Series on Program Management: Incorporating Risk in Program Decisions


By Russ Martinelli and Jim Waddell

Program Management Academy

Oregon, USA

“I’ve learned that making decisions on gut instinct really isn’t a process of choosing an option and hoping for success,” stated Ricki Godfrey.  “One of my favorite sayings came from a former manager of mine who said ‘you can’t manage hope’.”

Godfrey is a senior program manager for T.C. Holmes, a construction engineering firm in the renewable energy industry.  What Godfrey is referring to, is that when a high degree of uncertainty surrounds a program, a program manager has to rely on intuition as much or more than current or past information to make decisions.  Intuition or “gut feel” as many call it, is rooted in our expertise.  Intuition accesses our accumulated experience in a synthesized way, so that we can form judgments and take action without any logical, conscious considerations.  The best intuitive decisions are those that are made with the uncertainty comprehended and bounded to the greatest extent possible.

As Godfrey explains, “risk identification and analysis can be applied in the decision process to understand what could affect the outcome of a decision, and factoring that in when making your decision.”  Effective program decision making incorporates both the most current information known about a program, as well as developing an understanding of the risks associated with the unknown.

In this article, the final installment of this three-part series on effective program decisions, we explore the use of a risk-based decision making framework that can be used to factor in the uncertainties associated with a program in order to bolster the intuitive or ‘gut feel’ approach to decision making that many program managers have to rely upon.

Dealing with the Known and Unknown

As covered in the first two articles in this series, executive sponsors of programs desire data as the basis for making many of the decisions in our organizations. This is based upon a belief that data increases the probability that the outcome of a decision will yield the desired results.  As also stated in earlier articles, data – being a representation of past events – is a poor predictor of future outcomes.  Particularly in environments involving a high degree of uncertainty.  This causes a dilemma for many decision makers.  How much should they rely on data to support their decision, or how much should they rely on experience and intuition?

The environments in which most programs operate can involve a high degree of uncertainty, many times due to the complexity associated with a program as well as an ever-changing business or organizational environment.  This means that the program manager, as the primary decision maker on a program, must comprehend both the known and unknown aspects surrounding the situation at hand and the decision to be made.


To read entire article (click here)

The PMWJ series of articles on program management is authored by Russell Martinelli and James Waddell, principle advisors at the Program Management Academy in Oregon, USA.   More about the authors and the Program Management Academy can be found at http://www.programmanagement-academy.com/.

About the Authors

pmwj19-feb2014-martinelli-AUTHOR1 MARTINELLIRuss Martinelliflag-usa

Oregon, USA

Russ Martinelli is a senior program manager at Intel Corporation, one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies.  Russ has many years of experience leading global product development teams in both the aerospace and computing industries.  Russ is also a founder of the Program Management Academy (www.programmanagement-academy.com), and co-author of Leading Global Project Teams and the first comprehensive book on program management titled Program Management for Improved Business Results. Russ can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Russ Martinelli, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/russ-martinelli/

pmwj19-feb2014-martinelli-AUTHOR2 WADDELLJim Waddellflag-usa

Oregon, USA

Jim Waddell, former PMO director in the high-tech industry, is a founder of the Program Management Academy (www.programmanagement-academy.com) where he consultants in program management and mergers & acquisitions. He has held a variety of management positions in the high tech and energy industries, has been a speaker at numerous conferences, and is a co-author of two books:  Leading Global Project Teams and Program Management for Improved Business Results.  Jim can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Jim Waddell, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/jim-waddell/