On the use and abuse of Technology and its Management from the perspective of an academic at UCL specialising in Project Management, Systems Engineering and Space Science/Technology.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Issues and Risks : philosophy of Present and Future

In Project Management, the concept of a Risk is fairly well established.

"An event, which, if it occurs, will have an effect on the Project's Objectives".

So if it's a harmful future event, we would note its likelihood, impact, and causes, and seek to manage it. By doing so, we reach into the future and handle it so that it does not impact the present in a way we would not wish.

Whereas an Issue is defined, at least in the APMP syllabus (PRINCE2 and PMI may differ on this definition) as
"a threat to the project objectives that cannot be resolved by the project manager. ... issues have already occurred and are therefore not uncertain".

APM Body of Knowledge, 5th Edition.

In teaching this, we fall into a sideline. Students ask: what about future events that are nearly certain. Aren't they also Issues? or Risks with very high probability? or just issues? Since escalation at the proper time is a key result of the Issue Management process, we should have a clear answer. We can reply by saying that the cause of the event was in the past, whereas the manifestation of the problem could be in the future. That satisfies some people, but not entirely. Then I saw this:


"Modern Western culture has absorbed the threefold Greco-Roman concept of time as "past" (that which has gone before), "present" (that which is), and "future" (that which will be). It is easy to associate these concepts with the three Norns Urdhr, Verdhandi, and Skuld. It is also incorrect. The Germanic time-sense is not threefold, but twofold: time is divided into "that-which-is," a concept encompassing everything that has ever happened - not as a linear progression, but as a unity of interwoven layers; and, "that-which-is-becoming," the active changing of the present as it grows from the patterns set in that-which-is. That-which-is is the Germanic "world," a word literally cognate to the Norse ver-├Âld, "age of a man." One will notice that even in modern English, there is no true future tense; the future can only be formed through the use of modal auxiliaries. For the Teutonic mind, all that has been is still immediate and alive; the present only exists as it has been shaped by the great mass of what is, and the future only as the patterns of that which is becoming now should shape in turn."
- By Kveldulf Gundarsson, Tuetonic Magic, p. 24.

Seen in Cloud Hands, Mike Garofolo's blog about TaiJi.


I can see the same dichotomy of viewing the future/potential in the way Risks ("that which is becoming") and Issues ("that which is") are treated. To put them in the Graeco-Roman mould of Future and Present seems to create difficulties which are avoided, to my mind, if we instead follow the Teutonic pattern. Ja?