Outwit, Outlast, Outwalk: What Zombies Can Teach Us About Risk Management
I was watching the finale of “The Walking Dead.”
Yes, the zombie is trying really hard to be the new vampire, but there are just no hot young stars these days willing to play dumb, slow, and flesh-obsessed, except maybe the Kardashians. Anyway, something about the plot of this story got me thinking about stakeholders and projects in web dev.
No, I’m not saying that stakeholders are like zombies. Nor am I saying that projects can get so bad, they revive the dead. But stranger things have happened.
I don’t seem to be starting off on the right foot. Let me try again.
I was watching the finale of “The Walking Dead.”
To recap the show (in case you didn’t see it and/or don’t care to), the setting is a post-apocalyptic aftermath of a global coup d’état of the dead. (Kind of an incredulous premise, given their geriatric-like perambulating.) The plot follows a band of zombicide-survivors trying to find a life between infected, frothing jaws.
(By the way, I would really hope that any real possibility of reanimation would result in our beings evolving into something more like Jamie Somers or Steve Austin, with less of a dietary need for meat).
OK, back to the story. This group arrives at a contentious idea – let’s go to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta and see what’s going on there. Maybe there will be a cadre of superbrains working on the big cure-all? Nope. What they do discover is a lone doctor who has lost his last scintilla of hope and, reticent as he is, lets these people come in – and invites them to shower, shave and sh…well, eat and drink to their hearts content.
But at the 11th hour, one of the survivors discovers a clock – and it’s counting down — to the self-destruction of the building itself. The characters need to figure out – do we stay and self-snuff the quick and painless way – or leave and brave the possibility of becoming a family-style entrée?
So at this point I’m thinking (other than how Simon Pegg should make a dramatic cameo appearance next season) – wow, this feels a LOT like what we go through during the production portion of a project.
There’s our own band of people – the project stakeholders – and we are just a few blood spills away from getting the job done. For “The Walking Dead,” the known risk is the Homo Coprophagus Somnambulus, and the unforeseen risk is the clock.
In terms of web dev, an unforeseen risk could be a coronary in the corner in the name of a much-needed task, a marketing initiative with a palpitating deadline, a time-gating infarction in the software – or some other bullet really close to the heart (or brain as it were) of a project.
Risks can occur at any time, yes, but when it’s been identified REALLY late in the project, it’s keenly less than ideal.
What I’ve learned from project management powers-that-be Rita Mulcahy and Cornelius Fitchner is that the key to good risk identification is remaining in an as risk-neutral stance as early and often as possible, but to act as if you’re risk-seeking just as much. That is, always searching and staying somewhere between the guts-splattered windows of opportunity and the imminent threat of deaths. (I say this pointedly as plural, because the perk of a undead death is that you get another chance at life, and your primary hobby is eating.)
Here’s the way to do this. (Simply substitute the word “zombies” for “risks” and you’ll get a kitschy, but well-intended interpretation of best practices for quantitative risk planning):
1. Generate a high-priority list. Look out the window and check for zombies, but prioritize them based on criteria such as size, threat, ferocity, and intent. This allows you to address the biggest (and hence more critical) threats first.
2. Make a low-priority watch list. For instance, take heed of those zombies missing a leg or sporting gouged-out eyes – still pernicious, but nothing too pressing to worry about. For now.
3. Check for trends. Do more zombies tend to gather more at dusk, or do they just roam aimlessly all day and night? (Yeah, do they?) Trends can lead to conclusions that will help you plan better later.
4. Create some reserves. Consider all of the probabilities in terms of getting mass-masticated, and do some forward-thinking accordingly with some contingency reserves (such as extra ammo and that really bad guy who can double as a helpful human shield).
5. Consult experts. In between breathless and sweat-laden moments of relief, ask illumined others about their combat tips and any other survival shorthand.
6. Dictate strategic response tactics. Basically, decide whether the way you deal with a zombie should fall into one of these response strategies:
- Avoid – Blow the zombie’s brains out. The threat must be eliminated at all costs. Just get ready for that zombie to gaze at you as if were just playing hard-to-eat.
- Transfer – Let someone else deal with the zombie situation. Get a hired gun. With a gun.
- Mitigate – Reduce the probability of a zombie attack, such looking for a place to live where the impact would be reduced (hint: they don’t seem too into climbing or swimming).
- Accept – Go out into the world and accept the zombies for what they are. Prepare for them, but don’t actively provoke their olfactory system. Apparently, even when the brain goes, the nose still knows.
In conclusion, to get ready for any project apocalypse, plan early, act often – and do whatever you can not to get consumed (overwhelmed or eaten, that is).