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Risk, Process, and Balance

The operations of a company will have intrinsic risk. Risk occurs each time we decide to take an action or an inaction. This means that anything we choose to do, or not do, has associated risk.

An organization which has an unhealthy aversion to risk has a much higher chance of failure. As time goes on the intolerance of taking on additional risk to accomplish goals, will render a company petrified. Stuck in the fear of change.

In order to become unstuck, a company and it's employees must become great at calculating risk and assessment. In order to make a choice on what to work on, and what to not work on, they will need to research and collect data and continuously track progress and feedback. The company must use this data and feedback to move uncalculated bad risk into calculated good risk. Simply thinking through the problem and change before hand can uncover ways to accomplish the end result in the least risky way.

The biggest objection to the risk assessment phase is typically time constraints. A great company will learn how to rapidly assess and reduce the risk of action. They reduce risk by: gathering requirements, planning, building process, using process to drive automation, and iterating on automation to speed up feedback loops. These fast feedback loops will allow the company and it's employees to fail smaller and more frequently and facilitate reflection to optimize the pipeline. This means even more calculated and low risk actions!

So, a company should add more process to reduce risk? Not quite.

A process, when left unchecked or added for the wrong reasons, will become more detrimental then blindly performing an action without calculating the risk. Below I outline the key differences between a good process and a bad process.

A good process will:

  • reduce risk but not at the expense of blocking or preventing progress
  • be fast to facilitate quick feedback loops
  • have potential for automation and must not be tedious or manual (think approvals)
  • promote small and frequent changes
  • support both fail forward and fail backward
  • only fail backward to reduce time-to-recover
  • not be pushed down from upper management, rather upper management should help set goals and requirements, while the team builds and decides on process
  • be questioned and reviewed often to promote iteration to find and fix inefficiencies

A bad process will:

  • block real work from getting done
  • prevent creative and innovative solutions
  • have a higher chance of being ignored, skipped, or held in contempt
  • punish people who take risks (make change) and promote people who do nothing
  • cause more issues then it solves
  • become a crutch or a security blanket (a false sense of security)

I feel strongly that the essence behind the Agile and DevOps movements comes from the constant battle of balancing risk with process. This constant desire for balance in the organization's environment will lead to innovative ideas, tools, and workflows. These ideas, tools and workflows can not function properly if transplanted into a company who does not have the desire to find the optimal balance. Put simply, a company cannot buy Agile or DevOps, that culture needs to grow from with in.



© Russell Ballestrini.