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Managing Risk

By Steve Jones,

Last year I read Team of Rivals, a book about the Lincoln Presidency in the US. It was a very interesting read, partially because of the topic and times, but mostly I was captivated by the diverse cabinet that Lincoln put together. He chose a number of rivals for positions, people that didn't necessarily get along, and often had very different opinions about how to govern the country. It felt strange at first to think about a leader welcoming in foes and enemies into their governing committee, but Lincoln appeared to make it work, and the variety of thoughts and opinions helped the country get through the Civil War.

It's an interesting idea, and this article on the JP Morgan trading losses reminded me of that book. It talks about the need for debate and argument in making decisions. It makes me wonder if too often in technology we make decisions and implement architectures without listening to the dissenting voices. In my experience, the loudest voices, from both technology people and customers, are often the ones that overwhelm discussions.

Do you welcome dissension in your meetings? I've had managers that preferred everyone to be on the same page, or be willing to make a very persuasive argument. The better managers I've had encouraged debate, and didn't allow any one personality to dominate, and usually wouldn't let the process degenerate into an argument. The better managers also knew that decisions had to be made and debate could not drag on for too long.

The process makes me wonder if the very outspoken and domineering people working with technology, either as the manager, the client, ro the technologist, cause more problems than they solve. Perhaps if they were more willing to debate and accept the information about risks and issues from the quieter people, we might have more projects completed with fewer issues.

Steve Jones

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