The Missing Project Risk Management Element – FIRE DRILLS!

We’re all familiar with fire drills – building evacuation practice sessions so everyone knows where to go and what to do in the case of a fire or other building issue. Have you ever considered the possibility of running a “fire drill” as part of your project risk management approach?

One project aspect where a fire drill can be useful focuses on the decision making ability of a newly formed Project Steering Committee. Many steering committees will have the right members in place, but if they have not worked together, there is a risk that they will not efficiently and effectively make decisions as a team. Is there a possibility for passive aggressive behavior to surface, where a decision made in a Steering Committee meeting is diluted by actions taken after the meeting? Bringing a significant or a controversial decision making opportunity to your Steering Committee as early as possible in the project lifecycle can resemble a fire drill, testing their decision making readiness. “Stretch targets” around savings for project business cases can be one opportunity to run a “decision making” fire drill. The allocation of critical “business as usual” operational resources to your project can also present you with an opportunity to execute a fire drill, testing your Steering Committee’s ability to debate and execute significant decisions.

These “fire drill” opportunities can be useful to ensure you will have a viable Steering Committee. However, here are a few tips to ensure this approach is successful in capitalizing on these fire drill opportunities:
• Execute your fire drill decision making opportunity with the knowledge and full understanding of your sponsor. Your sponsor will also benefit from a well-oiled committee, so you may find a sympathetic ear when proposing an early controversial topic for a fire drill type of decision opportunity. Make sure your sponsor understands you are purposefully trying to generate constructive debate, and not trying to “create a mountain out of a mole hill.” Your sponsor can then work with the committee to ensure the decision is considered appropriately.
• Present a balanced set of decision options with actions associated with each. For example, if you are vying to have a vital operational team member assigned to your project, ensure you share what you will capitalize on if this resource is assigned to your project, or what risks will result and actions you will take if you do not have access to this valuable resource.
• Follow up to ensure the actions that result after Steering Committee meetings reflect the decisions made. After all, this is the primary reason to conduct a fire drill – to make sure the project realizes the results decided at the Steering Committee meetings. If you see inconsistencies between decisions and resulting actions, consider surfacing those via your sponsor versus challenging a Steering Committee member yourself.

Just as fire drills make a building’s population ready for a “real” emergency, a fire drill for your Steering Committee can help ensure your senior stakeholders are ready for difficult decision making, once you get to the heart of executing your project. This fire drill concept can be used in a variety of ways on your projects. Best you start thinking of the possibilities so you can “fire-proof” your project!

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