The project team of a major European retailer was one month away from launch of a new site. It had several issues to resolve at the same time, with conflicting internal and external pressures. These were:

  • to identify the key risks that would prevent the project from being completed on time
  • to demonstrate that a risk management plan was in place and to satisfy corporate governance compliance requirements
  • to bring all the key players together for long enough to create a consensus view of the issues. This had been a serious problem, because key staff were so stretched that they avoided meetings if possible
  • to satisfy conflicting demands for budget and resources from a parent that also operated outlets and mail order channels

    The brief and time constraints: Risk Labs were asked to provide their collaborative process to achieve the results over a one-day “lab”. However, shortly before the appointed day, the chief executive said that, because of some of the project team members had to travel to a European subsidiary that afternoon, the seven hours that had been allocated to the lab had been reduced to just two.

    The process
    Eight team members, including the e-division chief executive, were provided with laptops linked to a central server. Each team member entered their ideas about the risks and issues that would stop them achieving their objectives onto an electronic flip chart. The ideas were recorded individually and everyone was invited to add comments to each other's ideas.

    In the first ten minutes, the project team produced 123 items. The next step in the process was for the group to categorise the ideas and remove duplications. This step reduced the 123 brainstormed items to 70, which were then themed into 9 categories.

    A major benefit of the process was anonymity – every voice had equal weight and the unthinkable could be expressed without fear of recrimination, improving quality and honesty of the input. In this group, someone even had the courage to suggest that the core platform might fail, but this view was accepted as a valid concern and worthy of serious debate.

    Once the group had agreed the problem statements, they were turned into a survey. Each member of the group was allocated a score, based on the group definitions of impact and likelihood.

    As soon as the scores were received, they were reviewed by the project team to check the level of consensus around the key issues. This could be done rapidly, as the process automatically displayed a bar chart of the voting spread for each item, the standard deviation and its quartile position on a grid. Any issues that were not clear were revisited until consensus was reached.

    In addition, the group selected the risks or issues that had been prioritised and then drilled down into the underlying causes of the problems to find out what could be changed to produce a better outcome.

    At the close of the lab, a record of the input was copied onto a floppy disc and handed to the sponsor – there was no need to type up laboriously recorded minutes.

    The result
    In less than two hours, an extremely busy project team, with multi-million pound deliverables due in a matter of weeks, were able to produce a complete, prioritised risk assessment of the project and identify bottlenecks and ways of unblocking them.

    The satisfaction rating was 8.4 out of 10 and the group said it achieved a result in two hours that would have taken several days by conventional means.