Waltzing with Bears

Read this book. Bottom line: The best-selling authors of Peopleware, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, say that risk management is project management for adults. It’s about taking responsibility for risk rather than denying it becasue you don’t understand it. Buy it, read it, and apply it if you are willing to confront the truth about project and business risk.

Tom and Tim are Cutter Consortium consultants, so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know them a little over the last year. I attended my second annual Cutter Summit this May (2006) in Cambridge, MA, where I picked up a copy of Waltzing with Bears and requested the authors’ autographs while they had cocktails in hand. They graciously complied. We also briefly discussed the risk of a project I was considering. A large corporation had just invited me to design a Responsibility Redefined workshop targeted at every leader in the company. The purpose would be to ensure that the target audience views the upcoming roll-out of a company-wide ERP implementation with positive attitudes. I was tempted by the request, and am always interested in teaching the Responsibility Process to leaders, so I was optimistic. However the more I looked into designing a training solution to influence attitudes toward a specific technology change, the riskier it looked. I recently wrote in Responsible Change, a Cutter Executive Report, that you can never predict the subjective meaning of an imposed change. So the very idea of designing a “you’re gonna love this change” workshop for managers runs counter to this principle. In fact, the research on change suggests that requiring leaders to attend such a training could produce the exact opposite result — attitudes could be tipped toward the negative rather than the positive! That’s risky!

As I recall, Tom and Tim’s advice was brief: “Eeeck. Danger. Run away!!” And they hadn’t even finished their first drink. We all laughed at the emotional approach to risk assessment (sometimes we should pay more attention to our emotional responses to ideas), then Tim said, “Do you really think you have an angle that might work?” And I admitted that I had my doubts about using Responsibility Redefined as an attitude adjustment device.

So I’ve proposed a different solution. What I like about this solution is that it eliminates the downside risk, the risk of frustrating leaders by making them attend a possibly patronizing workshop.

But I digress.

What I love about Waltzing with Bears is how in-your-face the authors are about the differences between identifying risk and mitigating it versus denying risk and ignoring it. Most of us are extremely susceptible to denying risk and ignoring it merely becasue we don’t know how to do anything about it — so we act like it’s not there. Now that’s Responsibility Redefined, and that’s whay I recommend this book to you.

Posted in Recommended Resources on 06/17/2006 06:48 pm
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