What you need to know about risks

agile, blog

In the last year, I have been involved in several big room planning sessions. An agile practice that got popular as many organizations are using SAFe, or got inspired by SAFe. One of the components of a big room planning also called a Program Increment Planning Event (PIPE), is to identify risks and discuss those risks, risk management. Risks that can occur in the next months. 

According to Google, the definition of risk is: “a situation involving exposure to danger.” and according to Wikipedia: “A risk is the possibility of something bad happening. Risk involves uncertainty about the effects/implications of activity with respect to something that humans value, often focusing on negative, undesirable consequences.” I like Wikipedia better, as for there is also a possibility connected to risk. What is the probability it will happen?

I believe some teams or people are thinking too easily about risks. Let me share some of the risks I heard last year, during those big room planning.

“John Doe will be on holiday in the next month.”
“There is too much work, we can’t finish all required work.” 
“Access to the test environment is limited, it will impact our progress.”
“ COVID-19 will impact our organization.” 

Sorry to say but I did not hear any risk yet. John is on holiday, so? Schedule less work, ask who is his backup, postpone the work that requires John. There is too much work? So schedule less work, and have the customer set priorities. How is this a risk for a team? Are limited resources available? Okay, so do less, set priorities, setup alternatives? Err yes, which organization is not affected by COVID-19 last year?

Risk is about uncertainty. Good risk management is important. The fact John is on holiday is not an uncertainty. That is a fact, a fact you have to deal with. The same as limited access to a test environment, it is a fact. Not a risk. Too much work, not a risk, a fact. Deal with it, set priorities, and start working from the top of your list.

Risk for me is something that could happen or an event that has an outcome that we can’t foresee. A risk can be a positive or negative event, although we often focus on the negative events. When you identify risks, possible events that can affect your plan, you want to discuss if you can prevent them. Is there any action you can take today, to prevent that risk from happening? Or maybe you decide to accept the risk and deal with the outcome of the risk.

When I hear people talking about risks, I would like to hear what the impact is if this risk will happen and what is the change this risk will happen? I hope no big room planning will identify a huge meteor hitting the earth as a risk. Additionally, I want to hear what the team believes is the best action to take when the risk happens or to mitigate the risk.

There are many risk templates on the internet, just use Altavista to find your risk template. It can help your teams to identify real risks, and to describe them as real risks. Do real good risk management. Don’t accept given facts as risks, just deal with them. Try to get the real risks on the table during your next big room planning meeting.


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