A Lesson in the Risks of New Technology

You may have heard of the troubles of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” lately.  All fifty or so of these airplanes have been grounded due to a risk of fire from their batteries.  The lithium ion batteries are new – not the traditional batteries you would find on an airliner.  They are lighter, have more capacity, include more capability, and have more risk.

This is a good lesson in risk management.  Is it not true that no matter how much we test some new technology or a new way of doing things, there is almost always something we could not foresee.  Perhaps we never anticipated a user would use it that way, or that someone would make that mistake, or that someone actually uses this obscure but important feature in the old technology.

We have to expect these things in project management.  It’s like when our car has a problem and we have to take it in for maintenance.  Is that really a surprise?  I mean, who hasn’t had a car with a problem?  That’s part of life.  It should be planned for and expected.  Same thing with projects – especially those with new technologies.  Think differently and when those unexpected glitches arrive it won’t be a catastrophe.

Part of this of course is setting expectations.  I am an optimist and would prefer to lay out an optimistic plan for clients.  I have to continually remind myself to be realistic and expect the unexpected.  Something else runs late, something takes longer than expected, scope changes, or a problem “unexpectedly” pops up.  Well, it shouldn’t be unexpected because…problems come up.

It’s the same way when piloting an airplane.  Piloting an airplane is easy.  What is hard is the risk management and decision making.  Accidents happen because pilots get themselves in trouble.  Pilot training includes dealing with what ifs: what if my primary instruments fail, what if I lose communications, what if the weather deteriorates?

What “what ifs” are you training for, anticipating, and watching for in your projects?

Happy project piloting…

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