The patient Gorilla: When Risk Management means you wait

“Listen, Jake, I need something here.” I leaned in over his desk, doing my best convincing look..

The development manager shook his head. “We’re in the middle of a sprint. When the sprint is over I can pull Eric from the team for the next sprint and have him focus on this.”
I sighed. He was right. No matter how important this was, we were in the middle of a development sprint. We couldn’t pull someone from the team like that. I nodded, “Thanks, Jake. I’ll touch base with you next week, after the Sprint Demo.”
I sulked back to my office, chewing my lip. In a week things could change completely. In a week it might not matter or worse it might be a total disaster. I turned around twice, intent on demanding Jake do something right now. Each time I only made it two steps before turning back. There wasn’t anything that could be done right now, not without tossing the entire project into chaos. But… But…But… There was no way I’d be able to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the week.
With an ulcer slowly building I walked into my office. Hogarth was sitting in the corner, a branch from my nearly dead fichus held limply in one hand and a parchment gripped in the other. Making a mental note to buy a new fichus I dropped into my chair. “What’s with the royal decree? ” I waved towards the parchment in Hogarth’s hand.
He looked up. Pointing with the hand holding the branch, he nearly impaled the parchment. “It’s a notice of my reality review. It’s tomorrow.”
“Reality review?”
Hogarth nodded. “Every year. It determines if I continue to exist. Or, if like Descatres when he was asked if he wanted another drink and said “I think not,” I disappear in a puff of unreality.”
I blinked trying to wrap my head around the absolute ludicrous idea that Hogarth could just vanish in a puff of smoke. It was as absolutely incomprehensible as… I looked at my personal gorilla again and shook my head. Right, as unreal as a manifestation of my own conscience as a physical gorilla.  With my brief bout with reality past I returned my attention to Hogarth.
“But, that means you might not be?”
Hogarth nodded. “Ayup.”
“What can you do?”
Hogarth shook his head. “Nothing, the review is based on my past years existence. This is just the findings, they’ve already made their decision.”
Neatly avoiding the whole “who are they?” issue, I said. “Nothing?” Oh, that was brilliant! Way to state the obvious.
Hogarth nodded. “Yep.” And then he calmly rolled up the paper, put it away (don’t ask, I know he doesn’t have pockets and I try not to think about that) and began pealing the bark from the fichus branch. “Oh well, I’ll find out tomorrow.”
 
I blinked again. ‘Oh well?..’ “How can you not be stressed about this? What are you going to do?”
Hogarth shrugged, “Right now? Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I yelled. “How can you sit there and do nothing? Your very existence is on the line.”
Hogarth nodded. “Yep.”
“And you’re going to do nothing?”
Hogarth rubbed his chin with a leathery hand. “You know, you’re right. There’s this new vegetarian Vietnamese  place down on 5th. Maybe I’ll give that a try.”
My first response was almost over powered by the desire to ask how a gorilla intended to be served in a public restaurant, but the first response won out. “Dinner? How can you be thinking about eating right now? We need a plan, we need to do something!”
Hogarth gazed at me with his deep-brown eyes. “Do what?”
“Well, umm… Ahh.” 
Hogarth said, “Can I do anything about it right now?”
I struggled to find a different answer, but in the end I shook my head. “No. The review is tomorrow and they already made their decision.”
Hogarth nodded, “Yep. So I’m going to go have a nice dinner. Tomorrow will come, when it comes and I’ll find out then.”
Just like the sprint would end at the end of the week…
Managing risk can be a study in Pepto-Bismol. So many factors can impact a project that one can go quite literally risk blind with all the potential impacts to your project. Even if you avoid the “acts of nature” like earth quakes, terrorist attacks, total global meltdown, you can quickly spiral a risk register into the dozens of entries, all of them a major potential impact.
This post isn’t about risk management. While I have a lot to say on the subject, this post deals with risk management gone wrong. Once you’ve done your risk management, you have to have a certain amount of trust in your work. Okay, you’ve identified a major potential risk. If it happens, it will happen in three months. You’ve put in place a mitigation plan, you’ve put in avoidance plans. Now what?
It’s three months away, stop worrying about it. Review it during normal risk reviews, but don’t let it consume you.
This extends beyond just traditional risk management. It goes to every aspect of a project that you have no control over.
If we had four new headcount, that would solve our schedule issue. But you know that there is no way on earth the company will hire four new heads right now. So stop lamenting and move on.
You won’t know if the build works until the compile is done. It’s going to take six hours and finish at 2:00 AM. Go home, have dinner, go to bed and find out if it compiled when you get to the office at 8:00 AM.
You put an offer down on a house. The bank is considering the offer, but it’s Friday and Monday is a holiday so it will be Tuesday before you have an answer. Don’t sit by the phone all weekend and worry. Go out and have a normal weekend.
It’s by no means a new concept. Reinhold Niebuhr came up with the Serenity Prayer in 1937 and it has become an oft quoted and parodied prayer. No matter your religion (or lack of) the core concept remains the same.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
If you can’t change it, don’t sweat it. Go have dinner and focus on something you can change.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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