08 June 2018

Project Management leader, The Risk Doctor, interviewed in his visit to La Salle-URL

Last Friday, April 13, Dr. David Hillson, known as The Risk Doctor, offered a Masterclass for the students of the new Project Management Executive Program at La Salle Campus Barcelona-URL. During his visit to the university center, the director of Project Management Programs, Joan Ramon Blaya, made him an interview to discuss risk management in projects, challenges in the digital age, and opportunities..

Joan Ramon Blaya (JR): Dr David Hillson, thank you very much for being here today with us. It's a great pleasure to have you here today at La Salle. You're also known as the Risk Doctor. Can you explain to us what exactly it is to be a Risk Doctor?

The Risk Doctor: Yes, that's a great question. I'm often asked that question as the first thing: "So you're the Risk Doctor, what does that mean?" I think it's a great title, it's easy to remember. A lot of people I meet, they say "Oh you're the Risk Doctor?" And they don't know my real name, they just know the Risk Doctor, so that's fine.

But I chose it for a meaning, for a reason. Doctors are people you trust, they're trusted professionals. You go and talk to them if you have a problem you need to resolve. But you also go to the doctor if you want to be more well, to become more fit.

So doctors have two roles: It's about avoiding bad things and treating disease, if you like, and difficult things, but also about helping you to live in a more healthy way.

And so that's what I'm trying to do in my consulting, to help people who have problems to solve their problems, but also help them to live better, and to do that in a risk context. So people can come to me and my company, The Risk Doctor Partnership, if they want to address a risk problem, to talk to a trusted profesional a doctor, who will give them a prescription to solve their problema or to give them some guidance on how to be more healthy in the way they approach risk. And so the Risk Doctor seems to be the perfect label for that.

JR: When did you join the world of risk management in projects?

The Risk Doctor: I started to do risk management in projects in 1984, I was an assistant project manager for a big engineering company in the UK. and we had a major Project that was troubled and somebody in senior management heard about risk management. And they said we need somebody to see what this is and see if it will work on this troubled Project. And so because I was a junior project manager, they said, "Well, Hillson, you can see what this is and see if it works." So I went and found out, and looked at oil companies particularly. And then we tried risk management on this big Project. It was spending a million pounds a month a very big project, and really troubled, but we rescued the project, and when we did the post-project review, it was because of the risk management process that we introduced. So I became the risk expert in that company, and I was doing that for another 5 years. And then I left and went consulting in some small, specialist consulting companies. and then ultimately founded the Risk Doctor Partnership. So it's been, what would that be, 30 years?

JR: Wow, 34 years, amazing.  I've read that your motto is "Understandprofoundly, so you can explain simply".Related to that, do you think companies nowadays know about Risk Management I mean, do they have a very good, Deep understanding of Risk Management?

The Risk Doctor: No, they don't. And I think that's our motto at the Risk Doctor Partnership, and it's my personal motto in the way that we help people as trusted professionals, as the Doctor. You don't go to the Doctor and then you have to study Medicine for 10 years and know all about the details of the disease or the latest drugs

You trust the doctor who has done the studies and done the research and has the professional knowledge. So, our role as consultants is for us, for me, as a knowledge professional, or a thought leader, for me to do the deep thinking and the deep understanding and then to make it simple for other people.

So the doctor will say "Take these pills", or the doctor will say "Do these exercises" or "Change your lifestyle in this way" and give you some simple instructions which are based on a really deep understanding of the issue and your particular problem, your particular situation. So I think the idea is that we should understand simply, understand profoundly, or understand deeply, and then when we offer solutions to our clients or our colleagues, they should be simple to understand and simple to implement. And so that informs my speaking, my writing, my consulting, my training.

All of those things, we've done the heavy thinking and then you explain to people and they say, "Oh, that's really easy!" And that's my ideal. It's based on 10 years of thinking and I give you something where you go, "Of course!" and then you can do that.

And in this context, what are the challenges of risk management in this digital age.

The digital age is very interesting because people are more connected but they're also more separated. So we're connected through digital means, through social platforms, social media and so on. But that means that we're not actually doing what we're doing, which is standing or sitting close together and talking face to face. And the key issue in risk management is the people aspect. Risk management is not about processes or computers or machines or analysis, it's about people and "What does uncertainty mean to me?" and "How am I going to address it?" and "How do I feel about it?", and "How do I communicate it to another person?". And so the people aspect is in some ways facilitated by the digital age and in some ways it's hindered by it. And so I think we have to think very carefully about the interpersonal aspects of risk, understanding our own risk attitude and our risk appetite, explaining that to other people, understanding their biases and their ways of thinking about risk and how that affects their behaviour.

And the digital technology can help us, but it can also separate us and make it more difficult. So I think it is a challenge, and we do need to work out how we're going to address that.

JR: I've seen you also talk about exploiting uncertainty to create value. Do you think risks can be taken as opportunities?

The Risk Doctor: Absolutely, that's really important. I start with 3 words to explain risk: risk it uncertainty that matters because there are billions of uncertainties in the world but they don't all matter. What we have to find in risk management is the uncertainties that matter Those are the ones we need to know about, and think about and prepare for, and try and influence and manage. And things matter because they can affect our objectives. Now clearly anything that would hinder us achieving our goals is an uncertainty that matters.

It could make us late, or overspent, or unable to deliver our objectives or injure people or kill people or damage reputation. All those things, if they had that result, they're uncertainties that matter, clearly, and that's how we define risks.

But if you had an uncertainty that, if it occurred, would save you time, or it would save you money or enhance your reputation or improve your performance, that is also an uncertainty that matters. It may or may not happen, but if it does happen, it assists us in achieving our objectives. And that also is within the scope of risk.   as uncertainty that matters.

So risk is a double-sided concept, it includes bad things and good things, negative risks and positive risks, threats and opportunities. And I think if we ignore the opportunities side, we're denying ourselves of at least half of the benefit. of thinking about uncertainties that matter, about the benefits of doing risk management.

JR: I heard you talk about risk energetics, sustainable risk management. What is it all about?

The Risk Doctor: Energetics is a very interesting idea taken from the world of physics,

that says if you have a pulse of energy... Well, let's do it this way for the cameras.If you've got a pulse of energy, it decays naturally and goes back to the original state fairly quickly. So you have a pulse and it drops away. And my idea was that if you have a risk process that engages people, and they're interested in risk management, if all you do is get them excited about risk management and then run the process, they get very excited and then their interest just decays, like a normal energy curve. And what we want to do is to maintain that level of energy and commitment and passion and actually implementing the risk process effectively, which means you need to intervene in that natural decay curve.

And so risk energetics is about understanding the turning point: where in the process do people lose energy? What can we do to avoid this drop-away  and to inject some more energy in at some point in the process so that you continue to have the level of energy and commitment that we need in the process. So it's just a way of think about managing the energy levels in the risk process so that we can sustain them across the whole project. instead of doing risk management in the beginning and then that's it we've finished, we don't do risk management again.

So that was the idea, and it's a chapter in one of my books,the "Managing Risks in Projects" book, but much more widely applicable than just projects. And we can think about that energy curve through the risk process: we need to have lots of energy in Risk Identification maybe less energy in Assessment and Analysis because it's quite routine, but more energy in Response Development, because we have to be creative and think about "What are we going to do?".

Then there's less energy in Implementation, and then more energy in the Risk Review step. So you can manage the energy levels through the risk process Or we can manage the energy levels through the project life cycle, and every time we enter a new phase, we inject some more energy.  

So the question then is, how do you inject energy into your risk process? Facilitation is key, having a good, professional facilitator on hand, able to energise people.

Simple processes are a good idea. Refreshing the processes to make sure they're actually efficient and effective. There's a lot of things we can do to manage energy and that's what risk energetics is really all about.

JR: This afternoon, our Executive Programme in Project Management students will attend one of your master classes. What will you say to them? What will you talk about in this master class?

The Risk Doctor: We're going to start talking about the basic principles of risk and risk management. So understanding that risk is uncertainty that matters, so that includes bad things and good things, that will be our starting point. Understanding the risk management process, and what we need to do in order to identify and prioritise and manage risk effectively. And then we're going to focus the rest of the workshop on two things: identifying risks and responding effectively.

These are the difficult parts of the risk that most people struggle with. So I plan to give people some good practical techniques that are easy to implement, which will help them to find threats and opportunities in their projects, and then to give them a set of frameworks they can use to respond to risks effectively which will help them choose an appropriate strategy. And then woven between those different things, the principles, the process, identification and responding, we'll use some case studies to help them apply the things that we've talked about in the taught part of the workshop.

So it's a workshop, they're going to work There'll be probably more than half of the workshop time is spent in exercises, trying to do these things in a safe environment, learning how to do them, and perhaps failing a little bit, and then they'll learn something they can take back to use in the workplace.

JR: Dr Hillson, it has been a great pleasure to have you here. Thank you very much.

The Risk Doctor: Well it's been good for me to be here too. Thank you very much for your challenging questions. I hope the answers have been interesting and useful. and I'm looking very much forward to this workshop and to sharing with our students some new ideas. Hopefully we've captured some of the flavour of that in the questions that we've covered today. So thank you very much, I've enjoyed it very much. Thank you.