A factoid stuck in my brain from recent reading* has to do with the difference between good truck drivers and the best truck drivers. A good truck driver has an average number of accidents for an average amount of mileage and an average number of on-time deliveries. The best drivers have almost no accidents despite their incredible mileage and outstanding delivery times. You could expect to deliver on time if you have fewer accidents.
When the experts interviewed hundreds of drivers and analyzed their responses, the difference came down to this: The very best drivers are obsessively scanning the road ahead. They are constantly playing out what if scenarios in their head like “what if that car tries to pass me on the blind corner coming up? What if my brakes fail on this down slope? What if that senior tries to cross the street in front of me?” They looking for children’s feet underneath parked cars because that’s the only part of the child they might be able to see.
At highway speeds there’s little a passenger car, let alone a tractor-trailer, can do about the things about something happening within 30 metres. Never mind within 15 metres of the front of the truck. At 100 kph, 15 metres is less than a second. It’s important to know what is happening immediately in front of the truck, but the most valuable information is on the road that’s going to be driven next. Not the road that’s being driven now. Fixating on any point, particular one close to the truck, results in more accidents.
They are constantly scanning the entire environment around them and are planning for when something goes wrong. They use their peripheral vision and mirrors to keep track of what’s happening beside and behind them. They’re attention is not fixated at any single point, but is continually shifting in a consistent pattern: mirrors, the instrument panel, the road in front of them, and the road ahead.
Risk Management is Scanning Ahead
The same is true for leaders and project managers. You can’t avoid what’s coming up immediately on the road ahead of you (or from behind, or at you from the sides) if you’re constantly focused on the next 15 or 30 days. You have to scan all around, but especially further ahead.
A recent PMI article on projects that survived the current recession noted two important factors for their survival. Those two factors are 1) identifying and managing critical relationships within a organization, and 2) risk management.
Regular, consistent scanning of the business or project environment is critical to avoiding running over the proverbial little old lady. What activities and deliveries are critical to your success, and what are you going to do if the deadline in missed? What would cause you to miss a deadline, and what can you do about it now? What are you going to do if it happens, and who needs to know? You might get away with not delivering what you promised once in a while if it’s not a surprise to your boss or client, and you have a plan in place to recover. Heaven forbid you spring that surprise without warning or on the deadline, and double shame if it surprised you.
Having a solid network of trusted relationships inside and outside your organization will certainly help you do that, but that’s another blog posting.
Risk management itself is a pretty straight-forward enterprise, covered well in many other places. Gathering and analysis, mitigation, and contingency planning are basic activities. There are two things missed by many new managers, and that outstanding managers do well, that I want to explore in-depth in future articles: specificity, and regularity.