Collaborative Risk Analysis for Release Planning

    1. to when, and if, risks manifested themselves. Perhaps it was time to dust-off an old, neglected technique I hadn’t used for a while to try and get the team talking about release risks.

The Best Way To Get A Good Idea Is To Start With A Lot Of Ideas
On my journey into TrailReady the next morning I called Robin and asked her if she could identify four groups for me. Group A would be composed of the four most extroverted members of the team and Group D would be the least extroverted. In my experience it is foolish to only take advice from those that are most eager to give it and I really wanted to hear from the quieter members of the team. I find this especially true when working with today’s teams that often have members who can be hesitant because their mastery of the English language is not on a par with others. I felt that the best way to get participation from the quieter members of the team was to place them in an environment where they would be more easily heard and would not defer to others.

Fig 2

Identifying Risks
After the morning introductions, I broke the team into groups and asked them to identify the four greatest risks that could impact the upcoming release and to write each on a 3x5 sticky note. During the exercise you could sense everybody was more engaged just from the decibel level in the room and there was no shortage of ideas. After the end of the time-box the group presented their risks to team and placed them on the collective risk list. Through this exercise we were able to get better participation, better coverage and a shared understanding of everybody’s concerns.

Collaborative Risk Analysis
Once we had collected all the risks, we spent a few moments doing some affinity grouping to synthesize our risk list. Next we used a technique similar to Steve Bockman’s Team Estimation Game to analyze our risks. It works like this:

  • On a wall find a space large enough (wall or table) to hold all the risks and create a Risk Matrix by drawing two axes. Label the Y-axis Probability and X-axis Impact
  • Assemble a card deck with all the risks and pass the deck to someone on the team
  • The person with the deck pulls the first risk and places it on the risk matrix. The higher up they place the card then the greater the probability that the risk will occur. The further to the right they place the risk card then the greater the impact.
  • The deck is passed to the next person who can either:
    • Move a risk
    • Place a risk
    • Pass
    • Repeat until no more cards are left and everybody passes.

Once we’re done we have an information radiator that gives a very good visual of identified risks and the team’s collective assessment. The most severe risks will appear high and to the right. Risks low and left are probably not worth worrying about.

Notes for Facilitators

  • If there are is a lot of movement it may take a while for the risks to stabilize. Be patient. Let the team feel the divergence in the group and allow them decide when it is time to stop moving risks.
  • If you have remote participants divide the matrix up into a 4x4 grid and number each grid and have them tell you in which square to place the risk. It is best if the visual is shared so consider using a web conferencing tool and a tool that can display

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