Monday, September 13, 2010

Zero Risk vs. Decision Making

The ability to produce risk assessment, partly-innate, partly-acquired, is one of the most basic skills of successful managers.

While there is much value in the organized and systematic research for accurate information, the ability to assess risks in a situation where information is incomplete is a most valuable asset.

The first reason is that we often lose precious time in the gathering and precise analysis of data when approximate data would be good enough. To make it abruptly: you don't need to know where the arrow will hit to know that an arrow sent grossly in your direction is a bad thing. That's when you need someone with some instincts about risks.

The second reason is that some data can be impossible to gather, or hard enough to slow down the process of gathering it to the point of discouragement. For instance, if you want to pinpoint the ability to turn on a specific option of a specific security feature in a specific version of a specific software, which software you have not already bought and cannot test, you might get bored before you get the information. That's when you need someone with some culture and work connections, so as to get a better access to -or approximate substitute for- such information.

The third and most important reason is that management people delegate. In this case, the management would probably want to delegate data collection and make its own assessment from it and make a decision from it. That is, delegate the boring part and make the obvious decision (taking all the credit, Dilbert-like).

To be more precise, it is commonplace to see IT managers answer a question by another question, asking for more technical details when the staff come for more decision making. In this case, the staff ask the manager for his/her ability to fill in the gap between available information and complete information. (And the staff is probably aware of this gap.) So when the manager overlooks this request for decision and asks for never-ending technical or economical details, data or evidence, the staff feels like the manager is worthless. That is: once they have collected all the data, they can make the decision themselves, they're not stupid, thank you!

As a conclusion, I would say that Zero Risk is, of course, not reachable, but that managers should be aware that their staff regularly look for risk assessments from them, not for an indication that they should go and look deeper to reach Zero Risk. If they could, they would.