FAST meeting and workshop risk assessment derives from answering a series of questions about a project, its stakeholders, and meeting participants. Using historical data, calculating the area or areas of greatest risk, our meeting risk assessment method is based on project risk assessment work completed by F. Warren McFarlan and James McKenney of Harvard Business School.
Risk should be assessed for every major meeting or workshop using FAST or other interactive meeting design techniques. The assessment should be performed as part of the facilitator’s preparation activity.
What is Risk?
Risk is typically assessed for projects at three levels:
Business — Project — Technique
Business risk is defined as the potential exposure to the business if the project is not completed or not completed on time. Project risk is defined as the likelihood of a given project failing or grossly exceeding its estimates. Technique risk is defined as the potential for failure or major problems using a specific technique or tool in a given situation.
Our FAST Risk Assessment tool provides a method of quantifying meeting and workshop risk. FAST Risk Assessment evaluates the potential meeting or workshop risks of four components when conducting either planning, analysis, or design sessions:
Size — Politics — Complexity — Diversity
Size is an indication of the overall project size measured by effort, scope, and quantity of meetings and workshops. Size affects planning and coordinating the required information needed to support the project. Questions include those covering work hours, duration, quantity of sessions, quantity of different types of sessions (ie, how many different agendas are required), and whether you are located at high-level planning or detailed design in your life-cycle. The larger the project, the greater potential risk when holding group meetings or sessions. You need to know that size can be a significant driver of risk and thus structure your sessions appropriately (such as assigning a more experienced session leader or a team of session leaders).
Complexity is an indication of the existing structure of the business and the volatility of the information required to support the deliverable. Complexity measures how difficult it will be to specify, understand, and organize the information exchange. Questions include those about the newness of the topic, whether the initiative is a replacement or new (ie, evergreen), engineering or process complexity, the extent of changes required for both internal and external customers, environmental changes required, and acceptance of the methods. The more complex an existing system is or the newer a business is, the more difficult it is to specify its requirements. Complexity and newness often generate incomplete or vague requirements. Adjustments may include developing more thorough agendas or using prototyping for some of the requirements gathering.
Politics is an indication of the political and personality climate surrounding a project. Highly political groups tend to cloud the issues at hand and make sessions more difficult. Questions in this area include rating of the attitudes of customers (internal or external), management, and participants; commitment of upper management; level of controversy; past cooperation between customers and staff; amount of flexibility allowed the participants; and stability of the organizations involved. Highly political organizations or unstable organizations (ie, numerous reorganizations) can make gathering requirements difficult (cutting through the controversies) or short-lived (the participants won’t assume ownership when finished). This type of risk can often best be handled using FAST—but requires a politically savvy session leader and extensive planning in gaining management commitment and proper resources.
Diversity is an indicator of the nature and familiarity of the customer’s organization. This factor looks at the participants ability to cooperate with each other and the logistics involved in coordinating everyone. Questions include those about the quantity of departments participating, quantity of participants, the location of participants (geographical, domestic, and international), their prior experience working together (if any), and the application knowledge of both the participants and project team. If an organization is cooperative and has few political axes to grind, yet is located around the country and the world, it will be extremely difficult preparing for the sessions as well as scheduling everyone for the workshops. It becomes expensive to bring people from many locations to one location—especially if the estimated workshop duration is incorrect. This type of risk calls for a more experienced session leader who has experience with logistics and workshop duration estimating.
Of the four areas, Size and Politics provide the most concern followed by Complexity then Diversity. FAST Risk Assessment is not meant to discourage the use of workshops, rather to provide information for applied understanding of your precious resources. Neither avoiding use of workshops nor ignoring the potential risks involved is the answer. You should begin evaluating risk and assigning session leaders accordingly. MG Rush Performance Learning provides a quantitative tool for evaluating meeting or workshop risk. We developed it in conjunction with Dr. Howard Rubin (developer of ESTIMACS). Please see your FAST alumni resources for an updated spread sheet that substantially speeds up your calculations and risk estimates.
Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).