Taming Dragons

"Be thankful for dragons. The pile of gold wouldn't be there if there were not dragons guarding it!" — Alan Willett in last week's newsletter

Great projects with great value are akin to a pile of gold hidden away in a mountain guarded by dragons. As we said last week, great projects have great risk.

As exceptional leaders, one of our responsibilities is to create a culture of proactive risk management. In other words, we must make it everyone's job to name and tame the dragons. These practices may be well known, but they are too seldom well practiced!

The following are five of the practices I expect to see practiced with vigor in the best organizations.

  • Name YOUR dragons. Each team will have their own special kind of risks. They should record each of their risks in their own table that is periodically updated and consistently reviewed. (Beware the centralized generic table!)
  • Draw your dragons with detail. There are many kinds of dragons. There are many kinds of risks. Characterize them. Be clear how big the impact of the risks are. If the risks comes true will it cost an individual a couple schedule weeks or the whole team a schedule month? If the risk happens, will it cause a scrapping of a feature? How likely is that magnitude of a problem?
  • Tame the dragons. Too many teams miss the meaning of risk mitigation. Look at the details of the risk, the impact, and the likelihood. What actions can you take to lower the impact or the likelihood? For the most damaging risks, put those ideas into action. Often great innovation in features come from dealing with your dragons.
  • Prepare for the dragon's fire. Even if you did your best to tame the dragon, some dragons will still bite. Some will still breathe fire. Be prepared for risks to become issues. Prepare a contingency plan for the most likely damaging risks. Too many schedules have unnecessarily slipped as people scramble to figure out what to do about dragons that they knew would bite.
  • Always focus on making progress towards the goal. It is important to pay attention to the risks of projects. However remember the dragons are just road signs pointing towards the goal. Always drive towards the goal.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,
ALAN WILLETT