk as negative and they fear speaking about it. We need to create a more positive attitude towards risk and take advantage of the ways in which it can drive improvements.
Risk is something that we can’t usually avoid. Like passing someone in the street that you vaguely remember fancying at school, it’s easier to acknowledge that to avoid eye contact altogether. The same applies to risks. If you pass the risk every day, don’t ignore it. Pay it some attention and see where it leads.
Risks are threats so we’re naturally inclined to see them as negative. However, by changing your attitude to risk you can change this into something far more positive.
I’ve known many occasions over the years when something has been avoided in a project because there is a risk it will affect the project. In those cases, if someone had sat down and analysed the risk properly they would have had a chance to find the opportunities lurking behind it.
When we come across a risk we need to manage it properly (see Risk Management). When we first analyse a risk we look at the different elements:
When you see a risk you first need to assess what's hidden behind it. Risks are often manageable and to achieve maximum value in what we deliver we need to explore all of the opportunities.
If the thing that’s shrouded in risk has great enough value to what you’re delivering, more value than the effort to manage it, then we need to make an assessment and decide whether or not to include this in the project. It’s your job to assess this with the Product Owner, make them aware of the opportunity and help them decide whether or when to include it in the list of priorities. As Product Owner it needs to be their decision whether or not to include, it’s your job to help them discover the opportunities.
Talking about risks as opportunities needn’t sound corny. What we’re trying to do is change people’s attitudes towards risk. To change attitudes, we need to:
- Be open and transparent about risk. Discuss them in the same way you discuss requirements
- Be sure to include them in discovery. We need risks to be properly assessed and to investigate the ways in which we can mitigate them
- Talk about risks daily if necessary - on the daily standup, in ad-hoc conversations, during planning, in reviews and retrospectives
When we incorporate our approaches to risk into our delivery cycles then we create an effective management system for risk which:
- creates and protects the value of opportunities that would otherwise be avoided
- is part of our decision process, what to include and how it’s prioritised
- is tailored to our business and the business in which we’re delivering our work
- takes human and cultural factors into account
- is transparent and inclusive
- is responsive to change
- encourages continual improvement through increased opportunities
If we focus only on the risk then we create negativity. To develop a positive attitude to risk we need to proactively seek mitigation instead of focusing on the negatives that risk creates. The problems we discover must be balanced with solutions.
It’s to be expected that we’ll face challenged in the course of our work. It’s up to face to face these challenges, identify the root causes, apply learning through training and coaching and improving our processes in order to mitigate or lessen the same risks in the future.
In summary, when we identify a risk we need to be thinking of ways to mitigate and manage the risk so that we can propose solutions and opportunities and tip the balance in favour of the positive attitude. Identify your risks, see the opportunities and face the challenge.