Managing Project Risk: Where Spectre, the First Order and the Rebel Alliance Blundered

On Topic

Recently in the internal communication of Kepner-Tregoe, there was a blog about the project management in the latest James Bond film. The observation was that the bad guys are good at project management while Bond is good at destroying their plans. I was intrigued to find that in the latest Star Wars movie, the same dynamic occurred. Brilliant planning around building a new Death Star (Starkiller) had a clear goal: To destroy entire planets in order to fulfil the strategy of dominating the universe.

But like Spectre, the Death Star plan had a weak spot. If Spectre had employed some risk management, such as the KT process for Potential Problem Analysis or PPA, the world would be in Spectre’s hands. Or in the case of Star Wars, no planet rejecting the First Order would be unscathed. Do we need to ensure that KT PPA never falls into the wrong hands?

Perhaps there is no fool-proof plan for world domination! At the movies, we love the underdogs who save the world. They are full of surprises and creative solutions for seemingly insurmountable issues—and they have a plan. The Rebel Alliance in the Star Wars movie has an initial plan to destroy the Starkiller. While they do not seem fond of preventive actions, they are resourceful with contingent actions. In most cases the universe rewards them, but how much more effective would their attacks be if they focused more on protecting their plan?

The same shortcoming might be why it was possible for the First Order to establish their horrible plans in the first place. What did the Rebel Alliance do after the fall of the Death Star? They should have planned for peaceful development and done some analysis of the risks that came with training people in using the Force by asking, what could go wrong? One potential problem worth addressing was that the dark side could take over freshly trained people. What are possible causes for this potential problem?

  • A tendency towards the dark side seems inheritable
  • People struggle with their shortcomings

Some preventive actions should have been installed to counteract this struggle, such as:

  • Support people in their personal development (preventing the cause from happening)
  • Only enlist people with the mental strength to handle the force in a positive way (preventing the cause from leading towards the potential problem)
  • Develop extra programs on how to manage the dark side (reducing the likelihood that the cause will take place)

After taking these preventive actions, how would the Rebel Alliance know if the actions had failed and someone had gone to the dark side? Monitoring behavior during training would alert the Alliance to problems in training and contingent actions would be triggered if the dark side was evident in freshly trained people, despite the preventive actions. Contingent actions could include:

  • Kill them right away (an unusable action unaligned with the light side of the force)
  • Install clinics or repair programs

Taking this sort of process approach to risk management to protect a project plan helps ensure a project’s success. But if the Rebel Alliance had protected their plan for a stable Universe, aligned with the light side of the force, we would not have been delighted with part VII of the epic saga and (spoiler alert) Han Solo might still be alive!

Observations about the high value of using a process to manage risk in projects are instructive and fun. But how do they relate to your personal plans? What do you want to achieve by the end of this quarter or the end of this year? Have you executed your own risk analysis? Are you using a systematic process for identifying risk and taking preventive and contingent actions?

May the process be with you!

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