In January of 1979, the city of Washington, D.C. suffered an unusually large snowfall. Due to a lack of functioning snow plows, traffic quickly ground to a halt.
Reporters descended on the new mayor, Marion Barry, asking him for his plan for snow removal. Barry scowled, and then growled, “Spring.”
Operating Conditions and Risks
Every municipality where snowfall is common needs to have a plan to remove the snow, when it eventually falls. They are certain that snow will fall; therefore, it isn’t treated as a risk, but as an operating condition. It’s fairly easy to review records of past snowfall, business and neighborhood expansions and new roads, and changes in traffic patterns to maintain a standing plan and budget for the municipal government.
Let’s say that your project has a three day event scheduled in January, in a locale that can get significant snowfall at that time of year. If you plan to have people travel to that event, the potential for snowfall is a risk.
If the snow falls a few days before or a few days after the event, it will have no impact. But snowfall just before or during the event may prevent people from reaching or leaving the location of the event. You will need to develop a risk response plan, particular to your exposure. And your first step should be to estimate your exposure.
Exposure and Response
The municipal government’s plan is to remove the snow from the roads, in some priority order. The date is largely inconsequential. But for your event, you need to consider each date separately.
If heavy snow is forecast the day before the event is to start, do you cancel or reschedule? At what projected snowfall? How about on the first day — people might be able to come, but not return to their homes or hotels. What is the latest you can communicate a cancellation decision to the attendees? What is the reliability of the forecasts in that area? What about on the second day — reschedule or cancel? And on the third day, will you shut down early? There are a lot of scenarios and potential responses to consider.
But there are other risk strategies to consider. You might conduct the event at a locale with a lower probability of significant snowfall. Or schedule during a month where the probability of snowfall is lower. In choosing among the available strategies, you are considering conditions in order to assess risks.
In similar fashion, you might consider the available and planned capacity at available data centers before choosing one to host your server. Or consider the impact of normal operations based on the business calendar, when staffing your project with people who won’t be fully dedicated.
While you need to take both certain conditions and probable risks into account in developing your plan, it is important to maintain perspective. Don’t develop a risk response for a condition, like an inadequate network capacity. Make your action to handle that condition a part of your work breakdown structure, if it’s in scope. And if it isn’t in scope, escalate it.
How do you assess the likelihood of risk?
Do you mitigate for risk, insure against it or ignore risk and hope for the best?
Creative Commons image courtesy Jeroen Kransen.