Risk is defined by the Axelos (PeopleCert) Management of Risk (MoR) guidance as “an uncertain event or set of events that, should it occur, will have an effect on the achievement of objectives”.

In the project, programme, and portfolio context, risk is measured through impact, probability, (and in some cases proximity) thresholds designed by the organisation according to its risk appetite (the amount of risk that an organisation, or subset of it, is willing to accept).

Risk is inevitable, and its management is one of the key disciplines of project management that can be aligned regardless of the nature of projects and programmes being delivered, hence providing good trend and root cause analysis and allows comparison of projects to take place.

The benefits of having a standardised management of risk process provides includes a repeatable way for teams to identify, assess, plan, and implement responses to risk. And to that end, the MoR guidance provides key risk principles that are universal across the spectrum of PPM maturity in organisations. You can read about these principles and how to bring them to life in your PMO or PPM Community HERE.

This article however, is not about project risk management, its principles, or result of implementation. Instead it looks towards the Star Wars universe to bring to life one aspect that often gets confused – the probability/impact assessment. Good for the Star Wars afficionados!

Typically we see risk plotted on a matrix that looks something like what we have in figure 1 below:

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Given that the assessment of risk across these two axes is often considered subjective, questions are often asked during the Wellingtone Introduction to Risk course, as to how best to visualise the differences

Often, this is achieved through some basic guidance, an example of which can be seen below, but to explain it further we need to bring some Star Wars scenes to life…

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Scene 1: Flying a Speeder around Coruscant

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Probability: High, Impact: Low 

Coruscant is a planet which encompasses one large city, and energy flow is key for power to be accessible across and within the entire planet; which is split into a huge number of levels. Power couplings are very common and if you need to deviate even a small amount from the speeder lanes, the chances of you flying through one are very high.

Any Jedi chasing a would-be assassin is likely to encounter one or more couplings as the chase gets more fraught.

Although the probability of coming across power couplings is high, the impact of this potential event is actually low. The power couplings will impact your speeder only mildly and depending on your species may leave you without feeling for a short time but will not cause lasting damage.

From a risk perspective, this would plot on our matrix as:

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Risk Response: Mitigate the probability by ensuring that all Jedi have ‘London Black Cabby’ knowledge of Coruscant, shortcuts, and power couplings.

Scene 2: Doorways

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Probability: Low, Impact: Low 

Being a stormtrooper is hard work, not only do you to wear a hot and stuffy uniform at all times, but the visibility it affords you is extremely limited. The pressure of being able to focus your blaster sights on the target, having to stand around for hours and remain focused, and knowing that a Sith lord is likely to punish you for doing the wrong thing are constant worries.

Because of the demands on each individual, looking for and being able to see environmental hazards is limited. Although stormtroopers have faith that they are all around the same height, and that doors will open and close quickly enough for you to perform your role, occasionally a failure of technology or visibility leads to someone banging their head on a doorway.

The probability of this happening is low, as is the impact of it. Apart from a sight mark on the helmet, it is designed to withstand impacts (otherwise why wear it?), it is likely that no damage occurs to either doorway or stormtrooper.

From a risk perspective, this would plot on our matrix as:

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Risk Response: Accept that this might happen, but no action is needed at this effort it will take to change the environment or the stormtrooper uniform will not be worth the reward.

Scene 3: Sarlaac Pits

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Probability: Low, Impact: High 

Spending time with outlaws and bounty hunters in the Star Wars galaxy means that eventually you will find yourself on Tatooine. And if you are really unlucky (or very wanted by the Hutt clan), you will no doubt visit the Dune Sea, one of the few places in the galaxy where the Sarlaac reside.

The Sarlaac is an underground creature, that only exposes its huge mouth, surrounded by rows of spear like teeth that keep its victims (or prey) from climbing back out.

The Sarlaac are 100 meters tall, and are not pack creatures, so it is unlikely that you will encounter one at all in the vastness of the dune sea.

If, however, you do come across (or are thrown) into one, the impact is extremely high as there is very little chance of escape, and the pain from being digested over a long period of time is unimaginable.

From a risk perspective, this would plot on our matrix as:

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Risk Response: Create a contingency plan by learning from those that have escaped the Sarlaac pit and identify the necessary weapons and tools in case of a trip to Tatooine.

Scene 4: Death Star Trench

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Probability: High, Impact: High 

Any rebel looking to take down the Death Star already has their mind on the danger of attempting any run on the trench. Considering the size of the target and the chances of being successful, some might say it is too big a risk for the rebellion to take.

However, when a rebel has been fighting all their life, this is simply the next logical step as backing down is simply not an option.

Flying the trench, and finding yourself with three TIE fighters behind you, one of which piloted by the Sith lord, Darth Vader is extremely likely and extremely dangerous.

Anyone considering this move, must believe that they have the force on their side, as well as the flying, shooting skills, and confidence of Luke Skywalker.

From a risk perspective, this would plot on our matrix as:

Risk Management according to the Star Wars Universe

Risk Response: Avoid if possible as the chances of success are very slim. However, if avoidance is not an appropriate strategy, mitigate the probability of failure by having a fast ship hold back to surprise the enemy from behind as well as share the risk by deploying the whole rebel fleet.

In Conclusion

Risk Management should be a strategic activity, encouraged and recognised as such within all levels of the organisation. It should inform our planning, not the other way around.

Risk Management and response is not a one-to-one relationship. An appropriate response might require several strategies to be planned or implemented for the organisation or team to feel secure.

The key for organisations is to apply responses consistently, with the right team, and with the empowerment to put any plan into action should the risk occur.

And remember, if a risk is certain to happen, treat it as an issue to ensure you are working and thinking in a proactive manner.

Learn more about Risk Management through our Risk Management Practitioner Training Course.

Risk Management Training

Typically, it is a 1-day course designed to address the growing need for effective risk management in organisations. This course combines theory, practice, and customisation to provide a complete picture of how to benefit from best-practice practical risk management. This course is for project management professionals delivering, assuring or implementing risk management.

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By: Emma Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma Arnaz-Pemberton
Consulting Director FAPM, MCMI, MPMI, MIoD PMO-CC, MoR, MSP, PRINCE2
Categories: Project Management

Published: 12 January 2023

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