Run With Scissors
“Ironically, being risk averse may be the biggest risk of all.”
Accelerating a program exposes the effort to some risks and mitigates other risks. Program leaders should therefore be mindful of the positive and negative impacts acceleration can have on the program’s risk profile.
On the positive side, acceleration can reduce the risk of delivering systems that are technologically obsolete or late-to-need. Acceleration can also reduce the risk of waste associated with delays. Shortening the development cycle time helps teams learn faster and thus reduces the risk of uninformed decision-making. Accelerated programs tend to have a greater degree of personnel stability, which reduces the risk of losing key personnel and reduces the cost of on-boarding new personnel. Faster programs are less likely to be impacted by changes to the threat environment or changes in technology, and thus are less likely to deliver a system that is operationally irrelevant, technologically obsolete, or both.
On the negative side, going too fast can lead to hasty decision-making and cutting corners inappropriately. An accelerated team has a heightened risk of overlooking a crucial step in the process, overlooking a valuable opportunity, or of making a decision without the benefit of a critical piece of information. Going fast can also increase the risk of burnout, so program leaders should make sure the pace is sustainable.
Program leaders must therefore have thoughtful conversations about how speed affects the risk items on their watch list. It is important to recognize that acceleration can be an important part of a risk reduction strategy, and should not be viewed simply as a high-risk proposition. Program leaders must take steps to ensure the acceleration strategy is aligned with the program’s overall risk appetite, and should encourage “speed with discipline” as a guiding principle.
Spencer said he looked into why surface ship maintenance availabilities take so long, and he found that a typical Naval Sea Systems Command employee overseeing an availability might only be able to spend $5,000 to fix a problem, and anything more expensive requires going up the chain of command, awaiting approval, moving paperwork around – all of which takes time and money. Spencer said he increased that authority to $25,000, and throughput increased by 25 percent. After seeing that success, he said he bumped up the dollar limit to $100,000.
Yes, someone’s going to fall off the bike. Someone is going to go out and buy four cases of beer and pizza with all the best intentions in the world and violate a law; I understand that. But you know what, we’ve had a conversation with our overseers saying, if you want me to pedal fast, I’m going to come in front of you with some skinned knees.
Don’t bang your head against the wall trying to innovate. Look outside your cubicle, find a best practice or an innovation outside the building – it’s what we call R&D .. rip off and deploy it. Steal it – I say that legally; break glass, not laws
Actions You Can Take
- Define your project’s risk appetite. Get specific about the level of risk the team is willing to take and the types of risks that are most acceptable.
- Discuss how an acceleration strategy can reduce risk to the program. For example, delivering on a shorter timeline may reduce the likelihood of legacy systems failing.
- Watch and discuss this video about risk and failure with your team.
- Read and discuss some of the references below with your team.
- Assess the risks and opportunities introduced by an accelerated strategy. Recognize that going faster might introduce new risks, so have an honest conversation about what those might be.
- Mitigate the negative impact of acceleration by applying the relevant risk mitigation methods described on this page and the attached references.
- Contact an Accelerator SME for support.
- Slow Defense Acquisitions Cost Lives, MITRE, Nov 2016
- SECNAV Spencer Wants the Navy to Manage Risk, Not Avoid It, Jan 2019
- How Effective Leaders Drive Change – Take Risks and Accept Failures, MIT Sloan Review, Dec 2017
- Courage, Judgment, and Luck, Ward & Quaid, Mar 2007
- Overcoming a bias against risk, McKinsey
- The Reason Your Team Won’t Take Risks, HBR
- The Risk-Taker’s Dilemma, Ron Ashkenas, Forbes
- Top management team risk taking propensities and firm performance
- Turning risk into results
- Innovation in the public sector: Is risk aversion a cause or a symptom?
- Risk Management for Agile Programs, AiDA
- DoD Risk, Issue, and Opportunity Management Guide, DASD/SE, Jan 2017
- Agile Risk Management (Disciplined Agile Delivery)
- Evaluation of U.S. Air Force Preacquisition Technology Development, by National Research Council, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, Air Force Studies Board, Committee on Evaluation of U.S. Air Force Preacquisition Technology Development.