Checklists and prompt lists

It is important in the search for issues and possible responses not to unduly constrain the process if available experience and expertise is to be fully exploited. We explicitly advise against the use of highly structured techniques, such as questionnaires that can straitjacket respondents, and strongly caution against over-reliance on checklists to drive the identification of sources and responses. Given the popular appeal of checklists, this advice warrants some explanation.

A simple, 'checklist' approach to source identification is often taken on the grounds that a 'quick and dirty' approach can yield substantial benefits despite its conceptual shortcomings. The checklist approach typically takes a view of project uncertainty that is very simple. The approach is illustrated in Table 7.4, which shows a typical list of broad headings under which individual, more specific sources might be identified. Sources are presumed to be independent and are presented in a standard list. This list may be very extensive and cover a variety of categories. It may be extended as risk management experience accumulates over time.

Checklist approaches can be very effective in focusing attention on managing sources of uncertainty, provided they are supported by appropriate administra-

Table 7.4—The checklist approach source of uncertainty impact likelihood exposure definition of project concept and design financing arrangements logistics local conditions resource estimates industrial relations communications project organization tive procedures. For example, a corporate risk manager or risk analysis team may operate an internal audit function using the checklist as a basis for interrogating project managers at key stages in the life cycle of projects. More-detailed documentation related to individual sources and progress in managing them may accompany the checklist, as considered necessary.

Selection of the sources to be included on a checklist is usually based on experience. An initial list may be drawn up by a small group of experienced project managers, with a view to augmenting the list in the light of new experiences. Even without the help of creativity techniques, some checklists, developed and added to over several years, can become very intimidating, particularly to new members of project teams. Worse still, the length of some checklists may actively discourage further selective analysis of key sources.

There is no doubt that the checklist approach is a convenient and relatively simple way of focusing attention on project risk management. However, the checklist approach has a number of potentially serious shortcomings, as follows:

1. important interdependencies between sources are not readily highlighted;

2. a list, particularly a long one, provides limited guidance on the relative importance of individual sources;

3. individual entries may encompass a number of important, separate sources implicitly;

4. sources not on the list are likely to be ignored;

5. the list of sources may be more appropriate for some projects than others;

6. individual sources may be described in insufficient detail to avoid ambiguity and varying interpretations;

7. a checklist presents an overly simplistic view of the potential effects of individual sources;

8. a checklist does not encourage the development of a more sophisticated attitude to assessing and quantifying uncertainty.

The main problem is that a checklist does not offer a sufficiently structured examination of sources from which to discover key sources in a cost-effective manner. In our view, if any kind of 'checklist' is used it should be referred to as a 'prompt list' and used in that spirit as a catalyst and stimulant, not as a definitive statement of possibilities.

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