Why unrealistic pictures matter

Your customers care deeply about what won’t happen to them.

What to read first: Sketching outcome pictures at each level of success and failure

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Your customers care deeply about what won’t happen to them.

Soon, your assessment of particular risks will shine a very bright light on the likelihood of each of the outcomes depicted in the collection.

You may be thinking already that some of those outcome pictures are so unlikely as not to be worth further consideration, or even worth including in a sensible document. You may be thinking that especially about the more extravagant ‘Worst imaginable’ outcomes. Perhaps they will cause alarm, derision, and accusations of hysteria.

Well, unlikely they may be – and unlikely is what they should be.

A key benefit of risk management is to recognise and agree that there is some potential for bad stuff to happen. That benefit is all the more valued when you have reasons for saying why the likelihood of that bad stuff is acceptably low. Those reasons will usually refer to the way the unit operates. The way the unit operates is a choice, and not a law of nature. That choice has costs.

By including the very bad stuff among the potential outcomes, you have recognised that such things are at least potentially possible. As a result, they have to be avoided. Avoiding them is an active process. You deserve resources, and credit, for the active work that goes into keeping the likelihood of those bad outcomes low. That likelihood should be at a level where everyone can sleep at night, or at least stay awake, but worrying about something else.

If the nearly impossible, but very bad, outcomes weren’t even in the collection, you would get no credit for keeping them nearly impossible. Neither would ‘risk management’ deserve any credit.

If you were to simply ignore the worst possibilities, you might also compromise stakeholder trust. Those worst possibilities may be the very ones that concern your stakeholders the most, even if those inside the unit routinely dismiss those possibilities as highly implausible. Insiders can do that only because they know exactly how things work, and exactly why the worst outcomes won’t happen. That knowledge is valuable, and should be shared – through risk management.

If you want to work through the far-fetched outcomes more systematically, here is a way.

Drill-down articles

Working through far-fetched outcomes

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Parent articles

Sketching outcome pictures at each level of success and failure

For each objective, draw a picture of Success. Then draw an outcome better than Success. Then describe the worst imaginable outcomes. Lastly, fill in the intermediate outcome pictures for that objective. Each picture shows the unit’s success or failure for the year, as you will remember it. Each outcome picture is important, even if unlikely. After capturing the initial pictures, review the full collection for realism.

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Main article on Risk in work unit business planning

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