My son stayed with me last week. He was off school and is well into revising for his summer exams. Spending the week with me was a change of scenery for him and welcome company for me. We drove up on Monday and back on Friday. Well over two hundred miles each way.
It was the same route I always travel. But it was more fun and more social whilst also less speed and less risk. Fun and social I expected…slower and risk averse was a surprise.
We chatted all the way. We talked school and university, family and friends, sport and cinema. We planned where to eat and what supplies to buy. The journey felt shorter. But when I checked my dashboard, our average speed was lower than when I travel by myself, and time was longer. The roads were clear. It was bright and sunny. I realised I was just driving slower. I recognised I was taking fewer risks.
It’s all relative of course. I know the speed limits and I know the traffic flow. I am neither reckless nor illegal when I drive. But nevertheless, having my son (who is also learning to drive by the way) with me in the car clearly had an impact. At some level I knew the value of the time we were having together and there was I was knew I was driving with decreased risk.
On and off during the week, I found myself considering risk and value. We use both words frequently. We work on projects to ‘increase value’ and sometimes to ‘mitigate risk’.
Increasing value feels empowering and rewarding. For example, home owners carry out work to add to value of their property…a new bathroom; a loft conversion. Project teams advance to clinical trials and in doing so they add value to their compound. Adding value feels good. There is a tangible sense of achievement and satisfaction.
But what about mitigating risk? Risk can appear uncertain. Risk is possibility – the possibility of suffering harm or loss…at home, in work, and when driving! Home owners have to consider risks and how to mitigate. We repair things that are broken. A leaky rook becomes a good roof. We insure against risk. Risks with only low probabilities of occurring – fire, wind, water….and none of us like it. Anything to do with risk mitigation feels unrewarding…burdensome…enforced.
It doesn’t have to be though. Potential loss due to risk is quantifiable – we always insure our cars, but seldom our bicycles – as is level of exposure to risk. Sending a text message whilst driving is riskier than singing to your favourite CD.
In our industry, many believe that projects (and companies) who are truly successful – those who don’t just achieve milestones but rather those who impact their target market – are those who identify and address key issues in a project early to mitigate risk. Projects where a negative result that can subsequently be overcome is every bit as much beneficial as a positive result that allows a project to move forward.
How clear are we – or our partners – about highest risks faced by a project? How often do our planned experiments or studies focus on mitigating that risk? I am not convinced. We have all found ourselves – me especially – doing experiments because they increase value rather than because they are answering a key hypothesis on our projects?
Perhaps we should consider activities more explicitly in terms of how they mitigate risk and how they increase value. And assign more effort to high risk mitigation and high value added actions…like I did (implicitly) when driving with my son.