Thursday, February 21, 2013

Managing Risk is Only Part of the Equation

It is interesting how the February ASQ Influential Voice topic has moved from addressing the fear of failure to the discussion of managing risk.  Guy Wallace and Anshuman Tiwari have excellent posts on risk management.  Yet, from a Quality professional’s perspective, managing risk does not go far enough in execution.   Often risk events are isolated tasks tied to specific projects and by doing so their value diminishes in that the focus is internal and does not impart systems thinking.  What we need to teach is that managing risk is just a part of the good leadership characteristics of anticipation and prevention. 
When people first take on the role of first-line supervisor their focus shifts from executing value-added work to care and feeding of their subordinates AND prime technical troubleshooter.  It is a busy time with the sole complaint that the care and feeding gets in the way of being a troubleshooter.  Experience is required to find the balance between the two.  Once you move up to being a supervisor of supervisors, the technical aspects of the work significantly diminishes.  Now you need to be an expert, or at least know where the expertise exists, in the systems that provide the care and feeding of the workers.  It takes a different skill set.  Organizations have become more complex so an individual often cannot be an expert in all systems.  Thus, a supervisor of supervisors needs to know how to monitor the health of systems so that they can best manage their time.  We call it anticipating problems. Since we deal with limited resources, our supervisor of supervisors manages risk daily; which systems can get him fired or get them in trouble legally and/or financially.  They put behaviors in place to avoid these situations.  This is the prevention piece.
The risk model that Guy mentions is now becoming en vogue for assisting in managing large Navy maintenance projects. There is a risk manager whose primary job in the planning phase is to identify problems and, using the risk cube that Guy shared, prioritize which things that they are going to do to reduce the risk.  These tasks are done during project execution and reviewed and shared amongst similar platforms. This is great for addressing project needs, and they have great inward focus but from the shipyard perspective they avoid the connection between what the shipyard does in anticipating problems. What might be good for one platform might be detrimental to another.  You are walking a fine line.
In my mind, taking an organization to the next step in performance requires a greater focus on anticipation and prevention. It is not sexy.  It is not taught. It is not well mentored and it is an assumption by customers and not an intrinsic customer expectation.  The funny thing is the STEM community has one of THE best tools to use for this type of work: the Failure Modes & Effects Analysis (FMEA).  In my mind, the expert facilitator needs this as part of their tool kit because it is highly versatile and is a great management tool to track anticipation and prevention. Risk managers will say, “What we do is 2/3 good enough.”  It may be but often the same problems keep cropping up.
Bottom line:  managing risk is not enough from a quality perspective.  We need to teach the good leadership characteristics of anticipation and prevention to truly experience “breakthrough quality.”
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