Elizabeth Harrin is becoming a fan of Michael Cavanagh’s book, “Second Order Project Management.” She reviewed it last summer, and seemed slightly less than enthusiastic, but now she’s quoting Cavanagh in a new blog post. Elizabeth lists several of his project values, beginning with “We take good risks. Complacency kills slowly, risk adversity kills quickly. The result, however, is the same.” I think I know what he was getting at, but this is one of those times when brevity didn’t induce clarity.
Instead, it triggered a recollection of Friedrich Nietzsche’s widely quoted comment on adversity, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I don’t think Cavanagh wants us to stoically bear adversity for the sake of our projects, any more than Nietzsche wanted us to be complacent about taking risks. Each of them calls us to consider the reasons we are willing to take risks – the beneficial outcomes – and make rational choices. Despite what some might say about “making decisions with your gut,” it’s important to remember that yours isn’t the only gut in the game.
So, I’ll let my inner eighth grade English teacher re-phrase this sentiment. I just want to make it more applicable to the practicing IT project manager, who should guide the project team, sponsor, and stakeholders to select the best risks, based on the available response strategies for the uncertain situation at hand.
“If we avoid all risks, we will eventually starve; if we assume all risks, we will quickly be eaten. We keep our place in the food chain by mitigating and transferring risk whenever practical, avoiding risk when possible, and assuming risk when necessary.”
And on that note, I think I’ll go to the kitchen and make myself a nice, low-risk snack. Triscuits and hummus, perhaps …