Managing Project Execution Risks (wonkish)

19 Jul 2010 Sandeep Mehta
The Project Management journal has an article called Managing risk symptom: A method to identify major risks of serious problem projects in SI environment using cyclic causal model.  The article lays out an interesting framework for managing project execution risks in large system integration (SI) environment.  Some of the concepts are work remembering.

Serious problem projects (SPPs) often occur, particularly in a system integration environment, and it is difficult to prevent them, since the relationships among phenomena that occur throughout the project life cycle are extremely complicated. Our goal is to make it easier to identify major risks by distinguishing phenomena that are sources of future SPPs from phenomena observed in actual field projects. By choosing several events whose causal relation is known to be cyclic, we constructed a causal model and clarified that it can contribute to the easier recognition of SPPs empirically, by analyzing actual SPP cases.

The overall message is to anticipate major problem spirals by the analyzing events, understanding if the problems are root cause of a death spiral or a derivative of the death spiral and then taking effective action not only to mitigate the problem (event) but also the underlying death spiral.

The paper is a bit difficult to read – probably because I am not familiar with Japanese project management terminology and because of Japanese English….  However here are the major take aways:

Risk events have different consequences depending on the development phase.  The article divides the project into three pages upper (proposal / award), middle (early development), lower (detailed development and launch).

The article lays out a model with three types of consequences of risks based on the phase (Devil Spiral and Death Spiral):
When an event occurs or it is anticipated, the article suggests to map them to the model based on the phase of the project and then determine if it is a Derivative event – a result of the spiral (as per the article a case that is derived from a death spiral) or an Accelerating event – a root cause that accelerates the spiral.  Once done, the idea is to actively manage events, understand the nature of the spiral and take counter measure to prevent the spirals from accelerating.
Finally, here is an example of the completed analysis:

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