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Tame, Messy and Wicked Risk Leadership
Ashgate Publishing, November 2010, Pages: 114
The general perception amongst most project and risk managers that we can somehow control the future is, says David Hancock, one of the most ill-conceived in risk management. The biggest problem is how to measure risks in terms of their potential likelihood, their possible consequences, their correlation and the public's perception of them. The situation is further complicated by identifying different categories of problem types; Tame problems (straight-forward simple linear causal relationships and can be solved by analytical methods), and 'messes' which have high levels of system complexity and have interrelated or interdependent problems needing to be considered holistically. However, when an overriding social theory or social ethic is not shared the project or risk manager also faces 'wickedness'. Wicked problems are characterised by high levels of behavioural complexity, but what confuses real decision-making is that behavioural and dynamic complexities co-exist and interact in what is known as wicked messes.
Tame, Messy and Wicked Risk Leadership will help professionals understand the limitations of the present project and risk management techniques. It introduces the concepts of societal benefit and behavioural risk, and illustrates why project risk has followed a particular path, developing from the basis of engineering, science and mathematics. David Hancock argues for, and offers, complimentary models from the worlds of sociology, philosophy and politics to be added to the risk toolbox, and provides a framework to understand which particular type of problem (tame, messy, wicked or messy and wicked) may confront you and which tools will provide the greatest potential for successful outcomes. Finally he introduces the concept of 'risk leadership' to aid the professional in delivering projects in a world of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Anyone who has experienced the pain and blame of projects faced with overruns of time or money, dissatisfied stakeholders or basic failure, will welcome this imaginative reframing of some aspects of risk management. This is a book that has implications for the risk management processes, culture, and outcomes, of large and complex projects of all kinds.
About the Author:
Dr David Hancock is Head of Project Risk for London Underground part of Transport for London. He has run his own consultancy, and was Director of Risk and Assurance for the London Development Agency (LDA) – under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson's leadership – with responsibilities for risk management activities and audit for all of the Agency's and its partner's programmes. Prior to this role, for 6 years he was Executive Director with the Halcrow Group, responsible for the establishing and expanding the business consultancy group. He has a wide breadth of knowledge in project management and complex projects developed over more than 20 years and extensive experience in opportunity and risk management, with special regard to the people & behavioural aspects. He is a board director with Alarm (The National Forum for Risk Management in the Public Sector), a co-director of the managing partners' forum risk panel, member of the programme committee for the Major Projects Association and a visiting Fellow at Cranfield University in their School of Management.
Part 1 The Basis for Current Project Risk Methodologies:
Risk and risk management.
Part 2 The Tame, Messy and Wicked Model:
Problem types and systems complexity;
Problem types and behavioural complexity.
Part 3 Strategies for Wicked and Messy Environments:
Risk therapy – the talking cure?;
"This book takes project risk management firmly onto a higher and wider plane. We thought we knew what project risk management was and what it could do. David Hancock shows us a great deal more of both.
David Hancock has probably read more about risk management than almost anybody else, he has almost certainly thought about it as much as anybody else and he has quite certainly learnt from doing it on very difficult projects as much as anybody else. His book draws fully on all three components.
For a book which tackles a complex subject with breadth, insight and novelty - it's remarkable that it is also a really good read. I could go on!' – Dr Martin Barnes, President, The Association for Project Management
'This compact and thought provoking description of risk management will be useful to anybody with responsibilities for projects, programmes or businesses. It hits the nail on the head in so many ways, for example by pointing out that risk management can easily drift into a check-list mindset, driven by the production of registers of numerous occurrences characterised by the Risk = Probability x Consequence equation. David Hancock points out that real life is much more complicated, with the heart of the problem lying in people, so that real life resembles poker rather than roulette. He also points out that while the important thing is to solve the right problem, many real life issues cannot be readily described in a definitive statement of the problem. There are often interrelated individual problems with surrounding social issues and he describes these real life situations as ‘Wicked Messes’. Unusual terminology, but definitely worth the read, as much for the overall problem description as for the recommended strategies for getting to grips with real life risk management.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book. – Sir Robert Walmsley, Chairman of the Board of the Major Projects Association
'In highlighting the complexity of many of today's problems and defining them as tame, messy or wicked, David Hancock brings a new perspective to the risk issues that we currently face. He challenges risk managers, and particularly those involved in project risk management, to take a much broader approach to the assessment of risk and consider the social, political and behavioural dimensions of each problem, as well as the scientific and engineering aspects with which they are most comfortable. In this way, risks will be viewed more holistically and managed more effectively than at present.' – Dr Lynn T Drennan, Chief Executive, Alarm, the public risk management association