Risk Management in Practice

February 19 2021

Over the last few months, several news feeds have talked about the failure of the SpaceX Starship landings with pictures of spectacular outcomes.

Even the launch of the next prototype (SN10) in a few days, only has an estimated ‘60% chance of landing successfully’ according to Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO.


These ‘failed’ landings are planned milestones in the programme to create a vehicle that can transport people and payloads to Mars and back.

When I read about the SpaceX ethos, approach and attitude towards these failures I was struck by the contrast to how many IT programmes or projects are judged.


The explosive outcomes not only represent huge investments and significant programme milestones, but to me, what they really represent is the art of managing risk in a programme

The programmes and projects that most of us are involved in are much less newsworthy and have less spectacular measures of success or failure. This doesn’t make these programmes any less important or significant to the businesses depending on the outcomes.

The need to take measured risk; and to accept that a reset, re-calibration or significant adjustment happens, is a reality. So, let’s set ourselves up to succeed – to manage failure and recategorise and anticipate it in terms of risk management.

It is really only a failure if we cannot mitigate the risk of it happening again and do not learn from the data and information we have garnered from the event or milestone.

At Leading Resolutions, we engage with clients looking to reboot their businesses, often through significant changes in their IT landscapes. We often return to trusted techniques that allow us to quantify and manage risk with our clients.

Establish Programme Governance
Clear lines of responsibility, measures of success and stakeholder support from day-one, evolving into full programme governance. Not communicating what success looks like and failing to establish control are common initiation errors.

On many occasions when we are engaged to conduct programme health checks, we find this missed step is the root-cause and a key reason to reset the programme.
Utilise a RAID method (or potentially a tool)
By capturing Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies (RAID) at the start of the programme, and owning them, tracking them and addressing them you will turn them into anticipated events, not failures.

This is a forward radar for the programme if used and deployed in the right way.
Develop and communicate a RACI to all participants
Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI). Communication and management helps you close in on programme gaps and establish what mitigations need to be put in place.

It can develop and evolve through the entire lifecycle of the programme and assist in the transition to a service used by the business.
This is not a document of record, this is a route-map, showing the direction of travel and how each weigh-point, milestone or gate is going to be reached. It is not an overhead on the programme.

Again, there have been numerous times where we have been asked to intervene in a programme where the plan doesn’t reflect the action on the ground. No programme can be successful without setting, and monitoring, even the most rudimentary plan. The risks are enormous and not being able to communicate a clear and concise plan is where many programmes are judged failures.
Circling back to programme governance is the need to report progress, lack of progress or the need to change direction to ensure delivery of the planned business benefits.
This is where the RAID, the RACI and the Plan all become key, often triangulating on the true risk to the programme. The report back to the executive team of key stakeholders is focused on programme needs and requests for support.
It is not about problem-solving, it is about asking for obstacles to be removed, support to be given and recommendations to be endorsed.

One final point. Agile is no excuse for losing or not exerting control – we still need to understand where we are, what success looks like otherwise how will the agile mantra of ‘fail fast’ really be measured.

These approaches to risk management in programmes and projects do not need to be over engineered; after all, this isn’t rocket-science. Whilst they do not guarantee success, they do make the right outcome much more likely.

Note from the Author

Rob Chapman

Let me know your thoughts and by all means, get in touch with me on LinkedIn / email with your comments and any questions.
I’d love to hear how you are responding to risk management and of course answer any questions you may have.