I spent the weekend mulling over how best to smooth things out between Bruce and Matt, and just knew that the usual peace offering of coffee and chocolate biscuits wasn’t going to cover it. The meeting had been arranged for Tuesday afternoon and Matt duly turned up with his Agile expert, a woman called Jane who had been brought in to work with the project managers.
A twitchy looking Bruce, on seeing Matt had bolstered his numbers, rushed out to grab Chris, the Head of Internal Audit to strengthen his defences. This was not looking like a good start, with battle lines drawn and armies assembled.
Rather than launch right into a heated debate, I suggested we take a risk assessment approach to the problem. I pulled out the flip chart. Of course there were groans all round and cries of
“Why do we need to do this?”
Both sides were united in irritation with the Risk function - my plan to build a shared perspective between the parties was starting to work!
I told them,
“You guys have already had this conversation last week. You guys are the experts here. So I want you to explain to me what the risks and impacts of doing Agile and not doing Agile are. Except seeing as we now apparently have two teams gathered in the room, I want you to each argue the opposing view.”
Chris started to laugh.
“Fine” says Matt. “Jane and I will just say there are no risks involved in doing Agile.”
“That would be fine Matt, but I’m not going to advocate in your favour if I think you’ve not considered the pitfalls. You can spend fifteen minutes of your life doing this exercise, or we can continue this impasse for months.” I told him. “You guys wanted this resolved. I don’t have the time or the will to go over and over this. The opposing team will mark your work. Start now.”
Whilst not a panacea, the outcome wasn’t half bad. Matt made a reasonable argument about the weaknesses in the Agile approach - although he would insist they were perceived weaknesses - which was a good thing because it made him argue the mitigations too. Then Bruce, with his dogged insistence on completeness and being right, made a good argument in favour of Agile’s benefits. From all this we could pick out some real areas of concern and begin to think about how we could proceed safely.
The issue of building requirements as the project moved seemed to terrify Bruce. He was not remotely comforted by the tale of the hefty requirements document I’d seen a couple of years ago with “If you’ve read this far, come to my desk and I will give you £50” written on page 49. No-one had claimed the cash, and yet the document had all of the required sign offs. Does anybody read these things? I’ve never been convinced.
It was agreed that approvals at decision points could be collected by a group email with voting buttons, co-ordinated by the project manager immediately after the meeting. Jane agreed to go away and think about some of the key decision points in the process where this could happen.
Finally we agreed that to mitigate any material impact of a disaster, a lower profile, less key project should be used as a pilot. Preferably one where the business could provide an enthusiastic stakeholder who’d be happy to roll their sleeves up. That way we get to test the principles - and run the risk of failure and humiliation - on a smaller scale first.
This is not the end of this subject, but it is at least a way forward which didn’t leave anyone feeling too compromised. More importantly, I left the office at a sensible time. A double victory!
Who is the Secret Risk Manager?
The Secret Risk Manager is a senior risk professional working in the City. Over the years, they’ve seen a variety of risk practices - good, bad and ugly - across a variety of industries.
Like many risk professionals, the Secret Risk Manager’s CV has a large unspoken element. They are called upon to be in turns, therapist, coach, detective, mediator, behavioural scientist, parent, mind reader, futurologist, story-teller, philosopher and diplomat.
These articles do not pretend to constitute advice, but only to provide a frank and hopefully thought provoking look into the often frustrating world of those people who help organisations manage their risks. The subject matter is experience based, but fictional.
Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. But let’s face it, there’s not much new under the sun so you’ve probably seen it before.