Ignorance and Humility

As a project risk manager one of your risks is that a member of the team does not know something that they need to know in order to get a task done.

Some people ask for help when they are stuck or unsure.  Some don’t. People who do not ask for help when they should are an added risk to your project.

I’d be interested to hear what others do about this. I think pairing is a great way to surface this risk.

When I interview someone for a role I keep asking questions until the candidate says “I do not know” or “I’d have to ask someone else” or some such variant. If they cannot admit they do not know something, they are a very real potential risk to the project. When they know more about a subject than I do, I will get someone else who is an expert to probe their knowledge. The area where you are most at risk is in their area of greatest competence as it is here that they are least likely to ask for help.

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About theitriskmanager

A IT programme manager specialising in delivering trading and risk management systems in Investment Banks. I achieve this by focusing on risk rather than cost. A focus on costs can lead to increased costs. View all posts by theitriskmanager

2 responses to “Ignorance and Humility

  • Captain Crom

    Completely agree. I’ve even caught myself doing this a few times.
    I call some of this playing “intellectual chicken”.
    The trick is having people around who are willing to promote the sharing of what they don’t know. Even to the point of having one of your team act as a stooge. You could set up a deliberate game where the team take it in turns to ask “stupid” questions to ensure everyone makes a point of doing so – either on a per-day rotation or everyone in a single session.

    Funnily enough I wrote up my thoughts on this recently 🙂
    http://theagilepirate.net/archives/643

    There was also a great article in Computing magazine a few years ago called “the strange truth about developers” that really hit this on the head for me – Unfortunately I’ve not yet found a copy of it online.

  • Andrew Kidd

    @Captain Crom: I’ve got a PDF version of the ‘Strange Truth…’ article, and if anyone is interested, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/coachkidd

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