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Danger Zone Project

These days, projects are everywhere – at the introduction of new things, or when a product, software, organization or business process is changed. They are in concerns and in small businesses or even in the smallest venture¹. Projects are fascinating: they change an unsatisfying current condition into a longed for goal. One person leads the way: you, as the project manager, lead the way. You organize everything and keep the project in movement up to the goal.

Projects make something for the first time². . “It has never been like that before.” You dare to explore unknown areas. Suddenly, unexpectedly, you, as the project leader, or you the project team, or you, the project sponsor, will be blindsided. Something will carry your project goal away into the unreachable distance. Something will hurt and cause damage. A beast that immediately starts rampaging through your project.

What do you do? How can you manage these dangers?

Preliminary consideration

This chapter shows you why you should consider dangers instead of risks, and how projects frequently react to arising dangers.

What makes danger so dangerous for you?

Before we proceed, you should concretely answer this question for your project. Forget all the possible risks, because such a smorgasbord hinders you. Concentrate instead on each project goal: how could this goal turn out hopeless in the face of danger? How exactly, through what, when, through whom, will this goal become an illusion because of this danger? This danger lurks remotely, just a breath away from a catastrophe: it is your focus.

I would like to highlight the following damage scenario with you: a concrete danger (D) arises and changes your project goals (G) so much that at least one project goal will definitely not be achieved (G_missed). From here, there are two solution scenarios and tasks for your project management.

Damage scenario

Damage scenario

If your most meaningful people are unsuccessful (D) then it will be hard to achieve your project and its goals. You have to wait out its recovery or organize a replacement. That affects your project a lot, because many projects arrange appointments, budgets and results as goals.

How do other people handle these situations?

Ad hoc – offset the danger

It is often practiced: let it depend.

Solution scenario: The danger (D) arises, its effects on project goals becomes visible, you think about it and find a completely compensatory countermeasure (X).

Task: find the concrete X that can “offset the damages to G through D”.

Offset effects

Offset effects

For example, budget cuts threaten projects. Cuts will change your project by rendering at least one project goal unachievable, threatening (G_missed). However, you can find an alternative sponsor and prevent this danger to the project goals.

The advantage of the ad hoc method is that no one has to agonize over theoretically conceivable risks beforehand, go to all the effort of collecting, ordering, evaluating, selecting. We know now, in this moment, the individual danger that we have to deal with.

Of course, a disadvantage is that you react, run about and limit damages. Often it can’t be done otherwise. I can still suggest to you: implement this behavior seldom and consciously.

Tip: Be vigilant so as to at least notice the next danger (D) early.

Alternative actions

There are five further approaches to handle dangers in your project.

Protect against danger

It can be successful to protect a project and its goals before or after the danger arises.

Solution scenario: The danger (D) inevitably arises, but can’t endanger the project goals (G) thanks to your preventative measures (X).

Task: Find a concrete X that “isolates D from G”.

Isolate the effects of the danger

Isolate the effects of the danger

Your best project worker will not be available for a long time (D)? It doesn’t matter, because you have a replacement prepared, who stays on the current and will bring the results in no time. Will your appointment or project costs get out of hand (D)? It doesn’t matter, because you already have an agreed-upon priority list, according to which you will work on certain work packages (X) less intensively or not at all. That way this danger keeps a distance from your project goals (G).

It is not important for the protective effect whether effective preventative measure are already ready or if you develop them when the danger strikes. Preparation helps for practice, if you have worked out the most effective protective measures at least rudimentarily.

Tip: Avoid aimless brainstorming about possible protective measures. First, get to know your opponents better: the most fatal concrete dangers (D) for your project.

Bring into safety before danger

Many project managers succeed in bringing their project back to safety in the face of danger, or in bearing it (Noah’s Ark approach).

Solution scenario: The danger (D) arises inescapably and causes damages (to X), but your project is in a secure place where the danger simply can’t reach your project and its goals (G).

Aufgabe: Finden Sie Ihr konkretes X, das “incurs D and doesn’t endanger G”.

Redirect danger

Redirect danger

You should look into the eyes of this concrete, inescapable danger at least once for this strategy to succeed. Noah’s strategy works for an emerging flood, but for a mudslide, rockslide or an avalanche, it probably would have failed.

Is your project in focus (D)? Can you move it into a more comfortable light? Is your project in a typical path of danger (X)? Can you move it away from there? Can you use the danger to your advantage? How will this danger become a valuable supporter of your project?

So-called submarine projects are an example of this strategy. Sometimes turnover losses make it necessary for the responsible parties to stop or delay projects (X). A submerged project (non-X) can escape the one in a secure place and further concentrate on reaching its project goals.

Tip: Take care of the dangers (D) that you have recognized in the meantime under the aspect of the Noah’s ark strategy.

Tame danger

Many project managers succeed in taming concrete dangers.

Solution scenario: : The danger (D) certainly arises, but you could change the danger (D*) so that it no longer has a negative effect on your project goals (G).

Task: Change the danger from D to D*, so that the G is immune to D*.

Tame danger

Tame danger

Danger threatens many projects from the inside: a project member is unhappy (D) and that prevents normal work. A clear conversation can work wonders from many sides. Sometimes the addressees of the project just don’t want the project results: It threatens the danger of rejection, and from it waste (D). This danger changes (D*) as soon as the project desires, requirements and interests of the project result user are requested.

Tip: Create a list with concretely recognized dangers for your project. Keep checking which of these dangers you could change and therefore tame.

Change the project

Many dangers just can’t be avoided: you have to live with them. So clever project managers adapt their projects for these conditions.

Solution scenario: The danger (D) arises inevitably, but you have changed your project so that the danger it unleashes doesn’t damage your project goals (G* or P*(G)) anymore.

Task: Change the project P or the goal G so that the D is no longer a problem (and G or P*(G) remain acceptable).

Immunize project goals

Immunize project goals

All projects are in one common danger: appointments, budgets and results are practically never reached 100%. An adjustment has proven itself: it organizes an appointment area (G*), a budget area (G*), a results area (G*), as well as a quality area (G*) for each result goal. All the aforementioned solution scenarios could also lead to sensible project adjustments from concrete dangers.

Tip: Search for danger-orientated (D) sensible or necessary project adjustments (G*, P*(G)).

Change the interaction

Sometimes, the part of the project that ends up in danger is hidden. That’s why many project managers keep their project work flexible.

Solution scenario: The danger (D) inevitably arises, but your project now reacts to it (**) so that the project goals (G) escape the danger.

Task: Consider the interaction between D and G more exactly, especially the opportunities for change.

Change the interaction

Change the interaction

On the one hand, project managers use sensible adapted decision making bodies that support them when changing the project, its staff, its progress, its goals, its public relations. On the other hand, the mentioned strategies go into action the other way around. To let a concrete danger miss the mark, change the interaction (**) with your project so that:

  • Every spontaneous search for countermeasures becomes unnecessary
  • No danger protection is necessary any more
  • You don’t need to lay your project in a safe place anymore
  • The danger doesn’t have to be changed or tamed anymore
  • No more project changes are necessary.

Tip: Discover the power and the possibilities that are in the interaction (**) between a concrete danger for your project and the possibility that your project and its environment are hidden.

Summary

As soon as your project goals are endangered, get back on track with one of the six solution scenarios. It remains precarious for you as long as you avoid your project goal dangers. It is important to notice the lurking catastrophe endangering your most important project goal as soon as possible and to act the displayed scenario accordingly. Only when you recognize dangers and handle them do you have the chance to realize your project goals.

 

Notes:

This article shows you how you can handle recognized dangers. The difficulty is often to perceive all the lurking dangers. If you would like to work out the technical or non-technical dangers in your concrete project, then Michael Schlüter will be glad to support you!

 

[1] Zur Stellung von Projekten in beliebigen Organisationen siehe “Integriertes Management System (IMS)” in “Management. Das A und O des Handwerks”, Fredmund Malik, Band 1, 2005
[2] Projektmerkmale [Internet]. Wikipedia 2017. Verfügbar unter: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projektmerkmal
[3] “PRINCE2. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2”, OGC, 2009
[4] “Kompetenzbasiertes Projektmanagement (PM3)”, GPM/IPMA, 2. Auflage 2009

Michael Schlüter is a graduate engineer and patent engineer. He currently works as a consultant at his own company, “Michael Schlüter System- und Produktoptimierung” (MS-SPO).

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