Creative Risk Response Planning

Knowing a risk exists and not taking action is similar to standing on the tracks watching as the train nears.   You must spend time creating alternative plans in the event the train does, in fact, come.   It has been our observation that most project teams, under the pressure to deliver to the current plan, do not spend the time developing risk response plans.   For some, this approach is intentional.   Some project teams believe they are most creative when their backs are to the wall.  They hold a romantic view of pressure induced creativity, with visions of scenes from a dramatic re-enactment of the Apollo 13 mission.   So they choose to wait to create solutions to problems after they occur, rather than before.  The truth is that pressure, particularly time pressure, is counter-productive to creativity (  Research completed by Teresa Amabile at Harvard during the last decade showed that creativity was suppressed under stress.

Just making time doesn’t ensure success, however.  We’ve observed some managers, while trying to create a favorable environment for inspiration, reduce the constraints on team members by asking them to “think outside of the box.”   This often leaves project team members ignorant of where to start.

We have observed that another approach is to place the project team “inside-the-box.”  Using this approach, project managers build the context around the problem and constrain the potential solutions.  This draws the project team into the problem through questioning the constraints.   This method leads to breakthrough, where the team breaks through the walls of the box the manager has constructed.   We have seen that without constraints, project teams tend to stand still.  But when walls are constructed, they tend to try to break through them.

How do you encourage your teams to break through walls?

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