IT GovernanceRisk Management

How Risk Reduction Is (and Isn’t) Rocket Science

Eight years after NASA’s Cassini-Huygens Saturn spacecraft met its objective destination, it continues to send pictures and operate correctly. This has prompted an award from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, as well as this article by Mark Langley and Ed Hoffman. The two explain how the Project Management Institute points to projects like the Cassini-Huygens as examples where risk was managed exceptionally, and how it was done so. For instance, a finding was that successful project members focused on the strategic goals of the organization, not just the goals of the project at hand:

It’s natural for everyone embarking on a project as complicated as Cassini-Huygens to focus mainly on the specifics of making it work. But the Pulse Survey found that teams that focus on achieving their organization’s strategic goals, rather than just the performance goals of a specific project, increase their overall success rates by as much as 20 percentage points. Focusing on the larger strategic goal made it easier to manage the schedules, budgets, human, and technological resources in a way that was optimal for the whole project, not just the individual project groups involved — no easy task when the teams were drawn from individuals and organizations from different governments, industries, academic, and scientific disciplines around the world.

The article goes on to explain that project success doesn’t end with the completion of the project. NASA, for instance, is committed to identifying individuals who may make excellent leaders, and then dedicates the time to helping them reach that potential. Through doing this, they assure the next line of leaders is already in the wings, ready to push projects and team members forward.

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